When targets and quotas aren’t being met, it’s often hard for sales to know what to do next. There’s the understandable temptation to grab a hold of anything that promises to make immediate impact—whether it’s a new methodology, tool, or platform. Intellectually, we all know that magic bullets don’t exist. But just as how the infomercial that promises to deliver a svelte body in just five minutes a day, three days a week can still seduce us as we sit on the couch at 2 a.m. munching on a bag of chips, so too can we convince ourselves that all we need is one of these new methodologies or tools to miraculously turn sales around.
The reality is, of course, more complex than that. Just like getting into shape requires a combination of eating right, finding an exercise regime that works, and having enough variety of cardio and strength components (plus, reducing stress and getting adequate sleep), transforming the fortunes of your sales organization depends on a combination of factors.
So if your sales organization is struggling to hit its numbers, follow this one step. It will provide context for any decisions that you make around methodologies and tools, and will dramatically impact your future actions. This step is an obvious one that seems to be hiding in plain sight for many organizations. It’s asking your existing customers whether and how their buying behaviors have altered and evolved over the past few years.
There are so many statistics about how far in the buying process shoppers are before they engage with sales that it’s absolutely imperative that you ask. I have seen percentages ranging from 30%, to 65or 70%, to as high as 90%. Now, none of these stats may apply directly or absolutely to your particular target buyer. But you won’t know for sure until you invest the time talking to your customers and finding out how they like to execute their buying process.
Why is this important? Because your customers’ buying process has evolved since the last time you reviewed it with them. Maybe it has only evolved a little, or maybe you’ll find that the changes are dramatic and surprising. Either way, there have been changes. So don’t waste any more time. Schedule conversations with a cross-section of your customers (long-standing, new, large, midsize, small etc.) and then focus the conversation on how they ideally would like their buying process to be enabled by vendors in general and by you in particular.
Next, take what you’ve learned about each customer’s buying process and compare it to your selling process and see how well the way you go to market supports and enables your buyers’ preferred processes. Particularly, pay attention to the early stages of their buying processes, and examine what kind of information they want to access (e.g. solution sheets, whitepapers, customer case studies). Also, take note of what format they want them in (e.g. downloadable documents, videos, blog postings, slides). Then, make sure that both sales and marketing move quickly to make whatever changes are necessary to how you traditionally disseminate information (e.g. take down the gated forms, let go of the “give-to-get” mentality).
But don’t just stop there. You should have learned during your conversations where your customers go for information or advice pertaining to their business issues. These could include online industry publications that have comment sections, blogs, or LinkedIn groups. Your job is to make sure that your sales and marketing teams also start frequenting these virtual hang-outs and leverage them to get a better understanding of what’s important to your target buyer. In practice, this means that your organization will have to create a culture where online research and virtual engagement isn’t just permitted, but is also actively encouraged.
So before you allow yourself to get seduced by any new methodologies or tools, go back to basics: Talk to your customer and get aligned with their buying processes, because this is the first and most important step in getting your sales back on track.
John Golden is author of Winning the Battle for Sales and Social Upheaval: How to Win @ Social Selling and founder and CEO of Focused Revenue Results Inc., which helps small, midmarket, and startup companies with strategy, marketing, and sales.