When organisations talk about their sales process, they are usually thinking in terms of a sequence of sales activities, typically encapsulated in a series of pipeline stages, which are designed to move a prospect from first contact to a successful sale. There’s overwhelming research to prove that having a formalised sales process has helped many organisations to improve sales performance.
But if my recent observations are anything to go by, many well-established sales processes seem to have something of a blind spot when it comes to two absolutely critical elements of successful B2B selling: what is the prospect doing and thinking at each point in their buying decision process, and what can we do to recognise where they are and facilitate their onward journey?
It’s all too easy to follow a prescribed sales process and fool yourself into thinking the opportunity is far more advanced - or your chances far more positive - than they really are. And relying on feedback from a single contact without awareness of the behaviours of the whole decision making team is equally dangerous - particularly if your prime contact hasn’t demonstrated an ability to mobilise their colleagues around the need for change or persuade them of the superiority of your approach to solving the problem.
Mobilising the decision team
In a world of increasingly well-informed prospects and consensus based decision-making, the ability to understand and influence the decision team’s perspective is increasingly vital. But that is hard to achieve if the sales person hasn’t identified and engaged with all the key stakeholders, established their motivations, and worked out where they fit in to the decision process.
There are two obvious antidotes for these common sales challenges: firstly, base your pipeline stages and milestones around the typical stages in your prospect’s buying decision process and second, carefully and thoughtfully assessing the credentials of your prime contact to determine whether they are a true mobiliser capable of leading their colleagues through the inevitable twists and turns of their decision journey.
Base your pipeline stages around the buyer's journey
A growing number of enlightened sales organisations have already recognised the benefits of redefining their pipeline stages around the key phases and milestones in the prospect’s typical buying decision process, for example: unaware and unconcerned, initial interest aroused, establishing appetite for change, agreeing basis of decision, evaluating shortlisted options, negotiating and validating preferred solution, and confirming and approving final decision.
It forces an interesting inversion in the sales person’s thinking - from what do I need to do to move this opportunity forward to what does the prospect’s decision team need to know and do before they can move forward - and what can I do to facilitate the process. Unsurprisingly, taking the prospect’s perspective often results in the recognition that many deals are actually far less far advanced than the sales person might have hoped or supposed.
Is your contact really capable of driving change?
The CEB have revealed the results of a great deal of research into the second challenge: am I really working with a mobiliser who can make change happen within their organisation? - in their recently published sequel to the Challenger Sale, “The Challenger Customer”. In a nutshell, most sales people gravitate towards sponsors they find easy to deal with - but most true mobilisers are hard to convince but ultimately highly rewarding to work with.
Perhaps it could be time to take a look at your own sales process and pipeline stages, and to reassess your judgements about the effectiveness of your primary contacts in your prospects to affect the sort of change you are proposing to them? Understanding the nature of their buying journey and the dynamics of the decision team could make all the difference between winning that opportunity or losing it to either a competitor or (as is increasingly common) to “no decision”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales and the founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, home of the Value Selling System®. Following a successful career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and corporates, Bob now works with a growing client base of tech-based B2B-focused high-growth businesses, enabling them to systematically establish their distinctive business value in every customer interaction.