What Does “Understand the Customer’s Buying Process” Really Mean for Your Salespeople?

Many thought leaders today are talking about the importance of understanding your customer’s buying process, and aligning your sales strategy accordingly. But what does that mean?

Pam, a sales manager for a leading office technology solutions provider, received an RFP for an opportunity to sell 600 monitors to a healthcare facility with 20 locations. The customer was shopping price, and Pam’s sales rep working the opportunity had prepared a response to the RFP that included only 3% mark-up. Instead, Pam scheduled a meeting with the customer.

Trying to approach this RFP from a customer-focused perspective, Pam realized that some important considerations were being overlooked.

Given all the information available to buyers on the web, many customers think they understand their own needs, but don’t. Pam’s goal when she walked into the meeting was to get the customer to move backwards in their buying process. Pam wanted the customer to slow down, and think some more things through.

During the meeting, Pam asked:

    • “I understand that you’re planning to have your engineering staff install these new monitors. How much time will it take them, and how much will you pay them in salary and benefits to get this job done?
    • What tasks will these personnel not be able to do while they’re installing the monitors?
    • Will they have to travel to your various facilities and have you calculated their travel expenses?
    • What is your plan to dispose of the old monitors, and is that disposal plan eco-friendly?
    • What is your plan to dispose of the packaging materials, and is that process eco-friendly?
    • Who will be accountable for ensuring all of these monitors are installed properly?
    • Where will you store your new monitors before you install them, and how much must you pay for storage, picking, packing and shipping?
    • How will you transport the monitors from your storage facility to the install site?”

The customer quickly realized that many of the issues Pam was raising hadn’t been previously considered. Here the customer was, awaiting the arrival of 6 or 7 bids from various vendors, shopping price on what they thought of as a commodity product – a monitor – and Pam comes in and gets them to completely re-think and re-evaluate their needs.

Pam knew, of course, that her company had unique capabilities that the customer needed, such as a local storage location, a knowledgeable staff to install, transportation services, and an eco-friendly recycling program.

But Pam didn’t just blurt out her unique capabilities. Instead, because she understood the buying process and was truly focused on helping the customer make the best possible buying decision, she was able to take the customer by the hand and walk them back to an earlier phase in their buying process. She helped her customer to clarify and expand their criteria for a solution, while designing a customer-focused solution that included her technology products.

In the end, Pam won the sale at an 8% margin, almost 3X what her sales rep was prepared to offer. And the customer made a better decision.

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