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Learning Nugget 22 - How Customers Buy

"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." Confucius

"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." Oscar Wilde

We become so intently focussed on our product and service centric sales process that we rarely stop to consider the customers buying process. More over we typically want the customer to buy in a structured way, follow familiar steps and have a clear and definable “buying criteria”. This is evidenced in the fact that most sales organisations have one singular generic sales process. Yet a complex transformation demand creation sales will have a significantly different process to a demand reaction transactional sale.

If only it were as easy as one process where all customers followed it without question.

A customer’s buying process doesn’t start when they go out to the market to acquire a product or service via an RFP. It’s starts much earlier than that. Indeed they may buy without any of the formal evaluation steps such as an RFP, EBC, Demo or Reference site visit.

The key is every customer buying journey, while may share some common actions, the order, sequence, effort and involvement is vastly is different.

Which also presents a really significant opportunity for differentiation.

I am yet to meet a customer who wants to be sold to, but I’ve met plenty who want help achieving their desired business outcomes. There in lies the opportunity. We need to think and act like a buyer, not like a seller.

One of my favourite of all time books is this one from Ram Charam, a noted author and executive consultant to some of the worlds most successful large company CEOs. It’s a short read, approx a 1 hour read cover to cover. But awesome content that will help shape your thinking around how buyers buy.

For quicker insight into the mind of the buyer, here are some shorter insightful pieces.

Great article from Mckinsey on the subject of how customers buy

Welcome to the new dynamics of B2B sales. Decision-making authority for purchases is slipping away from individuals in familiar roles—often those with whom B2B sales teams have long-standing relationships. Just as the digital revolution has transformed once-predictable consumer purchasing paths into a more circular pattern of touch points, so too business-to-business selling has become less linear as customers research, evaluate, select, and share experiences about products. More people within (and, thanks to digital engagement, even outside) the organization are playing pivotal roles in sizing up offerings, so the path to closing sales has become more complicated.

3 key points of advice

  1. charting decision journeys by customer segment and drilling down on customer expectations and needs at each stage of the journey

  2. tackling the difficult process of reallocating sales and marketing resources to the activities most likely to influence decisions

  3. changing organizational structures to ramp up collaboration between marketing and sales

Really confronting article from Forrester that importantly talks about going beyond the PO, unless there is meaningful impact on the outcome there is no sale

It’s still true that today’s buyers control their journey through the buying cycle much more than today’s vendors control the selling cycle. In a recent survey, 74% of business buyers told Forrester they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. This buyer dynamic changes the role of B2B marketing in a fundamental way. But that’s where the prevailing knowledge about ‘today’s buyer’ will fail you.

Final one comes from Harvard, but more important two members of the ASPIRE! Group ecosystem, Frank Cespedes and Tiffani Bova, two incredibly insightful thought leaders who have spent considerable time understanding the buyer’s journey

For a century, buying has been framed in terms of moving a prospect from Awareness to Interest to Desire to Action (AIDA). The AIDA model and its variants are the basis for sales funnels at many B2B firms. The typical funnel starts with a marketing-generated lead for a “suspect” that, after qualification, becomes a “prospect,” and then a customer through steps that are measured and managed. In each step, sales people are expected to perform a series of tasks, usually sequentially, in order to close. It’s an inside-out process and CRM systems are there to provide data about progression (or not) through that company’s funnel steps — the famous “pipeline” metrics that dominate so much talk about sales. But Gartner research (see here and here) indicates a very different contemporary buying reality. Rather than moving sequentially through a funnel, buyers actually work through four parallel streams to make a purchase decision.

  • Explore: Here, buyers identify a need or opportunity and begin looking for ways to address it, usually via interactions with vendors and self-directed information search on the internet.

  • Evaluate: Buyers take a closer look at options uncovered while exploring, again leaning heavily on self-directed search and peer interactions as well as vendor sales representatives.

  • Engage: Buyers initiate further contact with providers (or accept proposals from providers) to get help in moving toward a purchase decision.

  • Experience: Buyers use a solution, increasingly in pilots or proof of concepts, and develop perceptions about its value based on that usage.

The questions for you and your teams are;

  • How often do we reflect on the customer’s unique buying journey

  • How often do we calibrate our alignment with the customer’s buying journey

  • How often do we change our process and behaviours if they are at odds with the customer’s buying process (versus somewhat selfishly trying to have the customer align to our selling processes)

  • How regularly do we discuss how customers buy and unlearn and relearn as a result

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” Harlan Ellison

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