Good salespeople understand the importance of thinking like a buyer. Putting yourself “in the other person’s shoes” yields richer sales conversations and better decisions on both sides of the table.
But as you walk in your buyer’s moccasins, be sure to take more than just a few steps.
It’s tempting to limit your thinking to the issues directly affecting the sale – how buyers perceive your offer; their need or urgency to solve the problem you can help address; their timeframe, budget and buying process.
In fact, there are wider issues that your buyer is facing – issues that seem to have nothing to do with the business at hand. Yet they may have everything to do with whether you get the sale or not.
Consider this scenario: As head of the IT function at Monolith Industries, your buyer is faced with outsourcing her department as part of a company-wide cost-saving initiative. You, the vendor, can show her all the reasons why your outsourcing solution is the best in the business. But your buyer is dealing with a lot of interconnected issues and agendas, involving facts and emotions. How will she tell her loyal and talented team members that they’re getting laid off? If there’s a problem in the middle of the night, who’s getting the phone call? If the vendor drops the ball, how will that affect her career?
Here is where top sales professionals — who have developed real empathy with buyers — can get to a better, and quicker, decision. In our scenario, for example, an empathetic seller will recognize that this buying decision isn’t just about who can do the best job. It’s also about how the change affects the buyer’s job and career.
Some salespeople would argue that those issues are none of their business, and that they can’t solve them anyway. Maybe so. But a seller who doesn’t at least understand and acknowledge them isn’t thinking like the buyer, and is unlikely to get the sale.
Recent benchmark studies by the Miller Heiman Research Institute reveal that 89% of high-performing sales teams develop a clear picture of their prospects’ or customers’ issues before proposing solutions. That calls for a deep dive into the context specific to each customer.
It’s important to keep in mind that for the buyer, content and information — all readily available these days on the Internet — pale in comparison with meaning, perspective and context. Sure, you can use an ROI or TCO calculator to figure the value of your offering, but value is situational and depends on the context. The buyer in our scenario isn’t just thinking about the ROI of outsourcing. For her, value is also about her reputation and her career. Delivering the right value to this buyer requires the kind of inside view you cannot get without empathetic dealings with the “decider-in-chief.”
Become an orchestrator
Skilled salespeople also take a wider perspective when it comes to the organization. In complex sales, it’s not enough to understand the situational context of an individual buyer. Several key stakeholders will have to sing from the same hymnal, and there are often cross-functional teams that need orchestration. And everyone has their own agenda. Where one stakeholder is worried about changes to her job, another may be looking for an opportunity to advance. Another might be concerned about the impact of outsourcing on team cohesion and morale. Yet another may be looking at cash flow. Top performers seek to understand all of the stakeholders and find a way to get all of the agendas aligned.
That’s a big job. But without that alignment, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get the decision you want. Complex sales are won by the salespeople who understand what makes the buyer, and the organization, tick.
Michael Boyette is the Executive Editor of Rapid Learning Institute and thought leader for the Top Sales Dog blog. He is a nationally recognized authority on selling and has written hundreds of articles and training programs for sales reps and sales managers. Michael has managed programs for US Healthcare, Bell Communications Research, and DuPont. Connect with Michael via Twitter @TopSalesDog.
Source: Adapted from posts by Tamara Schenk, www.tamaraschenk.com. Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net