All the experts these days are talking about the increasing need for customer focus and maximizing sales. Typically entrepreneurs and even professional sales people think this means more emphasis on the customer selling process, when in fact it really means spending more time understanding the customer buying process (view from the customer).
According to Kevin Davis, as outlined in a recent book “Slow Down, Sell Faster!” and a related article, the single biggest mistake people make is that they try to close the sale too fast. They arrive at the end of their "pitch" just as the customer is beginning to recognize they have a need! They leave the scene just as the prospective customer begins shopping around for a solution by looking at the competition. Not good.
Assuming you are serious about competing with big companies for customers, and realize that a fast sales pitch doesn’t mean more sales, here are some tips from Kevin that every entrepreneur needs to understand even before attempting their first sale:
Work to understand how your customers will buy. "What are the steps of your customer's buying process?" When the product is simple, and there is no competition, buyers can make a quick decision. But these days, that is rarely the case. Thus most customers need to do some research and learn more first. You need to think about a purchase from the customer's viewpoint, and be there for him.
Define the steps of your sales process in customer terms. Understanding buying is where selling should start. Get very clear and specific about the steps customers take as they move through their buying process. Replace your "sales process" labels with "customer actions," which then become the objectives for your team when they call or meet with customers.
Manage the pipeline based on where customers are in their buying process. What should matter to you is not where you are in their sales process, but where the customer is in their buying process. Ask, "What actions has the customer taken thus far?" And, "What action should they take next, and by when?" The answer to these questions provides you with a better understanding of the true status of the sales opportunity.
Map out who will be involved in the buying decision, and what step they are at in the buying process. If the buying decision is complex, you need to determine what factors are working for you in the sale, what factors are working against you, and what you can do to put yourself in a better position to win. Don’t get ahead of your customer.
Focus on the most influential decision makers. Often the real buy decision is not made by the person doing the interaction. Find the C-level executives behind the scenes, or the key influencers, or the personal relationship connections that can override simple price and benefit arguments.
Provide coaching early in the sales process; avoid last minute interventions. We’ve all heard the complaint about the executive "riding in on a white horse" to save the day and close a deal. The end result of this white-horse ride is often three-fold: white knuckles for the salesperson, a bigger discount for the customer, and lower profit for the company! What kind of win is that?
Speed is important in getting to multiple decision makers quickly, identifying what is important to each player, and knowing where each player is in the buying process. After than, it’s time to slow down and stay in sync with each customer’s buying process.
Customer focus has nothing to do with your selling or service process, whether the customers are individual consumers, or large company buyers negotiating a complex transaction. The key is to put yourself in their shoes, and lead them through their own process. Customers want to buy from leaders, not pushers. What a novel way to exceed your customer’s expectations!