Because the buyer’s journey or process (or both) are more nonlinear than ever, that sales process (or sales conversation, if you will) follows suit. The fact that both are nonlinear speaks to the fact that you often have to figure out what to do in certain circumstances. It’s true you often move forward in the process only to move backward or cover ground a second (or third) time. There is still a benefit to having a sales process and several methodologies.
Alfred Korzybski, a scientist and philosopher, said, “The map is not the territory,” and surely it is not. What a map does is remove detail and reduce the terrain to something useful for a person trying to find their way. Maps are in no way as complex and complicated as the territory, nor do they need to be for them to be helpful.
The Map That Is Your Sales Process
The sales process guides your actions as you move from target to close. A standard process might look like this: Target, Qualify, Diagnose or Discovery, Solution Design, Presentation and Proposal, Acquisition and Negotiation, and Won, Lost, or Status Quo. The process provides insight on traveling from Target to Qualified, and Qualified to Diagnose or Discovery, and so on. The map, in this case, provides verifiable outcomes that mark your progress.
Many of the challenges in winning new deals come from not doing what is necessary. Imagine that “Target” requires the company to already buy what you sell (it’s challenging to sell to people who don’t benefit from the value you create or the solution you sell). Calling on companies that don’t need what you sell in hopes of helping them see the value is a waste of time and effort. That time and effort that would be better invested in companies that need your help. There is no way someone who isn’t a target can be qualified.
There will be times when the map offers little guidance. Some events cause problems where you are required to figure out what you can do to move things forward. Your key stakeholder, the one you call your champion, was just recruited out of her role. A larger company decides to purchase your prospective client, and you now receive an RFP from the new parent company. These are Black Swans, but the nonlinearity is often as simple as a new stakeholder being invited into the sales conversation, causing you to go back to an earlier stage in the process, before being able to proceed. Without a process or some methodology, you wouldn’t be able to recognize that the stakeholder was not part of your discovery or exploration process.
That Map That Is the Buyer’s Journey
There are as many maps of the buyer’s journey as there are sales processes. For my money, I go with Rackham’s simple explanation of four stages: 1) Dissatisfied, 2) Recognition of Needs, 3) Evaluation of Options, and 4) Resolution of Concerns. I find this to be enough for B2B sales. But there are other journeys, many of which are more easily applied to B2C. A standard journey might go from Awareness to Interest, to Consideration, to Purchase, to Post-Purchase, to Re-Purchase.
Let’s stick with Rackham’s work here. If your client isn’t dissatisfied, you know that they are unaware of any compelling reason to change. They may also be dissatisfied and unwilling, unprepared, or unable to change. Whatever causes them to stay in that state must change for you to create an opportunity. When you can’t answer the question, “Why are they considering change,” you may be deluding yourself that you are working on a real opportunity.
If it means anything that a prospect is at a stage in which they are trying to resolve their concerns before making a decision, it would seem to suggest a necessary action (or set of actions) you must take to help them decide. The buyer’s journey may not tell you how to resolve those concerns, but your sales process might.
On Orienting Generalizations
Maps are orienting generalizations. They aren’t precisely accurate because the detail is necessarily removed. However, enough information is left to make it helpful in finding your way.
Nonlinearity is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, when things don’t progress in the order in which you are accustomed to, you must figure out what you need to do, and how to ensure you do all the things that need to be done to win the deal. It’s also difficult to align all the people involved in a deal on both sides of the table. Not only can the client continue to add people who are behind where you believe you are in your process, but they can also be ahead of or behind their peers in their journey.
Without these orienting generalizations and some of the details that underly them, you are not capable of recognizing the nonlinearity. You may be blind to where you are on your map, blind to where your contacts are on their map, and devoid of any idea or premise about what you should do.
A Clearer Lens Through Which You Might Look
Processes and methodologies provide a lens through which to view your pursuit of your dream client. The more powerful your lens, the more you can see. The clearer your lens, the more detail you can see.
Even though the nature of a complex, dynamic human interaction like selling makes it nonlinear, it is a mistake to go without processes and methodologies that provide you guidance as to how you might find a path to your destination.
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