One of my biggest weaknesses is my impatience. I do all sorts of things to control it, or at least mask it. I sit on my hands, bite my tongue, count to 1000 then start over again.
Sometimes it’s a losing battle with myself. Recently, I was sitting with a group of sales people. It was a pretty large group of all different ages. One person started talking about how difficult it is to sell. Everyone piled on, whining about the difficulties they faced (you can see me betraying my impatience with the choice of words). The complaints were the same ones……
“It’s so difficult to get to see customers…..”
“All I need to do is get in front of them to pitch our stuff……..”
“There’s so much work involved in catching their attention….”
“They are moving so slowly, they just need to get on with it…”
“They just don’t know what they are doing……”
The conversation went on, I was trying to be patient, my tongue was bleeding I was biting it so hard. I had reached 1000, counting in my mind, and was up to 276 in the second round. Finally, I couldn’t restrain myself.
“Have you ever considered it from the customer point of view? Have you ever thought of how difficult it is for them to buy?” I asked.
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Most of the sales people looked at me, cross eyed, I knew they were thinking, “Doesn’t he get it, we’re talking about how much trouble we have, now he’s taking the customer side of things…..”
But that’s just the point. Much of the difficulty we have in selling is a reflection of the difficulty the customer has in their buying process. Or, the difficulty they have is a result of difficulties we create for them.
Let’s break some of this down, in the hopes that by having greater empathy with what buyers go through buying, will make their journey and ours easier.
So why is it so tough to buy?
- Buying, unless they are in procurement, isn’t their job. Our customers have their day jobs, the things they have to do in their own organization. Buying is an interruption to them, it takes time that they don’t have to buy.
- Buying is only a small part of what they are doing when they are considering a change. We focus on buying, but the customer if focusing on solving a problem, managing a change. Buying is just one component of what they are doing–and possibly the easiest component of what they are doing. The really tough, time consuming part is the problem solving and change management. Here’s a great opportunity for us to create value with them, rather than focus on what we are selling, or even on their buying process, helping them with their problem solving/change management process.
- Buying (and problem solving) is a consensus process within the customer. Many people are involved (at least 6.8), each has differing agendas, priorities, and requirements. Aligning the group, keeping them aligned is a challenge–it’s no wonder such a large percentage of buying decisions end in no decision made. Customer aren’t choosing not to change, they just get so frustrated managing the process, gaining internal alignment, they just give up–they stop the process and move onto other things. It doesn’t mean they don’t still have the need to change, but they need help in managing that process. Again, we can create great value with the customer by helping them with this process.
- The buying group has to make sure what they are doing is aligned with the priorities and goals of top management and the organization. Regardless how well justified their solution is, if it isn’t aligned with the top priorities of the organization, their project won’t be approved. Understanding this, gaining management buy in is a huge challenge for the buying group.
- They have to deal with clueless sales people worried about selling…….more on this later.
- The risks they face are huge. Let’s face it, our risks are low–we don’t make a sale, we lose the deal and go on to other deals. If they make an error, if they make a bad decision, the impacts and costs can be devastating. In the least, they can lose their jobs, but they can impact the whole viability of the function/area they are trying to address, all the people impacted by the change, the costs/lost opportunities from a bad decision. Buyers, problem solvers are going to want to thoroughly understand and eliminate all risks possible. They want to have plans in place to manage the risks.
- Again, buying is just a very small part of their concern. Once they’ve bought, they have to implement, which is, perhaps the biggest part of the challenge. They worry about this in their buying process, they worry about the change management, and they struggle in implementation. Again, this presents great opportunities for us to help them understand and manage the issues with implementation.
What about sellers making it difficult to buy? This is an endless list, but here are a few:
- We focus on selling, not what they are actually trying to do, which is solve a problem. As a result, we aren’t being very helpful to them, and the degree to which we intensify our pitches, we make it more difficult for them.
- We don’t understand them, their businesses, the problems they are solving, the challenges the face in managing change. We talk about what we want to talk about, not what the customer wants to talk about or needs to talk about.
- We use their time poorly. We are often unprepared to deal with the issues they care about, consequently waste their time.
- We don’t understand our products. Yep, that’s what the data shows. Customers complain that sales people really don’t understand their products, particularly the challenges the customers might face and must consider in implementing them.
- We don’t care about them, we care about our sale! Enough said.
I’ll stop there, the lists of issues I get when I interview customers is endless.
So you can see how I tend to get frustrated in gripe sessions where sales people talk about how tough it is to sell. It is tough, it’s one of the most difficult jobs in business. Having said that, buying is probably tougher, largely because the stakes are higher and the process is more difficult.
Ironically, the solution for buyers and sellers is the same. If we focus on making buying, or even better, solving the customer problem easier, we will make our selling much easier.