buying process

The Buyer’s Funnel: A More Dynamic Way to Convert, Sell and Win

Sales methodology has focused heavily on a seller-centric view of the customer journey through the sales and buying process. This is why it is referred to as a “sales funnel.” There are several tried-and-true variants by which a prospect who doesn’t know about your product or service eventually becomes a customer or client.

While the seller-centric sales funnel has its merits, it’s an incomplete picture that may not be dynamic enough to address what your prospect needs, costing you leads and sales.

Reason one? It’s too linear. Customers that are unhappy with the engagement stage may walk back up the funnel and revisit the evaluation and engagement steps with a different provider. Once this prospect enters the top of the funnel as you, the seller, imagines it, they may be already be 75% of the way through the buying process!

Consider this scenario: A prospect calls a company ready to buy, but an automated process or a sales person following the typical linear sales process thinks they’re a new lead. (This is partially a pitfall of totally automated marketing.) Instead of hearing good qualifying questions, they’re barraged with entry-level questionnaires or high-level collateral, and leave the top of your funnel because they’re already well along the way in their own funnel – the buying funnel.

It is true that certain prospects need to be educated carefully and led through the process and it will take better sales people and a more responsive marketing content ecosystem to get there. Other prospects just need someone to facilitate the last steps of the buying process. Unfortunately, I have noticed a preponderance of time spent on training sales staff with rigid processes and not enough time spent training them on how to understand the customer’s buying process and their unique challenges. The point is that one size does not fit all.

In order for my clients to better understand the foundation of the dynamic buying process I have segmented the buying process into four key components – the Four E’s:


  • Exploration

    A prospect does broad research to discover a particular universe of relevant solutions.

  • Evaluation

    A prospect digs deeper into the features and claims of these solutions, weighing them against each other.

  • Engagement

    The prospect reaches out to request demos, prices and granular information that tells them whether or not the solution will effectively address their needs.

  • Experience

    The prospect becomes a customer and, ideally, experiences the benefits of the solution and becomes a repeat customer as well as an advocate for the vendor partner.

If you better understand the customer’s buying process you’ll be better able to respond with the information, materials and messaging that shows them you understand where they are and what they need. Shoving product-level materials at a client when they really need a case study? Giving them a canned demo when they need one tailored to their challenges? Delivering an overly technical demo for a more business-oriented buyer? These are no-no’s that happen all too often with rigidly linear sales models.

Most companies have a sales process based around the seller-centric funnel. Others have no process at all. According to CSO Insights data, salespeople on average spend only about 35 percent of their time actually selling. How do we improve this? Building a sales acceleration platform that gets the right information to the right prospect at the right time—and tracking it all. This also hinges on teaching sales teams the right question-asking skills to locate the prospect in their own dynamic buying funnels.

To improve you have to understand where you are today. What does that look like? How are you defining your sales process? Have you defined customer buying processes, and how are you mapping that to your sales process, training and content delivery? Do you know your close ratios and where leads are coming from?

When I challenge sales leaders on the linear process, sometimes it looks as if their heads will explode. They’re still trying to enforce that process—sometimes with the help of automated tools—and cling to their model of the world.

But the fact is, the ratio of closes to identified opportunities is getting worse, not better. Sales people are spending a third of their time selling and the other two thirds running around for references, slogging through proposals and RFPs, creating new presentations because they don’t like the ones marketing gave them, and so forth. A more responsive and dynamic lead and content ecosystem means they spend less time doing non-sales related activity and are able to assemble, deliver and track the right information from one application. That, with better training, can help align your sales and marketing departments for better effectiveness and attune your organization to the realities of the buyer-centric process.


Sales Planning

Without a sales plan, we are adrift in the market, hoping to succeed. The sales planning process forces us to analyze our environment, determine the resources and support required, and points us in a direction toward our goals. In a previous article, I discussed strategic planning basics; this article will focus on the sales plan.

One of the most enjoyable jobs I had was working for a semiconductor distributor. Our sales manager developed a sales goal for the division based upon past sales, corporate desires and sales team input. Once the goal was determined, everyone developed his or her sales plan to meet the goal. Our plans were simple and were base upon some “science,” we planned how often we’d meet with our customers, how many demos we’d accomplish, we analyzed our market and then submitted our plans.

