The following quote from the March 2008 Newsletter of IDC's Sales Advisory Practice leaves me with some doubts. Lee Levitt writes: “Buyers have gone through a metamorphosis. They're smarter, more educated, focused on results rather than technology. They complain that vendor's sales engagement antics are costing them time and money, that purchases are taking a full 40% longer than they want”
The first question to ask is what made the customers so much smarter and more educated? We did and continue doing it ourselves by providing them with abundant information on our Web Sites, with our Blogs, Podcasts , e-Newsletters and Webinars all enabled by the Internet . It is not the Net it is what we do with it The second question then is what are sales engagements governed by? - the sales process. I hope you now agree that the title poses a viable question.
You would expect that sales process models conceived before the Internet era might not fit so well anymore today. So I looked at few newer models claiming to help you with selling in the 21st century market place. Well at least those that I found, did not seem to be too well adapted to the Internet era either. What is probably different with these processes is that they are based on an attitude of selling coming from a service and contribution perspective, thus having more focus on the customer. So they usually all start with something that can be labeled with building rapport. There is nothing to say against this. But the following steps have a high potential that the sales person ,in following these processes, derails the customer's buying process. These steps are aimed at helping the customer to identify pain and building a vision how this pain could be solved and probably even helping them to understand the cost of remaining in status quo. Do not get me wrong. There will be situations, especially when you bring a new category to the market where these processes fit perfectly
But think what happens to a customer, who is well aware of the pain, has already researched several alternatives how to solve the pain and has already decided to act because the cost of staying in status quo are higher than making the transition. Well such a customer will probably make statements as in the quote from the newsletter if the seller follows even a sales process adapted to the 21st century market place.
Now the chances that a sales person gets in front of an already well informed buyer are actually increasing. Think of the current hype around lead generation, scoring and nurturing that marketing departments want to put in place to better justify their existence. Eventually, they cause the sales person to get in front of customers probably even later in their buying process.
So how can sales people avoid waisting their customers' time and money? The sales process needs a new generic element after the initial step of building rapport. I call this element the 'Triage' It is a medical term to assess the health status of incoming patients and to determine how urgent they need what kind of treatment. The Triage in the sales process is to find out where exactly the customer is in the buying process and how the sales person can help to move the process forward. We need to know how the customer wants to buy every time we get in front of him or her. This situational context is important, especially if you have a wide portfolio of offerings. The same customer might not always need the same help from the sales person to reach the buying decision.
Through this Triage, we will now effectively have not one, but several sales processes. People having just started to adhere to a leaking funnel concept helping them to get to higher sales productivity and more reasonable forecasts, might not be too enthusiastic of now having to deal essentially with several funnels. Admittedly, forecasting needs an additional consolidation stage of the results coming from the various funnels. But this is a minor implication compared to the advantage for sales managers to understand in what customer context the the sales person has to sell and therefore being able to provide more pertinent coaching. Actually trying to squeeze everything into the same funnel will distort the overall picture and lead to wrong interpretations.