During my 20-year career in sales, I’ve watched customers get smarter and smarter. As we all know, this is due in large part to the buyers’ ability to research products and solutions online. They visit vendor websites, follow vendors on social media, download content assets, tune into webinars, and attend conferences. In the process, they pick up a vast amount of knowledge about vendors and products.
Most salespeople today understand this. What they fail to understand, however, is that knowledgeable buyers are not necessarily more effective buyers. In other words, better access to more information does not always lead to better purchase decisions.
The Burdensome Buying Process
The fact is that internal purchasing processes are often onerous for buyers. That’s because many potential investments are the purview of buying committees. These committees must adhere to various corporate requirements before they present their case to the CFO for the coveted approval signature. Typical committee requirements often include:
- Weeks of internal assessment research to justify the replacement of current products.
- Weeks of independent product research to review proposed solutions.
- The release of an RFP, plus a Q & A period and due dates spread out over several more weeks.
- Evaluation of all RFP responses.
- Votes on and approval of at least three competing bids.
- Multiple vendor meetings for solution demonstrations.
- One week for each Proof of Concept (additional time is sometimes needed to evaluate each one).
- Recommendation of a vendor by the committee.
- Consideration of the real financial business case (assuming a preliminary budget has been provided).
Notice that you don’t see a big focus on measurable improvement to the company’s process or production schedule (otherwise known as “corporate value”). That’s because most buying committees are driven by personal bias and political motives. Committee members look for feature alignment with their specific needs and a vendor who shows a willingness to jump through their hoops.
This is also why the last thing committee members want to do is follow a salesperson’s scripted sales process. Avoiding the sales pitch is also why customers research the solutions independently. When they do call a sales rep, it is critical the rep is prepared to meet the individual demands of committee members in addition to the expected returns for the economic buyer.
How ROI Tools Can Help Buyers, Sellers, and Marketers
Although buyers are definitely more informed, independent, and empowered than ever before, they also tend to get stuck in rigid patterns and modes of thinking. As a salesperson or marketer, it’s your job to encourage these committee members to think differently.
In this regard, a suite of ROI tools—including value calculators, assessment tools, and ROI calculators—have unparalleled benefits. Here’s how you can tap those benefits.
Step One: Make a value calculator available on your website.
A value calculator placed prominently on your website allows buyers to easily quantify the value of your solution as it applies to them. The information the customer enters into the value calculator (including contact information) is fed into your lead system, and your sales rep then receives a copy of the value report for follow up.
Step Two: Make an assessment tool available on your website.
The assessment tool identifies what problems customers are facing and the magnitude of those problems relative to industry benchmarks. Additionally, an effective assessment tool will indicate how much money the customer is losing per month in his or her current environment. This information provides foundational data for the business case, which will support your solution at closing time.
Step Three: Build a rock solid business case with an ROI calculator.
An ROI calculator helps you pull all this data together and roll it up into a professional and easy-to-read report. I have seen many salespeople use ROI calculators with the intention of establishing the financial return. However, I rarely see these tools used effectively. Here are the most common problems.
- Salespeople do not receive proper training on how to use the ROI calculator, so it becomes a negotiation tool instead of a leverage tool.
- The ROI calculator is hosted in an Excel spreadsheet and supported by someone in accounting with little time to update the data.
- Occasionally someone adjusts the ROI formulas without proper knowledge and, in doing so, breaks the tool.
- Salespeople do not commit to using the tool as part of their sales process.
These missteps are all fairly easy to correct with the proper use of a standardized and automated ROI calculator.
Winning the deal starts well before the RFP, proof of concept, and business case. It starts during the buying committee’s research period. This is why it’s important to have value calculators and assessment tools readily available, and use them in conjunction with an ROI calculator later in the sale. This is the best way to turn the buying process into a sales process and win today’s empowered buyer's purchase decision. These inexpensive investments will pay you back hundreds of times over with shortened sales cycles, preservation of average selling price, and customers who are satisfied they received value for their dollar.