Four Buyer Styles in the Buying Cycle

A big problem facing salespeople is knowing where the buyers are in the buying cycle.  It’s not just how much information buyers already have gleaned from the Internet and social media – their feelings of how ready and eager they are to make changes in their situations still matter.  I believe that when salespeople look at both of these variables – knowledge and eagerness – buyers will reveal more precisely where they are in progressing toward a buy decision.  This enables salespeople to better respond and act accordingly.  And get that sale.

1. The Inert Buyer

Neither Knowledgeable nor Eager

The Inert Buyer is likely unaware they are entering a buying cycle.  Many buying cycles have schedules of their own and appear to some people as bolts out of the blue, even though evidence has been building (and likely ignored) for some time.  If there’s a genuine problem that needs facing, it’s best for salespeople to first help guide these buyers to understand and face their situation.  Their ordinary world is about to change.  If a salesperson tries to start too soon with options and solutions, the Inert Buyer may put their fingers in their ears and start humming until the salesperson goes away.

2. The Skeptical Buyer

Knowledgeable, but not Eager

On the surface, the Skeptical Buyer may seem easier to sell to than the Inert Buyer.  At least they know more.  The problem is, Skeptical Buyers may be armed with bias-inducing facts.  No matter what anyone says, they don’t want to change.  Know anybody like that?  For the Skeptical Buyer, you first have to deploy targeted facts and patiently wait for them to shift to a new position.  You never want them to think they were wrong.  When they come around a little, then you help them see how urgent their situation is.  Should a salesperson try to instill urgency too soon, however, the Skeptical Buyer will dig in deeper.

3. The Enthusiastic Buyer

Not knowledgeable, but Eager

Now we’re getting somewhere.  Enthusiasm!  Great.  But there’s danger lurking with buyers who are all velocity and no vector.  They may think they’re so far through the buying cycle that when you show up it’s of little consequence.  Good salespeople help pull Enthusiastic Buyers back from the ledge so they can think a little more before they leap.  Here’s where a patient and skilled discussion with the buyer can help them see all the options available.  You can save them time and money and make them grateful customers for life.

4. The Ready Buyer

Knowledgeable and Eager

Where have these buyers been?  Why don’t they show up more often?  The problem is that Ready Buyers are always out there, but sometimes that other salesperson gets to them first.  Ready Buyers aren’t unicorns, yet they can disappear on you in a nanosecond.  Perhaps when you encountered one you spent too much time on your pitch, didn’t let them talk, missed their shift tells, or even forgot to close.  Ready Buyers have a short shelf life.  Get in there and get a YES.

Three Pillars Supporting Long-Term Customer Relationships

All companies want customers who stay, buy more, and tell others how great it is to do business with them.  But great companies create great customers.  How do they do that?  It takes a thoughtful approach and a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.  I believe three pillars support a loyal customer base: innovation, performance, and service.

1. Innovation

One sure way to erode your customer base is to take them for granted and stop innovating for them.  Great companies use innovation not only to attract new customers, but also to keep current customers dazzled.  When was the last time you offered a new way of doing things that made life easier for your customers?  How about a new process that saves them time and money?  There’s a growing tendency for companies to try and upsell us at every turn.  It’s irritating unless it seems more advantageous for us than them.  Great companies roll out offerings that help customers, not slightly fixed versions with more promotion than substance.  

2. Performance

You have to keep performing to keep your customers.  So you got a big contract and life is good, right?  Then inevitable issues occur with production quality and delivery issues.  If you want to stay in the game you quickly have to find the problems, resolve them, and make sure you’re back on track.  Great companies obsess over performance metrics.  A former boss often observed that when you continually measure something, the trend improves.  Your customer base will reward you for great performance.  It’s tied to the Basking in Reflected Glory effect, where we identify with the success of others we associate with.  Everyone loves a winner.

