Buying processes look so simple on paper: A prospect identifies a problem, explores solutions, and either decides or sticks with the status quo. Done.
Of course, it’s much messier than that. Identifying a problem, for instance, is not a single step but a gradual evolution of knowledge that morphs with every new piece of information. Sales reps who go into a meeting with a new prospect expecting to ask a few questions and check “identify needs” off their to-do list will likely find themselves with an incomplete understanding of a customer’s problem.
Once prospects become aware of a problem and start gathering information about it, they enter the knowledge loop. With each new piece of information, their perception and understanding of the problem can change, causing them to loop back into the cognitive thinking phase, reevaluate the problem, and gather more information based on their new understanding. As a salesperson, your job at this point is twofold: First, you need to ask the right questions to help the prospect fully understand the problem. Second, you need to move along with the prospect as his or her understanding of the problem changes.
The mistake most salespeople make is thinking the prospect has it all figured out. But understanding a problem is a process of discovery that you need to take together.
Here is where prospects start to consider their options for solving the problem based on the understanding, they’ve achieved in the knowledge loop. Often, this loop blurs into the knowledge loop because, as prospects start to consider their options, they often wind up with new knowledge that again causes a shift in their perception of the problem.
As prospects consider their options, the salesperson should act as a sort of tour guide. “It’s counterintuitive, but reps should urge the prospect to talk to other vendors,” he says. When you try to shut out the competition, you’re acting like a typical salesperson. When you control the agenda and urge the inclusion of other vendors as a way of gathering more information, however, you build trust and make yourself a more valuable partner.
After a sale, buyers evaluate whether their purchase produced the desired results. Sales reps should be very involved at this point, but most are conspicuously absent. Too often, reps close a deal and then, with the next quarter’s quota hanging over them, they disappear to work other prospects and deals. To build long-term and more profitable relationships, salespeople need to stay involved after sales have closed to help customers quantify the results they’re achieving with the rep’s solution, to make sure the results meet expectations and problems are solved quickly. This kind of post-sale involvement is a cultural shift that works best when driven from the top down. Sales managers must drill into their reps the importance of staying involved through the results loop. And don’t let reps tell you they don’t have time.
It’s just a periodic phone call – and one that can yield big results when a happy customer calls to make additional purchases or to refer a peer to you.