If you regularly update your sales forecast to accomodate delays and slippages, your sales team is probably having difficulty staying in sync with your customers. It is not an easy task, but there is a proven solution and this free sales aid tool discussed in more detail below can help.
Our clients who have overcome this challenge faced three obstacles:
- The selling process was not mapped to the buying process
- There was more than one buying process; each required a unique selling process
- Buyers did not always follow the expected buying process
Implementing a sale process that is mapped to the customer’s buying process is fundamental and the subject of much sales effectiveness thought leadership. This requires some research to understand who buys from you (the Ideal Customer Profile and Persona) and the process they use. There is no ‘standard’ buying process so this requires an investment of time and energy to determine it for your unique situation. In many cases, this can also require multiple sales processes to map to different buying processes. Starting off with accurate mapping is essential, but how do you keep each individual sales opportunity in sync when customers don’t follow the expected behaviors?
The sales process is a common map of the activities and decision points for a generic customer. It is the foundation of B2B sales pipeline management. But when it comes to an individual sales opportunity, it is just an abstract concept. The buyer will generally follow a decision-making path that is similar to others, but the specific sequence of activities and the amount of time to complete each step will vary. Getting ahead of your buyer’s process will cause friction and delay or jeopardize the deal. Falling behind will allow competitors an opening.
The Wandering Buyer
The most effective way to understand the buying process for an individual sales opportunity is to communicate directly with the buyer and discuss the sequence of events for that transaction. Not surprisingly, many buyers are unaware that they are following a process – they seem to wander from one step to the next without a deliberate plan. This is particularly true when the buyer is making a single purchase, as opposed to repeat business. Your sales team has been through this before and they can provide valuable guidance that is often assumed or overlooked.
Our most successful clients have solved this problem by using a sales aid called the “Sequence of Events.” It is a customer facing document that outlines the decision-making steps and an estimated timeline. Sharing this with a prospect will yield one of two responses:
- We have already identified our own sequence of events
- Thank you for helping us to understand what we need to do
If the buyer already has an established route they are following, your sales team can now sync up and help them through the process. If they lack direction, you have now enlightened them and provided the assistance of a trusted advisor. The ‘sequence of events’ conversation often produces a hybrid response where the buyer adopts some of the seller’s suggested steps to enhance their own process. In any case, what was unclear before is now evident and both parties have a better understanding what is expected. The Sequence of Events conversation frequently uncovers activities that the buyer has not considered which will extend the timeline beyond their initial estimates. This knowledge can dramatically improve your forecast accuracy.
Try This Tool
A sample of a Sequence of Events timeline is available as a free download by clicking on this link. This is a template that you can customize for your specific buying/selling process. It is most effective when it is personalized for each sales opportunity.
There is no doubt that Sequence of Events conversations already happen between the sales rep and the buyer, but these are usually haphazard and only point to the next step, instead of developing a common roadmap for both the buyer and seller to follow.
Our clients report that the Sequence of Events has not only improved their close ratios, but it has accelerated sales cycles by revealing all of the steps to be accomplished. Buyers discover that they need to move faster once they see the entire picture. I would be interested to hear about your own experiences in setting expectations with buyers. Please let me know in the Comments section below.