Teaching Our Customers To Buy




  • By , Published November 1, 2014

    By now, at least if you’ve been reading the literature on selling, we know the importance of Insight, Commercial Teaching/Learning, or whatever you call it. The focus of these are to help the customer realize there are opportunities they may be missing. There are opportunities to grow, to improve their businesses, to reduce costs, to improve their customer experience, to respond more quickly to competition —- to recognize the need to change.

    If we’re successful at this, we get the customer all hot and lathered to change. To do something different, to take action.

    Now the hard work begins. With our Insight and Commercial Teaching, we are only addressing the tip of the iceberg. As we know, the bulk of the iceberg’s mass is under the water, we don’t see it.

    The customer buying process is much like the iceberg.

    Think about it, 45.9% of forecast opportunities actually close. The majority of forecast opportunities end in no decision made. Imagine what this might mean for pipeline opportunities.

    So we’ve invested all this effort in getting customers hot and lathered to change, possibly to buy—but they can’t cross the finish line.

    Even if we weren’t involved in creating this need to buy, but they are 57% through their buying process and get us engaged, we face the same problem.

    How do we help our customers buy? This is not, how do we get our customers to select a solution, but more about how do we help them organize themselves to buy, how do we help them align the diverse agendas, priorities, opinions, self interests? How do we move beyond getting them interested in taking action to actually taking action (and hopefully with us)?

    In some very complex deals, customers recognize this challenge and are engaging outside consultants to “help” them with this process—-and we all know what we think of consultants – present company excluded 😉

    We can’t leave this to chance. If we are lucky or skilled (I think it’s some of both), we can help the customer with their buying process. We facilitate their process, we help them develop a project plan, we help them align interests, we help them establish milestones and goals, and we help in the execution of that buying plan/process.

    But how real is that? Is the customer really going to invite us into “the tent?” Are they going to let us be the facilitator? More pragmatically, do we have the time to facilitate and project manage all the deals in our pipeline—even if our customers invited us to do this?

    So how do we help our customers buy? How do we help them overcome the challenges of managing at least 5.4 stakeholders in moving to make a decision and take action?

    It seems we have to do a number of things.

    First, we need a customer or customers who can and are willing to drive the process, drive consensus, and make a decision. Whether it’s a project coordinator/manager, a sponsor/coach, a mobilizer, we need someone who has a vested interest in driving the process on a day to day basis, who has the interest, courage, and motivation to take the personal risk in aligning diverse interests to drive consensus and a decision.

    Then we need to teach them how to manage the process–or teach them how to buy.

    Sometimes we mistake what this means. It’s not the “solutions comparison checklists” (you know those–it’s the one’s where every box in our column is checked off, and the customer can’t check off all the boxes for the competitors). We can’t focus on product evaluation and product selection–which is where we usually focus.

    Rather we need to help them learn how to align interests and agendas, deal with conflict and disagreement, establish goals and milestones, manage a project. These involve facilitation, collaboration, project management skills.

    But it doesn’t stop there. We have to teach the customers how to sell what they want within the organization. They have sell to gain broader support and approval, across the organization and up the food chain. And selling is probably an unnatural and uncomfortable act for them (unless we are selling to the sales organization). They won’t know how to do it, they will fear doing it–but if they want to get what they want, they have to sell within their own organizations.

    Teaching our customers to buy, teaching them how to sell within their own organizations. Helping them align agendas, priorities, objectives. Helping them gain support within their own organizations. Both our success and that of our customers is dependent on how effectively we work with our customers in buying.


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