Planning is about the journey not necessarily the battle. The planning journey prepares the army, by allowing the army to anticipate hurdles, allocate resources and reduce risk.

Michael James Smyth

From my military planning experience, there are two parts of plans, conceptual and detailed. I think of a conceptual plan as a business plan and detailed plans as the plans that make up a business plan such as a sales plan or a project plan. A plan should be continual assessed and updated, things change, assumptions are wrong, the plan must change with the ever-changing environment.

A sales plan is a detailed plan because it explains how the sales goal is to be met. Detailed planning works out the scheduling, coordination, technical issues involved with sales channels, regions, administering and sales force.

A sales plan should be simple and flexible… yes, detailed but also simple and flexible. The sales plan will help you: set your goals, choose a sales strategy, identify sales tactics, execute the plan and motivate your team, budget and review/assess the plan.

Sales Plan Checklist:

  1. Identify your sales goals.
    • What are your revenue targets?
    • Determine contributions by direct and channel sales.
    • Identify resources to meet your goals.
    • Understand your sales model.
  2. Analyze your competitive position.
  3. Develop your sales objectives.
    • Break goals down into achievable objectives.
    • Establish direct and channel sales quotas to meet your goals.
    • Create commission plans consistent with objectives.
  4. Define the tactics to meet your sales plan.
  5. Execute the plan.
  6. Monitor and adjust the plan, as planning is a continuous process.

For additional information, here are related planning and strategy resources.

executable business plan

4 Steps to Building an Executable Business Plan

Typically, when I ask business owners if they have a business plan, they either point to a stack of papers that’s doubling as a doorstop, or shrug their shoulders and say, “Ah, we never got around to doing that,” or, “We just got started.”

Unfortunately, most business owners view business plans as a secondary concern, or worse, entirely unnecessary. Here’s what I have found to be true: In every case, both in business and in life, having a plan will generate better results than simply winging it.

Think about the last time you put together a new outdoor grill without instructions or ventured on the open road without a map, or better yet a GPS. You probably had a few miscellaneous grill parts leftover and you may have taken a few U-turns after ending up stranded on a back road in the backwoods.

At minimum, a business plan sets in motion the thought process required to complete your project in less time. I’m not saying never be spontaneous, but when you leave things to chance you leave room for error. There are 60 workdays in a quarter. If your team members work eight hours per day, 40 hours per week, that’s 480 hours per person per quarter. That’s a lot of time to waste on chance.

Write out a purposeful business plan that considers who you are as a business – meaning who you serve, what you do and why you do it – and chart a course for your team to align and work toward common goals.

Four steps to building a strategic business plan:

  • Define your priorities – those things that make big impacts on your business. Brainstorm with your team to discover your long-term (3- to 5-year) and short-term (1-quarter to 1-year) business goals. One way to identify your priorities is to think about your strengths – what you do that your competitors don’t ­– and then think about how you can build on those assets. Once you pinpoint your goals, phrase them in six- to eight-word sentences and write them down. Remember to be specific and measurable when constructing your priority sentences. (Feel free to email me for a goal-setting smart sheet.)
  • Assign ownership of tasks to employees. Break down your priorities into tasks that team members can own. Assign due dates or these tasks may never be accomplished. Also, when assigning tasks, consider each team member’s strengths. Studies show employees are more engaged, and therefore more likely to accomplish tasks, when they’re doing things they enjoy doing and are good at.
  • Review your plan often and revise it. I can’t tell you how many small business owners I’ve talked to who have a business plan but haven’t looked at it in years. You should review your plan monthly, or better yet, weekly. The economy changes, the market shifts and your business needs the flexibility to respond and adapt.
  • Execute your plan. Don’t let your business run you, run it. Distractions and curveballs will always be thrown your way. Don’t let them be excuses to sidetrack your plan. Let your competition get bogged down by the day-to-day while you keep the bigger picture in focus. Executing your plan is the difference between true business success and simply getting by.

Reprinted by permission. View the original post here.


Three Questions to Determine “True” Business Health

When you get to the doctor, it’s basically a numbers game, isn’t it? They take your temperature (a number). Your blood pressure and pulse. Finally, they ask you the most important question: What’s going on?

