Why “Sell how your customer wants to buy” doesn’t really work that way

It’s a Sales 2.0 mantra:

Sell the way your customers want to buy

and it’s one of the oft-repeated phrases at this week’s Sales 2.0 Conference.

It’s also a perfect idea. If you want to be successful in selling figure out the process your customers use to buy the kind of thing you want to sell them, match everything you do to that process, and your whole process will be as frictionless as an air-hockey puck sliding across the table right into the goal.

Making that happen in the messy, friction-filled world of everyday business is far more challenging. What this perfect mantra ends up meaning in most organizations that attempt to put it into practice is that we work to find what we want to think is a typical way our target customers would buy, and we design a process around that.

Then, in so many of our individual sales processes, reps are running to managers for exception approvals, and the process is only  followed at best approximately and at worst in concept only. This happens because the typical buying process to which we design is really an average of our target buyers which is the reality for no individual company, so every buyer requires some kind of exception or adjustment.

So what do we do about this?

Sometimes lost in the ever-growing focus on repeatable and scalable process based on technology is the fact that sales is a relationship business. To be clear, I don’t mean the old stereotype of the slick sales rep who can schmooze anyone into a deal, but rather the truth that in order to achieve that kind of exceptional success we must truly understand both the customer’s processes and the people, including their political dynamics. Then we have the ability to revolve friction as it arises and move deals to close more quickly.

But again, that’s a perfectly ideal thought and not a reality of how to do business. So what do we do in the real world?

Keep the process-focused methods we have. They are necessary and valuable. And you can’t make strong relationships happen without them. But let’s also design processes around how relationships between our companies – and maybe more importantly the people in them – develop.

Do we know just how that happens? Yes we do! There are a special few people I’ve met in my business career who seem to have no clue how to develop relationships with others, but the vast majority of us do, and we generally do it quite well. We do it in so many areas of our lives everyday (I love comparing long-term customer relationships to a marriage!), and most of those relationships are in business. Use that knowledge (intuition, people skills or whatever you want to call it), get it out of your head (and your heart) and into your selling practices.

So sit down with your sales, sales ops and marketing teams and work out how your target customers want to build relationships. Then institutionalize it in your sales and marketing processes.

Then make it work in your support and service processes also so all of your new-found customers don’t leave you next year.

And call us if you need help making this happen.

Then add your thoughts in the comments: how do you build relationship building into you sales process?

One thought on “Why “Sell how your customer wants to buy” doesn’t really work that way

  1. Nice post, Jeff! I agree heartily. A key element in building relationships with customers is understanding their business, and their overall objectives…for our company, it's critical to know how our software fits not only the immediate needs of the buyer, but in the larger scheme of the organization. That insight allows the sales team to ask meaningful questions and solve problems.

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