A version of this article was first published in November 2017.
Much like an experienced pilot, a salesperson should focus on reducing a customer’s risk of getting trapped in a tailspin or thrown off track from the turbulence of an over-informed buying environment.
Customers have more resources, opinions, and people to manage than ever. This can suck buyers into a “decision vortex,” where confusion, indecision, and the fear of making the wrong choice causes them to doubt their own judgment.
Buyers make decisions based on current information, which means that decision could be proven wrong tomorrow. This fact drives them toward a “minimize risk” approach to buying, and it makes it harder for salespeople to convince clients, especially when confronting them with change. As a result, salespeople have to start by instilling safety and confidence and accelerate buying by stripping away as much noise as possible.
In doing so, salespeople help buyers get out of their own way. While buyers who make the wrong decision in the short term may experience some painful consequences, making no decisions by lingering in the decision vortex is far more detrimental to their company and the corporate world in general.
Eliminate the Turbulence of the Buying Process
As the pilot in command of the customer experience, you can avoid sudden changes in buying altitude by incorporating the following strategies into your sales approach:
- Treat the Buyer Like Your Co-Pilot
Every potential buyer is a less experienced pilot looking for advice on how to navigate the marketplace effectively and efficiently. A great salesperson helps buyers clearly identify the end destination, chart the best path to reach it, and track progress toward success.Start by asking great questions that help you understand the customer’s needs and overall strategic goal. Add any expert information you have that can help clarify. This process requires you to know your products in depth and be able to recommend different options and paths to success while helping customers avoid pitfalls. There are three tangible ways you can achieve this: offering examples or anecdotes from past clients; outlining several paths to success, the steps to each, and any benefits or drawbacks; and providing metrics, such as industry data, benchmarking tools, or tactful and anonymous comparisons to other clients.
- Watch for Signs of Changing Buying Conditions, and Stay Connected
Always be looking for signs of hesitation or indecision that you can address. Salespeople often feel the pressure to make a sale, which makes it easier to focus on their goals rather than customers’ goals. Instead, reframe your attention on customers’ problems to foreground their particular experiences and help them find the clarity they need to say, “Yes.”Because the most common event that drives unexpected decision tailspins is a missed or bad meeting with a customer, you should know when meetings are and keep in touch with your contacts both before and after. Position yourself as a good listener and problem solver, and be prepared to discuss a range of concerns with clients, such as how to manage costs, grow and measure revenue, maximize asset use, and keep employees engaged. By providing objective talking points during these discussions with tools, insights, and information, you can become a trusted resource in case of a stall.
- Make Emergency Diversion Plans
The worst that can happen to a sale is a mid-flight change of plans. While most people will contact you because of one initiative they’re trying to accomplish, you should always look for ways to connect your product to more strategic goals. Plan for these spontaneous diversions by asking questions about other initiatives, systems, and goals at every opportunity, and look for ways to offer benefits your customer hasn’t considered.
Some of the bestsellers are the ones that say, “Based on everything you’re telling me right now, retooling that plant is so much smarter than investing in my software.” That’s how you get their business for a really long time versus closing the wrong deal today: by understanding the competing priorities of your customers and minimizing their risk while maximizing your offer’s value. And potentially attaching that offer to multiple initiatives instead of just one is a big plus.
Your product or service is being evaluated against all the other initiatives the company and budget can pursue. The best salespeople are willing to investigate the landscape along with the customer and provide an honest assessment. They also help clients reduce individual risk by understanding that buying today isn’t done in a vacuum by a single individual. There’s no such thing as flying solo, so focus on winning long-term business by embracing the complex skies of the customer experience.
If your initiative comes out at the top, you just made a sale. If it comes in lower, find other ways you can help. But most importantly, stay useful to stay relevant.
Rick Cheatham leads the U.S. sales practice for BTS. He works with clients such as Google, JPMorgan, and General Electric to drive their sales efforts into the future. Rick leads a team of more than 20 consultants and conceptualizes many of the BTS solutions deployed in the U.S. He’s passionate about making work a place salespeople come to be successful, is totally pragmatic and experienced in getting results through being a purpose-driven leader, and has an uncommon balance between vision and how things really get done.