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Sales Questions that Drive the Buying Process

| Jun 11, 2013 2 Comments

At our sales seminars we always begin by asking the audience two important questions. First, “What are the steps of your selling process?” Here, we get clear, concise answers. Most salespeople can describe in detail the steps of their sale. While answers vary from one salesperson to another and from one company to another, the point is clear: Most salespeople have a clear understanding of how they sell.

The second question we ask is, “What are the steps of your customer’s buying process?”

Even today, with an increased emphasis on being customer-focused, that question still stumps a lot of salespeople. Some have never thought in depth about the process from the customer’s viewpoint, and even those who are trying to be more customer-driven haven’t formalized their thinking to the point where they can appreciate the psychological process that customers go through when making major purchases. The result is that salespeople tend to think about what they’re doing during the sales process to try to sell, rather than what the customer needs to do to make an educated buying decision.

The simple truth is that customer’s don’t care about the rep’s sales process. They care about their own buying process. For salespeople, understanding the buying process is where professional selling should start.

I have a book published by Harvard Business Review titled Business Classics: Fifteen Key Concepts for Managerial Success. The book contains the fifteen articles in HBR’s history that have sold the most reprints. One best-selling article, “What Makes a Good Salesman” by David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg, was published in 1964.

The author’s research found that there are just two essential qualities that make an effective salesperson: ego-drive (or personal ambition) and empathy. Empathy reflects your capacity to experience something through the eyes of another—in this case your customer. Wow, think about it! Five decades later, there is still a large audience for a message about the need to view selling as a facilitation of the customer’s buying process. Perhaps it’s a theme we have to keep re-learning because there has been so little discussion of just how to make this happen.

3 necessary ingredients for matching the sales process to the buying process

  1. See the process through the customer’s eyes. Rather than focusing on the steps of your sales process, define the steps your customer goes through when making a buying decision.
  2. Resist the urge to “prematurely pitch.” Talking about features and options will do you no good if the customer has not even decided to buy yet. Instead, think about what information you need to provide in order to move the customer to the next step in their buying process. Early on, for example, that means helping them understand the full extent of their needs so buying sooner rather than later becomes a priority. Later you can get into features and options that match those needs.
  3. Don’t gloss over the critical questions. Plan every sales call by asking yourself, “Where is this prospect at his/her decision-making process?” and “What does this customer need to learn in order to take their next buying step?”

These practices can take you a long way to become a consultative salesperson able to empathize with customer’s buying needs. For more information on critical questions that salespeople should ask to drive the buying cycle, download our Quick Reference Guide: “Consultative Selling Matched to the Buying Process.”

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2 Responses to Sales Questions that Drive the Buying Process

  1. Andrew Rudin June 11, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Kevin: I like this blog and you have brought up some valuable ideas. Interesting that empathy as a key sales trait has been durable for over fifty years–and, I trust, longer than that. We have to keep re-learning empathy because sales culture often doesn’t reward it, and few know how to coach or mentor the behavior.

    Anecdotally, I’m trying to think of a time that a salesperson who missed making his or her number, but had really, really satisfied customers was asked to keynote the annual sales kickoff. Nobody comes to mind.

    There’s plenty of discussion about empathy, but it’s hard to embed in a sales organization. The salespeople I know who are over-the-top empathetic have developed the characteristic on their own terms, and as far as I know, not through a manager who encouraged, coached, or rewarded the behavior. I wrote about one empathetic salesperson in particular in a blog titled “To An Octopus, “50″ Means Nothing.” (on CustomerThink) She found the best way to make her number was to be selective about which of management’s “best practice” advice she used with customers.

  2. Kevin Davis June 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Andrew – Thanks for your comment, especially about sales managers not teaching empathy to their salespeople. It’s easier to be empathetic at the beginning of a quarter, much more difficult, and yet important, at the end. (Especially if a sales manager wants a customer to buy a 2nd time.) I’ll check out your blog.

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