Talk to people in small, medium, or even billion-dollar businesses and many of them will say that the health of their enterprise can be found strictly by the numbers. Inc Magazine has a great list of the top seven indicators of business health to do just that. Inc. includes the usual suspects like comparing operations cash flow vs. current liabilities; the correct ratio for assets vs. liabilities (which should be 2:1); and comparing average receivables with average sales to determine if you’ve got healthy liquidity. Good stuff for sure, but I’m here to tell you that most first-year business students could come up with these on a bet.

Let’s just pretend your company is sliding around on one of those flimsy paper things they put on a doctor’s examination table. You and the doctor will use the numbers first—like, if your temperature is 105 you’ll need to get some very specific attention for that right away. Same goes for the ratios and numbers we talked about above. But don’t you want to know “what’s going on”? Your balance sheet answers that question in the “dollars and cents” sense. But sometimes it’s time to get down to causes and conditions you might not see reflected there.

Here are a set of questions that can give you a second opinion, if you will, about what your company needs to thrive as a healthy, growing entity. If you’re a “by the numbers” guy or gal, this one might hurt. But take your medicine. You just might feel better.

  1. Do you get a lot of repeat customers? Do you track your repeat business appropriately? What about client referrals? General customer satisfaction?One way to tell if your company’s products or services are of high quality or if people enjoy doing business with you is to look at how many times your customers come back or refer you to others. An oversimplification, sure, and there are lots of specific things you can do to get some hard numbers on this. But figuring this one out will go a long way in ensuring long term business health.
  2. Do your employees stick around or take off the first chance they get? What is the average tenure of your employees in each department? Can you identify why certain departments have longer tenure and then replicate that environment?If you think healthcare costs are going through the roof you should see how much it costs the average company to hire and train a new employee. Your employee turnover should interest you just as much as inventory turnover, maybe more. Make a habit of looking at it often, with an eye to creating the best possible employee experience you can.
  3. If you are the owner, CEO or even the manager in charge of making sure a company department succeeds (a marketing-, finance-, or sales- manager, perhaps) ask yourself this: Is running this business fulfilling your professional goals and making you happy?Any measure of success that doesn’t include personal satisfaction on your part is doomed to fail. Remember what a dismal failure Willie Loman was in Arthur Miller’s seminal play, Death of a Salesman? That entire work is a meditation on the price of doing the same thing day after day without any meaningful return. Sure, you get a paycheck or a healthy balance sheet, but do you get any joy?Maybe you think we’ve stumbled into another kind of doctor’s office altogether with this last question. But I believe any measure of health that doesn’t include customer, employee and manager satisfaction is a short-sighted way to be well.
Gazette Telegraph

Colorado Springs Business Takes to the Cloud to Help Other Businesses Thrive

Katherine Blunt – – Published: July 17, 2014

Businesses in the Colorado Springs area and beyond now have a new set of tools to foster their growth and development.

Businesses in the Colorado Springs area and beyond now have a new set of tools to foster their growth and development.

The Center for Business Modeling, a Springs-based online resource for small- to mid-sized businesses, will soon offer cloud-based software applications for business planning. Formed about six months ago, the company debuted its site and a number of free planning guides Monday.

CBM will premiere its first application – a sales planning resource – next month, said Michael Smyth, CBM’s COO. He said the company plans to roll out 10 applications over the next two to three years to assist in every stage of business development.
“For the initial offering of the sales planning application, we see a total addressable market of 9.5 million people (nationwide),” he said. “As we expand our applications, that number should grow.”

The cost of the subscription-based software will start at $200 per year and increase with the number of available applications. Smyth said CBM will eventually offer subscription packages to suit different needs.

The applications will help business owners and executives develop plans to grow revenue and sales and assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

“We will include industry standards so (businesses) can compare themselves against others,” Smyth said.
CBM’s tools are designed to be simpler and more affordable than those of other online resources, making them more accessible to small businesses. Many business planning software products are too complex for small business owners, Smyth said, especially those that create models based on large amounts of data and spreadsheets. CBM’s software concept is similar to that of TurboTax: a program that guides users toward their end goal using simply formatted surveys.

“We err on the side of planning quickly and efficiently and stay away from complexity on the user side,” said Christopher Ryan, executive chairman for CBM and president of Springs-based Fusion Marketing Partners.
CBM is headed by a five-person team with experience in small business, software and marketing. It expects to hire more employees as it rolls out its products, Smyth said.

