Sales Through a Customer Lens – Phase 2

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As sales people mature in their understanding of sales, they begin to recognize it has little to do with the seller and everything to do with the buyer. Professional, successful sales people recognize it is all about relationships and building the right kind of relationship at the right time with the buyer. People buy from people who are sincere, competent and who empower them. When sales is examined from the point of view of the customer, there are three distinct phases of the buying process – and each requires a different approach to facilitate the buyer’s progression from one to another. Last week, we examined the first phase – the buyer recognizing they have a problem. This week, let’s move onto phase 2.

Phase 2: The buyer recognizes there are ways to solve that problem.

During this phase, the customer has come to the recognition that they must act on this problem and have developed a strategy to take action. In a B2B setting, this could be articulated as a corporate or division strategy. In a B2C setting this can look like a personal goal or plan. Either way, the customer at this point is working to educate themselves on the options they have available to solve the problem. They have not yet gotten themselves to a particular vendor over another – they are still at the level of categorical problems. For example in a B2B setting, if the customer’s problem is low performance of their assembly process for product x, they are looking at options within the category called, low performance of assembly processes. The solutions, when viewed through the customers eyes, could be an endless variety of choices from personnel changes to equipment changes to process changes to technology enhancements, etc. The opportunity for sales people in this phase is to do two things: 1) help the buyer recognize the urgency of solving this problem so they don’t over-analyze themselves into doing nothing and 2) help the buyer assess their various options with concrete data, qualitative valuations, technical experts and references of others who’ve had similar challenges.

It is critical to recognize there are a lot of people involved in this buying process and as a sales representative your role is to identify all the buyers and influencers and keep them aligned around a consistent way of thinking about solutions to the problem. It’s also important to note that you should talk about your solution at this stage – assertively as a viable option – it just should be put in the context of how it solves the customers’ business problem. You’re not just pushing your product, you’re trying to help the buyer solve a challenge. At the end of this phase, the customer will have narrowed their set of solutions down to a handful of choices (and in many B2B settings will have generated a request-for-proposal to those vendors).

Just like phase 1, a best practice is to recognize there are multiple stages within each phase and to use a customer scoring system so that everyone on your sales team can recognize what level this particular customer is at. Create a well-defined, objective, measurable way to indicate that this phase is complete for your particular business. Link that into your CRM/SFA system so that all customers that have moved out of this phase into the next are defined in a consistent way.

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