3 Steps to Understanding Buying Behavior

December 30, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Fact-finding sales calls are a basic part of nearly every B2B sales process. The calls start well, but often end in disaster. Well-trained sales reps identify buyer’s needs by asking a series of scripted questions. This exercise can uncover useful information for the rep, but it provides little value to the customer. For many buyers, the ‘discovery’ sales call is the second, third or fourth interrogation with the same questions by yet another competitor. No wonder one of these sales calls was recently recognized as the “Worst Sales Call of 2011.”

Buyer's JourneyHow often are you shut out of a major opportunity at the beginning of the sales cycle, simply by a lack of understanding buying behavior - the way your prospects conduct their discovery? Shift your focus to learning how your prospects discover solutions to their problems. End the interrogation sales call. If you can learn how your target market makes buying decisions, you will participate in more deals.

Here are the 3 Steps:

1.    Interview recent new customers to identify their discovery process

Focus on net new customers because they have not developed a trusted relationship with your sales team that can bias their discovery practices towards your solutions. Customer discovery journeys differ. World-class sales organizations generally complete a series of six or more interviews to identify common themes and practices on the buyer’s journey. Multiple products, services or channels may require more and different interviews.

Question: What was the trigger event? Before any buyer begins the search that ultimately leads them to your solution, something happened that made it imperative to learn more about your product or service. Understanding the origin of the buying journey helps you to refine your Ideal Customer Profile to better target future buyers.

Question: What is the first thing the buyer did? The two most common actions are to launch an Internet search or pick up the phone and call someone. The latter action results in a referral and quickly engages the buyer in your selling process where your sales team can contribute to the buyer’s discovery process.

Buyers who start with an Internet search often do not engage with a sales person until they have completed an investigation of potential solutions using the online resources that you and your competitors provide. This is where the buyer-seller disconnect happens because buyers are more educated than you think.

Question: What did the buyer already know when they formally engaged with your sales team?

Focus on the buyer’s use of web resources – white papers, blogs, on-line demos, videos, product specifications, ROI calculators, etc. Inventory your own on-line resources and your competitor’s. Provide the buyer with a checklist to remind them of their journey.

Include other Marketing resources – events, newsletters, outbound messaging, advertising, etc. Inventory these resources and create a checklist. Be sure to ask which resources had the most significant impact or value in the discovery process.

Ask where your sales team was able to add value or help to advance the buyer’s discovery that could not be learned by the other resources. What knowledge gaps did the sales team fill?

If the buyer used a documented evaluation process (spreadsheet or matrix), ask them to share it with you. For each decision criterion, what evidence or resource did they use? How were the factors weighted? 

2.    Interview non-customers of lost opportunities

This can be a bit more challenging, since you normally do not have a strong relationship with non-customers. Their insights are especially valuable because they can pinpoint an essential ingredient that your sales process may be missing.

The questions are similar to those asked of new customers, but the focus is on closing the gap between you and your competitors.

Focus on the non-customer’s use of web resources. What resources did the winning competitor provide that aided their discovery journey? Using your inventory checklist, ask what was missing from your online resources.

Ask questions to spot where your sales team failed to advance the buyer’s discovery process. What was redundant and time-wasting?  What knowledge gaps did the sales team fail to fill?

3.    Construct a Buyer’s Discovery Map

Synthesize your findings by using a flowchart to build a discovery timeline. The end result will be a buyer’s discovery map that will enable your sales and marketing team to understand how to intersect with the buyer and immediately add value.

Identify general patterns in the discovery process of your sample population. Note the sequence that the resources are engaged.

Use the discovery map to train your salespeople on the buyer’s process. This will save time during sales calls and build credibility. Your sales team should let buyers know that they will not waste their time because they understand the buying process.

Provide your sales team with stories about how other buyers have approached the discovery. These help to build rapport with buyers who are currently making the same journey.

 Avoid unproductive and potentially damaging sales calls. The steps outlined above require time and resources, but the investment will pay big dividends. If you want more details or support, please click on the free download link below or contact me. I am interested to hear about your own research into buyer behavior – make a comment below.

Knowing your buyer’s discovery process - their buying behavior - will put your sales team ahead of the competition and enable your sales process to deliver world-class performance.

Sales Cycle

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Topics: Sales Process

Posted by John Kenney

John Kenney
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