Aikta Marcoulier, director of the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center, said there’s a market for the type of software that CBM is developing. SBDC often refers clients to online resources that complement its in-person consulting services.

“Small business owners are busy trying to manage everything in life, and running a business is a 24/7 job,” she said. “Having online tools that jumpstart development is important.”


Center for Business Modeling Launches, Offering Business Leaders an Easier Way to Plan for Revenue, Sales and Finance

Simple, Optimized Plan-Writing Tools Now
Available — With More on the Way

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – (July 14, 2014) – The Center for Business Modeling (CBM), a new venture aimed at helping executives and entrepreneurs save time and develop more accurate plans for critical functions such as revenue, sales and finance, announced its launch today.

Business leaders in sales, marketing, finance, operations and beyond are all accountable to their teams for crafting on-strategy plans that set accurate goals and provide insight into business performance and health. From line-of-business initiatives to startups, CMB provides cloud-based tools that standardize the approach to business planning.

The CBM website launches with a collection of free business planning resources:

  • How Many Sales Leads Do You Need? Seven Steps to the Magic Number
  • Use SWOT Analysis to Pinpoint Strengths and Weaknesses
  • How to Choose the Best Marketing and Sales Model

Several more free offerings will be available to those who register on the CBM home page. Future offerings from CBM will include cloud-based planning tools and a business modeling community, where users can share best practices and help themselves mitigate planning risk, measure against industry baselines and build defensible, realistic plans that are easy to develop and present.

“Good planning—and presenting that plan to others—is a critical component to success, but there’s just too much time and brain damage involved in generating plans today,” said Michael James Smyth, CBM’s Chief Operating Officer. “What we offer business planners is the ability to easily crystallize strategy, track progress and hit their targets, while also getting a few of their evenings and weekends back.”

About The Center for Business Modeling

The Center for Business Modeling was founded by a team of seasoned business professionals whose experience encompasses all aspects of business creation, operations and finance. Our team has experience ranging from small entrepreneurial ventures to multi-billion dollar international corporations. CBM principals have been responsible for launching ventures, fundraising, marketing, sales and running large successful organizations. Over the years, CBM professionals have seen businesses repeat the same mistakes including failure to capitalize on their core competencies and failure to plan correctly. Our team is now dedicated to helping companies reach their maximum potential through effective business modeling. Find out more at

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For more information please contact:
Nate Warren

Relationship Marketing

Relationships are Dead? Smart Sales Models Resurrect Them

For me, reading the Bain and Company white paper, Is complexity killing your sales model? was like being splashed in the face with cold water. The ideas presented here about relationship selling were counterintuitive, at least for this former sales force communications manager. After all, I was used to the sales success mantra of—Relationships are everything! Then I read:

“Buyers can readily gather basic information about products online. Then, in the vendor selection stage, total cost of ownership and return on investment trump relationships. Purchase decisions that were previously controlled by one manager now involve a web of stakeholders.”(page 1)

Crazy, right?

But after I read the entire paper, I realized Bain was telling me how we need to rethink current B2B sales relationships and stop creating complex, inefficient sales models that use these relationships ineffectively.

  • The changing shape of demand means that customers are researching more before they buy, expecting to find solutions for their business problems, not just one-time products. The sales relationship thus becomes more consultative and the relationship even more crucial
  • Smart sales models reward their sales personnel for expanding the customer relationship through cross selling but also put a high premium on the difficult process of landing that new account.
  • Early in the sales cycle, smart sales organizations are loading their sales bench with specialists who are industry experts. That’s how they avoiding losing sales because customers fear salespeople “don’t know their industry”
  • Sales models that include a specialist and a generalist create a team that will grow with the product line. The relationship that a specialist builds with the “new kid on the block” is also rewarded somewhere in her compensation, to ensure that the knowledge needed to close deals expands across the company, across time, and in tandem with the sales cycle.
  • Make sure the relationship between the back office and the sales organization is seamless. According to Bain, the back office is the company’s “secret weapon” in protecting customer loyalty and freeing up to 30% more of the sales representatives’ days for actual selling. (10) Allowing a well-staffed, expertly trained back office to protect the relationship with new and existing customers can save money, untold heartache and, yes, Virginia, I’ll say it — relationships. To download the entire Bain and Company white paper, click here.