A lot of B2B sales organisations like to have a clear sales process written down for their salespeople to follow. The thinking is that this clarity will make the purchase experience easier for the customer and therefore will speed up the sale for the seller. A win-win that benefits both parties.
However, research into buyer behaviour shows again and again that customers find the buying experience to be very complex. For the buyer, a large value purchase that touches many parts of their organisation may not be a regular occurrence, and they are therefore not necessarily clear what steps are required of them internally. Often, they lack a clear framework with which to make a decision. Whilst they are able to access a lot of high quality information online this doesn’t necessarily help as it can appear to be conflicting and contradictory. In addition, the ‘buyer’ will tend to be more than one person, often representing different functions and therefore with different needs and priorities. Each of these prospective buyers will come across different pieces of information from different sources at different times and so the buying journey is not the linear one that sellers, and selling organisations, may have mapped out. Instead, mapped out it looks more like a complex spider diagram where internal discussion and debate leads to information being reviewed and re-evaluated multiple times throughout the buying journey.
Consider that 37% of buying groups report that even just agreeing on the problem they are trying to solve is ‘very difficult’ (The New Sales Imperative, CEB 2017).
In this environment the role of the seller is to educate the customer by helping them to make sense of the purchase. Our own research shows that this means working with them in a flexible way to help them to agree on the problem, to make sense of the information they have already gathered, to provide them with insight (rather than simply more information), to create a framework by which the buyers (all of them) feel that their needs are accounted for, to evaluate their options and to demonstrate how the solution will work for them.
It’s clear from this list that to try to impose a rigid structure that suits the needs of the seller, without taking into account the turmoil that the buyer is experiencing, will switch off your prospect. With so much complexity on the buyer side, it is imperative on Sales Leaders to ensure that they do not add to this by imposing too much process upon their salespeople. They will need to acknowledge the differences in each sale, rather than the similarities, and trust in their salespeople to determine how best to proceed at each stage. The best sales leaders will give their salespeople the freedom to operate in a very fluid manner that allows them to create the more bespoke and personal experience that buyers crave and that will help them to reach their purchase decision.
Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.