Are you buyer-centric? You may think you are individually or as a company, but are you really? Being buyer-centric is not just about great buddy relationships with your customers, or asking probing discovery questions (that are generally biased and contrived to seek answers that salespeople want rather than focused on what the buyers want). It’s so much more than this.
So, what is the path to being ‘Buyer-Centric’?
Let’s start by thinking about the changes that the sales industry has experienced in recent years. There’s been a 180-degree turn around and B2B sales have moved from being seller-centric to being buyer-centric. A big chunk of the control, power and velocity that was traditionally with sellers is now with the buyer teams.
Because of the readily accessible information that is now available to them buyers are better educated, informed and aware of what they need to know which they’d previously relied on salespeople to provide. Graham Hawkins the CEO at SalesTribe uses the term ‘Information Parity where the buyer already has the information that the seller has. So why would they engage with the seller’s salespeople?
B2B sales have hit a brick wall and too many companies have their heads stuck firmly in the sand (I resisted the temptation to use an alternative term!) They haven’t seen the need to adapt how they sell. Some may not have incurred any financial impacts on their performance thus far (because of market or product momentum) but clinging on to seller-centric ways for too long will lead to an inevitable decline.
So what needs to change?
Simply put, the onus is now on salespeople to add business value and educational content, not deliver product or service differentiation.
The onus is also on sales leaders to coach their teams to help buyers not just chase the numbers.
And the onus is on the sellers’ company to invest in training and evolve their people to become buyer-centric and to build processes and systems that seek to understand more about their prospects and customers.
The three phases of being buyer-centric
A good way to become a buyer-centric salesperson or seller company is to understand three important phases with prospects and customers:
- What they need?
- What they thought?
- How they feel?
Before you start thinking this just another sales strategy bear with me because this is more about understanding your prospects and using it as a foundation of change rather than a sales strategy.
What they need?
This should be the easiest one, the prospect’s needs! It should be the comfort zone of any good sales professional, but unfortunately so many still focus on their needs, not the buyers. Sales leaders are equally guilty as they don’t run buyer-centric deal reviews. Performance pressures mean they’re predominantly chasing numbers so don’t have the time to come up for air and think more about the knowledge and actions that lead to the numbers.
As renowned sales author and expert Mark Hunter – The Sales Hunter summarises – ‘Your Prospects Don’t Care About What You Sell’. They don’t care about your proposition they just want you to care about them. They’re bogged down with their own business problems and priorities and are focused on solving them not listening to a long queue of salespeople waiting to tell them why they need to buy what they have.
The vast majority of salespeople will have had sales training at some point in their careers and will have been taught on how to conduct discovery meetings to ask questions to uncover the prospects business needs.
This is not what I mean when I refer to understanding ‘What they need’ My thoughts are about the much bigger business picture.
The buyer-centric sales professional will take the time to understand:
What business problems they need to solve, including the symptoms, impact, root cause and who’s affected?
What business outcomes they need to achieve?
What criteria need to be met?
What concerns or constraints need to be overcome?
What ‘needs’ have to be provided for?
Who needs to be involved?
What buying processes need to be created or followed?
Buyers need your help, advice, insights, and experience to solve their business problems and guidance on the buying process.
All of this information is needed to bridge where they are today (Current State) and where they need to be (Future State), something that Keenan masters in his latest book ‘Gap Selling’.
What they thought?
Whether it’s a win, lose or a no-decision outcome it’s too rare that seller companies take the time to understand why. They’re generally content to accept their own opinions on the outcome, so little or nothing is learnt.
Being buyer-centric means that you have to care about what the buyer team thought about your sales performance during the sales engagement. Without feedback how can you learn, how can you improve to meet the buyer’s needs in future opportunities?
It’s easy to puff your chests out and strut around like a dog with two dicks when you’ve won a deal believing and telling everyone it was down to your expert selling. Or blame storming when you’ve lost a deal with finger pointing at price or product as the cause of the loss. But that’s delusional and in most cases never true. And it might be hard to accept but, in some cases, deals are won despite the salesperson.
We need to understand what members of the prospect’s buyer team thought about how well we:
Understood and addressed their business problems and needs
Understood and addressed their priorities and constraints
Engaged with the wider buyer team
Provided subject matter expertise
Provided valuable insights and help
Guided and supported them in their buying processes
Delivered relevant and contextual proposals, presentations and demonstrations
This shouldn’t just be about getting feedback on how we perform as salespeople but also how important each element was to them. There’s no point being great at providing something that has no value to the individual recipient.
Whether you’ve won, lost or it ended in a no-decision seek to understand each scenario, not just from a single contact but from multiple contacts across the buyer team. The greater the breadth of feedback the better you can learn to become more buyer-centric.
We should not fear the buyer teams’ thoughts, we should welcome and embrace them. As author and management expert Ken Blanchard said ‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions’.
How they feel?
The third and final phase of being buyer-centric is how they feel.
You started by engaging with them to understand what they needed. Following your sales engagements, you learnt what they thought.
Once your sale has been completed, delivered, implemented or whatever final stage you have its time to understand how they feel.
The information you should seek should include:
Did you deliver what you they expected?
What was their experience like?
How did your team perform?
How do they feel now about their original decision?
What would they like to see improved?
And once again, get the opinions across the buyer team. It’s likely that it was a consensus-based decision that led to you winning, so gather the feelings from contacts across that team, not just your main contact.
Many companies are now compiling NPS (Net Promoter Scores) to measure the willingness of their customers to recommend their products or services to others. I can understand why a business would want to do this, referrals are invaluable. However, that is still a strategy that is predominantly seller-centric rather than buyer.
The successful modern seller has to care and show that they care about the buyers.
Care about what they need and what’s important to them in phase one
Care what they thought about their sales engagement with you in phase two
And care about how they feel about their decision to choose you once your work has been completed in phase three.
The obvious step for phase four would be to continually monitor their feelings and thoughts over time, the number of customers who change vendors because they don’t feel that their existing one cares enough is continually increasing.
All round caring, individually and as a company, is a great way to become buyer-centric and to keep and grow your revenues and customer base.