Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The customer decision process

We may know a lot about selling, but what do we know about buying?

Some insight into the customer's mind when facing a buying decision, in three phases:

1) Recognition of Needs
If you are completely satisfied with your present network, there is no decision to be made. The decision process begins when you are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Perhaps it is because certain products are getting old and you are fearful of them becoming unreliable, or perhaps they are no longer advanced enough to keep up with the demands of the business, etc.
a) Someone in the organization has a problem that needs to be solved, and it can't be done with the existing product/equipment
b) There is dissatisfaction with existing equipment (in the present, or future expected dissatisfaction due to functionality or performance-related issues)
When dissatisfaction reaches a sufficient amount of intensity or urgency, a decision will be made. So make sure the dissatisfaction reaches critical mass.

2) Evaluation of Options
a) What are my options?
b) What criteria should I use to evaluate my options?
c) How do I choose between competing models?
d) How do I choose between different vendors?
e) Who should I involve internally to help me make the decision?

3) Resolution of concerns
a) How do I make sure I'm not making a bad decision?
b) How do I justify the purchase this equipment to my boss?
c) What is the consequence if this does not work out?
d) Is the service really as good as they say?
e) Are the products really all as good as they say?
f) How does maintenance/support work
g) Is it worth my time to dig into the offering, rather than simply purchasing from the established vendor?


4) Implementation
Often forgotten once the sale is closed, but the implementation part may either prove your service level or uncover additional needs (for more products, accessories etc, most of which is often quoted in the process, but sometimes a customer finds out they need something more or different to make it whole).

At a glance:
When you are cold calling, you are stepping in at a 'random' moment in the professional life of your prospect.

Your prospects may find themselves in different stages of the decision making process, and it is your job to find out where they are in the process or to start the process.

I understand that this is no news to most of you in the grand scheme of things, but what may be helpful for you is to consider that the phases should typically be addressed in sequence. Going over concerns while you're still uncovering needs may confuse your prospect more than you'd want.

If you come in at the second stage (evaluation of options) because you've received a lead from marketing, and you find out there are two competitors, you would want to distinguish yourself from the competition, by going over the decision criteria and possibly noting some or adding some that make you look more favorable. (Try to find out which criteria weigh more heavily than others. They are not all equal in the mind of the buyer. The same is true for concerns.)

In the next phase, addressing the concerns, you can set yourself further apart from the competition, and ease the mind of the buyer to go with you and defend his decision internally.

On a similar note, many people try to start a meeting with a presentation.
However, in the Recognition of Needs phase, it is better to hold back on product discussions and presentations, and to ask questions to uncover the needs.
(This is the part where you ask open-ended questions, and 'find the pain')

In fact, some questions do not only articulate dissatisfaction, they may actually intensify the dissatisfaction.
Example of question sequence:
Have you ever had an order delayed from your current vendor, with only 3 days notice prior to expected date while having to deal with a 10 week lead time to begin with? [yes]
- Did that cause additional problems for your project planning? [yes]
- How did you solve this? [...]

Need-uncovering question sequences will help you move to the next phase (in which a presentation could be very appropriate), while funneling the needs into categories (quality, reliability, price, delivery, service, warranty etc) where you can address them one by one.

Last, but not least, use your intuition to discover potential issues.
If your customer seems hesitant to you, but isn't raising a concern, it doesn't mean there is none. He may just be reluctant to share them.
He may not want to hurt your feelings, or dismiss your professional qualifications, either personal or for your company as a whole.

Building trust earlier in the conversation, therefore, is an important factor to make sure you're not overlooking uncovered concerns that may withhold the prospect from doing business with us.

Ask your customer to be honest and open about his concerns, and tell him you genuinely want to know - to make sure that he has the appropriate info to make the right buying decision.
You should also realize that we can not always have a perfect score on every aspect. Others may have more imperfections than you, so it doesn't always mean that when a concern is raised you will not get the deal.

Better to openly discuss the concerns than to leave them under the surface.

Happy selling!

P.S. The above is a short insight (my interpretation of it at least) after reading Neil Rackham's book Major Account Sales Strategy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Consultative selling

On Salesblogcast - someone asked the question:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of consultative selling?

Here's my answer to the question on the blog:

Everyone in sales recognizes that one customer isn't the same as the other.And anyone in sales management will recognize that one salesman isn't the same as the other.
Some salesmen tend to ask more questions and others tend to want to make it a quick and smooth transaction for the customer.

The term consultative selling, I believe, is a result from sales managers and/or trainers trying to typecast a certain method of selling. In organizations where the top 20% performers all seem to be the type that asks more questions - salesmanagers would typically like to extend that method to the lower performers, by tweaking their approach and calling the preferred approach a name. Could have been 'question'-selling.

With that said - listening to the customer, and asking the right qualifying questions applies to any sale, regardless of the 'method' used.Although I like using a conceptual form to continue to think about its plusses or minuses and to add thought to matter, it often occurs to me that the sales profession is regarded as slick and smooth and people like to give it an intellectual touch by making it a semi-consulting job. It is not really.

You're just trying to close the deal - whatever it takes.Consulting means you're being paid by the hour, because you're offering skill, experience or insight (a combination likely) to your customer. Salesmen are paid to close deals.

Staying in touch with your customer is very natural for most salesmen. Asking the right questions sometimes is less natural - especially for the talkers.

Bringing 'consultative selling' back to its basics to me is no more than figuring out how you could best match your offering with the clients, so that
1) he ends up buying your product/service, and
2) you sound like someone that is genuinely trying to help, even though you're a salesman ;-)

To answer the question:
S: The emphasis on asking good (qualifying) questions
W: The tendency to over-complicate/over-intellectualize the job. The deal will still need to be closed, no matter how well you find the answers to your questions.

What are your thoughts?