My guest appearance on The Sales Conversation Podcast explored How to Lead in the Buyer Journey with Next Steps. I was joined by my business partner, Darrin Fleming, and the host, Bruce Scheer, founder of Sales Conversation. Together, we discussed how sellers can lead and support buyers through the buying process by having defined “next steps.”
Let’s highlight some of our most important points.
Who’s in Charge?
Here’s what happens when sellers enter the buying process without a series of concerted next steps. After a great introductory meeting, the seller defers to the buyer about what comes next. Typically the buyer says, “Send me some more information” and promises to socialize it internally to keep the process moving.
So the seller dutifully gathers up more information and sends it along, only to be met with a wall of silence. When the seller finally breaks through, the buyer says something like, “I haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone about this and I’m busy the next few weeks.”
This has “no decision” written all over it. And it’s all because the seller was passive and allowed the buyer to define the next steps in the buying process.
Guiding the Buying Process
An example of the better alternative involved two leading technology companies that partnered on go-to-market initiatives. They took an active role in guiding the buying process by building next steps right into their marketing plan.
First, they held an initial meeting with a prospective customer to determine whether there was sufficient interest to continue. If so, the buyer committed to gathering the right people together for an executive briefing, at which experts from the technology companies provided a deep overview of the initiative and its impact on the customer. Then they conducted an assessment, built a business case and held a strategic workshop to build the project roadmap.
The deal rate was over 50% when using this sequence, and the teams shaping this initiative won an award for their successful efforts.
Best Practices in Leading the Buying Journey
It is critically important for sellers to lead buyers with clearly-defined next steps and not vice versa. However, many sellers follow a self-serving sales process instead of a buying process during which the seller proposes next steps in anticipation of what the buyer needs next.
When sellers act as advisors, they help buyers create and manifest a vision of the future. This can include showing buyers how other customers made their buying decision, what touchpoints and people were involved, how assessments and value analyses can build the case for change, etc.
Ask these questions as a guide to uncovering the next step:
1. What is the desired outcome at each buying milestone? A desired outcome could be educating executives about the initiative and its impact on the business.
2. What activities are needed to achieve the desired outcomes? Although this will be different for each deal, sellers should rely on their experiences with other customers to know what has worked before in similar circumstances. These activities will become apparent when buyers share their inside knowledge of how their organization operates.
3. What content and tools are needed to support the activities desired and outcomes? To shape opinions, sellers can build a value story using case studies and value selling tools. If the buyer anticipates challenges from IT, for example, the seller should be prepared with a deeply technical presentation and presenter.
The most important takeaway from our discussion is that sellers need to lead the buying process instead of being led by buyers. The seller’s next steps should be to help buyers take their next steps.
As a seller, don’t wait until it’s perfect and you have everything you need. Ask your peers for advice. Inquire within your sales and marketing organizations to see what resources are available. Use what you have and remember, good intentions go a long way.
Listen to the How to Lead in the Buyer Journey with Next Steps.
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