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:
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.