The 2 States Your Prospective Client is in and How to Help

The Gist

  • Many models of the buyer’s journey don’t effectively address whether the client is on their journey, a key question to provide the right direction for B2B salespeople.
  • You will find your prospects in one of two states: either they will be compelled to change, or they will need your help to compel them.
  • Each state requires a different set of strategies to help your client make decisions.

For a salesperson, one of the most important applications of perspective-taking is being able to recognize where your client is in their buying journey and what they might need from you. Here we are going to focus on the first stage of the buyer’s journey, to provide more targeted guidance for salespeople. You find your prospective clients in one of two different states: they are either already compelled to change or they need your help to compel them. Each state requires something different from you as you help your clients make decisions.

Salespeople map the buyer's journey

Mapping the Buyer’s Journey

Many of the “buyer’s journey” models start with the idea that your prospective client has identified a problem worth solving, often to push the fiction that a salesperson is only necessary after a client makes it through approximately 57% (or was it 74% this week?) of their buying journey. Often this language is far more relevant to B2C (business-to-consumer) sales, adopting ideas that don’t easily port over to B2B, let alone complex, consultative sales.

Typically, these models insist, the client uses internet research to make it so far on their own. Internet research can be incredibly valuable before you visit Best Buy to buy a big-screen television, but not so much when you’re making a strategic decision for your business—especially one where the wrong choice comes with negative consequences. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re feeling ill, Google your symptoms before you visit a doctor, then inform them of your diagnosis as soon as they walk into the exam room. No matter how confidently you announce, “Google says I have necrotizing fasciitis,” your doctor won’t take your word for it.

A prospect is compelled to change and jumps between a cliff to the other side

Compelled to Change

You may find that your client has something resembling awareness, suggesting that they are already compelled to change. Your contacts may have a well-defined problem, good ideas about how they need to resolve it, or notes on what the right solution might look like. When this is true, many of the assumptions in the buyer’s journey can be helpful for you. You may, for instance, need to start a conversation about solutions, what is possible, and how to move forward.

But there are many cases when your clients are compelled to change but are nowhere near well-informed enough to solve their problem in the most effective way. In those cases, determining how to best serve your client means figuring out what kind of awareness they have. You may still need to help them diagnose their problem, walking them through the nature of their challenge, the factors that gave rise to the problem in the first place, their role in creating the problem, and the potential kinds of solutions they might need to explore.

It’s important remember that any buyer’s journey, even one that is aligned with your sales process, is a fiction. It’s a map, not the terrain. What’s even more important is to recognize that all generalizations are lies, even when they are helpful. Your approach must start by discerning where your client is and what help they need. Like a doctor competing with Google, M.D., you may want to ask a few questions and assess things for yourself, before you agree that they have defined their problem correctly.

Not Compelled to Change

A lot of incredibly bad advice (and unbelievably poor language) is used to describe parts of the buyer’s journey, especially things like how far into the buying cycle a client might be. This can easily dupe salespeople into believing that they are unnecessary until a client does a large percentage of the work of buying a solution and solving their problem. This framing, including the certainty with which it is presented, damages both the salesperson and the clients they could otherwise help. By telling salespeople to wait until a B2B client recognizes and starts to solve their own problem, this model suggests that salespeople cannot create value until that point. Instead, salespeople who endeavor to be trusted advisors need to be proactive, helping clients to avoid problems that would compel them to change more abruptly.

Naturally, one way help clients solve their problems is by providing them with solutions. But through helping their other clients improve their results, they also learn what kind of problems similar companies are experiencing (or soon will be). Before events force a company to change, an effective salesperson can use insights, business acumen, and situational knowledge to compel the client to change on their own terms.

When a client isn’t compelled to change, you create value by starting them on the buyer’s journey without having to experience or perceive a problem, without having to sift through Google results, and without having to wait until they decide to engage a salesperson. No client will treat you as a trusted advisor if you tell them that you saw their challenges coming a mile away but decided not to mention it until they realized they had a problem.

A salesperson finds a prospective client in the middle of the sales process

Where You Find Them

The starting point of the buyer’s journey has a lot to do with whether your client is already compelled to change or if they need to learn what might harm them in the future and how they can protect themselves. You don’t create value by trying to compel change when your contacts are already compelled to change. When you find them in that state, you serve them by helping them think through the decisions they need to make to solve the problem. And if they’re not quite there yet, you create value by helping compel them to start addressing the things that may harm them if they’re not addressed.

The more aware you are of where your contacts are in their individual and collective journeys, the easier it is for you to decide exactly what they need from you.

Do Good Work

  • In what state do you generally find your prospective clients: compelled or not compelled to change?
  • What value do you need to create for a client who is already compelled to change?
  • What value do you need to create for a client who is not yet compelled to change?

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