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Selling the Way Your Customer Buys

By Marlaina Capes

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We all know it is important to consistently follow a sales process. In fact, according to CSO Insights sales organizations where sales reps consistently followed a sales process dramatically outperformed sales organizations lack a standard process (71.8% of reps achieving quota vs. 59.9% of reps achieving quota). While the sales process is important, there is another process taking place during a sales conversation that is often overlooked by salespeople: the buyer’s purchase process.

So what is a purchase process?  It is the predictable process that all buyers go through when making a purchase decision. Successful sales professionals understand how buyers make decisions and they use this knowledge together with their sales process to help “guide” buyers to a purchase decision.

The Purchase Process

Every buyer goes through a predictable five-stage purchase process in making a purchase. The five stages of the purchase process are: (1) Openness, (2) Focus, (3) Knowledge, (4) Evaluation, and (5) Decision. Let’s briefly review each of these stages of the Purchase Process using a familiar experience, buying a car:

  1. Openness: Let’s face it – until something makes you open or receptive to a new idea, a new product or a new provider, you will most likely stick with what you’ve been doing. Using our car example, something happened to your old car: you outgrew it, it quit working or maybe you wanted a new image to go with your new job. Whatever the reason, something happened that created openness to consider buying a new car.

  2. Focus: Once you decide to make a change the next step is to start focusing on what is important to you. Do you need better mileage, more room, improved performance, or something else?  While you may start out with a list (formal or informal) of needs, you can most certainly be influenced by co-workers, friends or even a savvy salesperson.

  3. Knowledge: Now that you’re clear on what you want, you then want to gain knowledge about a variety of different car models that would address your needs. Many of us look online, talk to others, and talk with salespeople to see what our options are. In the case of buying a car, you may do extensive research before ever speaking with a car salesperson.

  4. Evaluation: In the evaluation stage, you are trying the new “thing” out to see if it works like you thought it would. In the case of a car, you test drive a few different models and then make an evaluation of how each one addresses your needs.

  5. Decision: Finally, you make a decision to buy a specific car model, not buy, or continue looking. Many buyers may not even be aware that they are going through this process. In relatively simple sales a buyer may move through these stages quickly. In complex sales, on the other hand, it is a longer process and when multiple decision makers become involved, they may all be moving through the stages at slightly different times. It is important to notice that the process is not linear. A buyer can advance through several stages of the purchase process then return to a previous stage before moving forward again.

The Sales Process

Before we can look at how to help a buyer through their purchase process, let’s briefly look at a common 5-stage sales process:

  1. Planning the Call: All successful sales people spend time planning and preparing for a sales call.

  1. Identifying Needs: If you don’t understand your customer’s needs you can’t sell to them. Period!  This stage may be one of the most important for the seller.

  1. Presenting your Solution: After you thoroughly understand your buyer’s needs, you can move on to presenting your solution in a way that demonstrates your capability to solve their problem.

  1. Managing Feedback: After you present a solution, it’s very likely you’ll start getting feedback from your customer. There is good feedback, “we love this, when can we get started” and there is negative feedback – also known as objections, “Your price is too high.”

  1. Gaining Commitment: The final stage is of course gaining commitment from the customer or getting the customer to say “yes.”

Aligning the Purchase Process and Sales Process

Knowing how buyer make decisions puts you in an advantageous position. At any given point in the sales process, being able to identify which stage the buyer is in allows you to align your sales process to the buyer’s purchase process. This makes selling much more natural and less adversarial.

For example, if the buyer is in the Focus stage, you should be Identifying Needs by asking questions; if the buyer is in the Knowledge stage, you should be Presenting your Solution; and if the buyer is in the Evaluation stage, you should be Managing Feedback in order to overcome any objections. Finally, it is absolutely critical that you recognize when your buyer is in the Decision stage in order to know when to Gain Commitment.

Selling the way your customer buys will also result in fewer stalled deals. Problems often occur when we try and move things along before the buyer is ready. For example, a fundamental mistake many sales reps make is asking for a commitment too early – i.e., the buyer is in the Knowledge or Evaluation stage and not yet ready to make any purchase decision. (Of course, the only thing worse than asking too early is not asking at all.)

Having a fundamentally sound sales process that you consistently follow is critical to long-term sales success. But don’t forget to align your sales process to your buyer’s purchase process.

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About Marlaina Capes

Marlaina Capes
Marlaina Capes is a Senior Director of Client Services at the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). She has over 20 years of experience helping organizations improve performance in the areas of sales skills and leadership development. At SRG, Marlaina has worked with industry leading clients including Abbott, AdRoll, Alcon, Catalina Marketing, FactSet, Johnson Financial Group, Maritz, RingCentral, Univision, and Valmont Industries.

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