Author: Ian Meharg | Reading Time: 4-5 minutes
Before we get into it I would like to mention that I penned this article some months ago. So, at the outset I have added why you might want to use the ideas explained here in your engagement with your customers in this ‘new normal’ post COVID19 world.
Adjusting to the New Normal
It is important to rethink your business now as the economy rebuilds itself. Do not just assume that what worked before will continue to work for you in the new normal. What might have been obvious value to customers before may no longer be the case. If there are new (and potentially unseen) challenges you can envisage customers may be facing then you want to consider adopting a different customer engagement style.
You should now be educating, informing and supporting them; not simply selling to them. Help them to define a problem or a vision that did not exist before and then find ways to solve it doing it in a genuine way. This approach will continue to serve you well long after we have forgotten Covid.
I would urge you to start thinking like this now. Have your sales folk talk with your best customers to understand what has changed for them and what adjustments they are making and see if you can offer some help. You will better understand your ‘ideal customers’ and that will position you well to know where to find new customers, maybe even new markets, whilst reinforcing relations with your current best customers.
Never forget these 4 things
- Be prepared for the long haul
- Conserve your cash
- Focus on what is going to work
- Always look after your best customers
If you ask most B2B salespeople to describe their sales process they will probably be able to do so. But if you ask them why it exists, you may get a few blank stares followed by an explanation about how it is used internally to manage opportunities, create forecasts and so on. However, that is only half the story and, I would argue, the less important half.
The true purpose of any sales process is to help the customer buy, which is not the same thing as helping you to sell. The buying side is predominantly focused on the customer whereas the sales side, as evidenced by the typical responses of practitioners described above, is internal to the supplier.
The customer doesn’t really care about your sales process, you should absolutely care about their buying process.
Your Customers Buying Process
You start to understand how your customer buys by posing a question to yourself which is simple to ask but can be quite tricky to answer, which is,
“Does my customer understand the problem/ opportunity, and the value of my solution before I engage them?”
The reality today is that the majority of sales processes are still being created in meeting rooms (with no customers invited) and do not take into account the answer to that question. They are predominantly focused on the mechanics of progressing an opportunity through a sales funnel to a completion state where the customer has acquired your product or service. Without understanding how the customer buys you inevitably end up with a lot of “BS” in your CRM system that never turns into revenue because the customer doesn’t understand your value proposition and you have not aligned your sales approach to how they buy.
We’ll expand this a little more as what we call Buying Styles as it is such a fundamental concept that is transformational to the way you conduct business and engage with customers.
If the buyer already fully understands the value a product or service can deliver and who the suppliers are and what’s on offer then they just need to procure a readily available solution. We call this style “Value Offered”. There is no “beauty parade” of vendors all pitching their offerings. The customer just places an order, usually based on price, availability etc if all other aspects are essentially the same. It is a straightforward transaction.
If you are a supplier of products or services such as this (e.g. laptops or office furniture) you will already have a well-established method to engage with procurement. Your sales team is predominantly there to produce quotes, provide some guidance as to which version fits best and then process the resulting order.
If the prospect or customer understands what their problem is, or the opportunity they wish to exploit without prior contact with you, unlike in Value Offered they may still not be sure what the eventual solution might be.
But they will be able to describe what their vision of the solution might look like and who the potential providers might be. In this situation they will engage with the market to assess those solutions against their requirements and form a decision as to which one to buy.
This might come as a set of requirements in a document such as an RFP or tender and involve supplier presentations, product evaluations, customer references, negotiations and so on. We call this “Value Added”. For this Buying Style, it is all about differentiation. Your prospect doesn’t yet know why your solution is a better fit and offers more business value.
You will have developed a range of skills and techniques to help you prise out more information from the prospect and then align your benefits to the customer’s needs. This is a well-rehearsed process for both sides, and familiar to businesses of all sizes.
Now also consider what happens in the situation where the customer does not yet fully understand the problem they have, ergo they do not understand or recognise the value you might bring them. Because no perception of value exists yet, we refer to this Buying Style as “Value Created”.
The skills and approach you need for this Value Created style are very different to the other two styles described. The biggest challenge is that there is no obvious problem or opportunity as the customer has not articulated the pain of the problem or the opportunity for improving some aspect of their business. They might not even know there are solutions to what they believe are intractable problems.
In order to align yourself with a customer who falls into this category, you need to be educating people whilst all the time developing trust.
Sales cycles are typically longer but once the value has been identified, and your solution aligned with it, then your chances of success are very much higher, compared to either of the other styles. You will be completely differentiated and the value you create will vastly exceed the cost of the solution that you see little or no competition.
For more information about customer Buying Styles download our free eBook “Accelerate your Sales Cycles”.