3. Service

Customer service is essential to supporting long-term customer relationships.  But great customer service won’t help unless you also innovate and perform.  It’s like working with a disgruntled customer.  You can’t begin to fix them until you understand them and know the details of their issue.  Another way to look at this is that your customer service staff shouldn’t be the only people on your team helping customers.  That’s like no one but the goalie in a hockey game playing defense.  You’ll get crushed.  And you’ll go through a lot of customer service reps.  Just as everybody on your team should be in sales, so should everybody on your team be in customer service. 

With innovation, performance, and service you can keep customers for life and turn them into sales associates. 

Two Essential Elements Needed to Expand Your Business

Unless you’re a business leader who’s satisfied with the size of your business, you want it to grow.  That means increasing your current offerings to existing and new customers or developing new offerings.  The most challenging of these scenarios, of course, is pursuing new customers with new offerings.  No matter which direction you wish to go as a business leader in adding to your top line, you’re going to need two essential elements to get the job done: people and processes.

1. People 

Get the Right People

Good business leaders realize that as their companies grow, they become more removed from things like hiring talent.  You have to delegate that authority.  Yet talent is so fundamental to business success that each new hire has a direct impact and you need to have a system in place to insure you get the right people.  There are many great aptitude assessments out there that can help.  A banking industry friend confided that he once made a hire on gut feeling alone and it was such a costly disappointment that he never made that same mistake again.  Also, in addition to other questions in your job interviews, assess candidates for how they would fit into your business culture.  Great talent that can’t integrate into the team is probably worse than if the rest of your team continues to work short-handed.

Get The Right Training

Talent without training is like an unguided missile.  It’s exciting to watch, but you don’t know where it’s going.  Many companies have programs for leadership development, compliance training, and technical training.  What continually surprises me is that many companies don’t have sales training for their business development groups.  Maybe they recommend sales books (there are thousands available), but selling involves skills and skills get better with instruction.  It’s been said many times that no one learned to play golf by reading a book.  I love golf even though I don’t have a natural talent for it.  I’ve never been so average at doing something and yet enjoying every moment of it.  But I’m getting better every game because I take lessons now and then and practice, practice, practice.  Business leaders who invest in good training programs for their salespeople get better results.

2. Processes

Get the Right Solutions

Okay, you want to grow your business and you get inspiration for a new solution.  You and your engineering staff come up with a great product design, name, and even a logo.  All that’s needed are customers.  So you tell your sales staff to go out and sell.  And not much happens.  So you fire the sales staff and send out new salespeople.  And not much happens.  Your instinct is to blame customers who don’t appreciate your brilliant product.  You’d be half right in that they don’t appreciate it.  The reality is that value is in the eyes of the customers, not in the eyes of your designers.  Next time, try starting with customer needs and desires when designing new offerings.  Give your salespeople something great to sell.

Get the Right Messages Out

You can have a talented and trained workforce and great solutions, but if you can’t get the right messages out to your customers it’s all for naught.  It’s amazing how a few, well-constructed phrases can make all the difference.  Are your salespeople giving your customers the right amount of information in a way that’s easy for them to understand?  Are the claims in your messages of value to your customers?  Are your key messages unique to you so your customers can see how much better your offerings are compared to your competitors?  If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to all three questions, challenge your sales and marketing people to work together until you can.  Then watch the orders tick up.

One Sure Way to Increase Sales: Close for Action

Have you ever been in a company sales meeting and come out of it not knowing what to do?  Perhaps you thought it was your fault.  Sure, you were wistfully thinking of fish tacos and a cold Painkiller at a Caribbean Beach Bar and missed some essential elements, but more likely it was the business leader’s fault for assuming the sales team could make sense of all the charts and graphs without a close for action.

I remember a lengthy business development meeting on a complex defense sale that had been in progress for years.  The opportunity was finally ripening.  We knew the customer.  We knew the competition.  We had a great solution.  We had a great team.  What we didn’t have was a great action plan.  A lot of people were doing a lot of things, but none of our efforts were synchronized.  The operation was so big and it covered so many internal organizations that no one was truly in charge and able to say, “You go here now and you go there then.”  Without closing for action, we lost.

