Most of us are used to thinking of managing our sales pipeline through a series of sales stages. But this approach presents a real danger of confusing sales activity with genuine progress in the prospect’s buying decision process. There are compelling reasons why sales pipelines should track the key steps in the buying decision process - and why sales managers should insist on observable evidence of the prospect’s progress before allowing opportunities to be advanced to the next stage…
Any of your prospects that are in the market for a high-value, seriously considered purchase are likely to go through a complex and lengthy buying decision process involving multiple stakeholders. Their buying decision process will rarely be linear. In fact, your prospects can choose to move forwards to the next stage, stay where they are, revert to a previous stage or abandon the journey completely at any point in the process.
So it makes a great deal of sense to start by defining the key stages your prospects are likely to pass through in their consideration. For most complex buying decisions this involves an evolution that starts with becoming dissatisfied with the status quo, through researching potential solutions, considering feasible alternatives, evaluating promising options, shortlisting credible suppliers and identifying their preferred solution. Or, of course they could choose to deal with the problem internally - or decide to do nothing.
But even if you’ve been told that you have been selected as the preferred vendor, the prospect's buying journey is still far from over. If the proposed investment is of any significant value, the preferred solution still has to be approved before an order can be placed.
If you’re to accurately track where your buyer is in their decision making process, you need to be thinking of these key stages in their buying decision journey. But most important, you need to identify the evidence of progress - the signs that your prospect has progressed from one significant stage to the next in their thinking - and that they have intend to continue to involve your organisation as they move forwards.
Milestones Signal Transitions
That’s why milestones are so important. They signal the key transitions between each stage in the buying decision process. And they provide the observable evidence you need to ensure that you have accurately judged the true status of the opportunity.
The key milestones in the B2B buying decision process happen when:
- Something changes, and your prospect recognises they have a potential need
- They conclude that solutions are available, and that there is an economic case for change
- They define their requirements and decision criteria
- They identify and shortlist technically and financially feasible options
- They identify a single preferred solution
- That solution successfully navigates the investment approval process
Once you are able to look through the lens of the buying decision process - and when you insist on seeing evidence that these key milestones have been passed - it becomes a great deal easier to accurately measure, value and track the true state of your sales pipeline.
Observe the Prospect - as well as the Sales Person
Insisting on evidence of buying activity and behaviour is likely to provide a far more reliable measure of true pipeline value and progress than relying on reports of sales activities or on the often over-confident assessments of your sales people.
So - how are you managing your sales pipeline stages today? Are you - as many organisations still are - relying too much on reported sales activity when tracking the true state of each opportunity? And are you paying enough attention to collecting evidence of these critical milestones?
There’s no need to throw all your current sales pipeline definitions out and start again - but I strongly recommend that you align each stage in your sales process to the equivalent stage in your prospect’s buying decision process, and that you define measurable, observable milestones that reflect both what you need to see from your prospect and the qualification questions you need to be asking of your sales person at every stage in the pipeline.
Align Sales Processes to the Buying Decision Journey
Aligning your sales process to the prospect’s buying decision process is just one of a number of important best practices in B2B sales and marketing, many of which are captured in our recently released “B2B Sales + Marketing Heath Check”. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend that you invest 10-15 minutes completing the questionnaire and reflecting on the answers.
If you’re like most of the organisations that have already taken the health check, it’s likely that you’ll identify at least one actionable insight that could help you improve your sales and marketing performance. Why not take the test today?