You’ve gotten a lead and are in discussion with a potential client group.  It’s going well.  You deliver a presentation and your last slide is the typical question mark.  You ask, “Do you have any questions?”  They say, “No.”  You thank them for their time.  Your meeting report says, “Presentation was well-received.  No questions.”  That’s good, right?  Wrong!  The customer wasn’t fully engaged and you didn’t have a way back in to see them.  If they don’t ask you for more information, task yourself and provide something extra in the nearest future.  Be a golden retriever.  Keep bringing the ball back until they love you.

Strong presentations have strong closings.  Every Hollywood producer and director knows you need to have a hot opening and a hot closing.  The middle is important, but not always that memorable.  You’re with a customer.  You’re comfortable with each other.  They have a need and you have a solution.  You’ve presented your program and all the great reasons why they should pick you.  At this point, my friends at Corporate Visions recommend asking, “What do you think?” and waiting quietly until they respond.  If you’ve done everything well and they’re comfortable with you, they’ll say something positive about your presentation.  Then you follow up with a second question, “Where do we go from here?” and wait again for their answer.  That’s your close for action.  Of course, if you don’t get a positive answer to the first question, be polite and be gone.

Closing for action can’t be addressed without mentioning the term – closing the sale.  You’ve seen Alec Baldwin’s classic rant “Always Be Closing” in the film Glengarry Glen Ross, right?  Don’t be that guy.  Yet the main idea that in sales you are, really, closing all the time is a good one, as long as you define it to be closing to the next step.  At Asher Strategies Close Deals Faster workshops, salespeople are encouraged to always close to the next step – to get a commitment for action from each customer at each meeting.  Like moving the chains in a football game.  You do that often enough and you score. 

Close for action in your sales meetings, customer meetings, presentations, and all through your customer engagements and you will increase your sales.  Case closed.

Two Components of Customer Intimacy

Customer intimacy.  An awkward phrase for something so vital to improving loyalty in your clients.  I was once introduced to an audience of business leaders with, “Here’s Dave Potts.  He has a passion for customer intimacy.”  Yuck. That still doesn’t sound right.

To some businesses, customer intimacy is a marketing strategy.  To others it’s implementation of loyalty programs.  And some think it’s a waste of time and money altogether.  I prefer to think of customer intimacy as an environment where you and the customer are as close as you can be in wishing for each other’s success.  

Customer intimacy should be the responsibility of everyone in the company – those who interact with the customers and those who support those interactions.  It doesn’t have to be overly scripted and costly.  I believe there are two essential components to customer intimacy: what you do and how you act.  Business people usually focus more on the first than the second.

1. What You Do (Physical Actions)

  • Depth of Knowledge – Are you the one they can turn to for all the details?  Can you give them the exact information they want and need?
  • Frequency of Contact – Do you stay in touch?  Do you know how often and by what means your customer wants you to contact them?
  • Range of Coordination – Is your internal network of contacts wired solid?  Can you reach back into your company to get what your customer needs?
  • Timeliness of Response – If there’s an issue, can you get them an answer quickly?  Do you give updates on the response if the answer is delayed?

2. How You Act (Personal Connections)

  • Openness to Communication – Do you engage in conversations with your customers?  Are they comfortable talking with you?
  • Willingness to Listen and Understand – When a customer speaks, do you hear opportunities or problems?  Potential solutions or objections?
  • Projection of Respect and Trust – Do the words you use with customers convey appreciation for their business?  Do they feel they can count on you?
  • Ease of Doing Business – Are you comfortable to work with?  Are your customers relaxed around you?  Happy to see you?

What you do is very important to customer intimacy.  Every transaction you have is evaluated in the customer’s mind as either correct or incorrect in details.  But at the same time, customers are sensing if the transaction is good or bad for them personally.  The details are vital, but the emotions rule.

More attention to these two customer intimacy components can better address both the customer’s technical and emotional needs and can lead to greater customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and customers unable to imagine a world without you and your company in it.