Buyer's Journey vs. Sales Process
Industrial manufacturers live, eat and breathe their product. Their "go to market" approach often reflects that myopia. They follow their own routine "sales process" and focus on the product itself.
That creates a dissonance with buyers who infrequently purchase unique complex products, and therefore use a generic procurement template to guide their process. That template is often poorly suited to the specific purchasing decision and likely omits important considerations.
Further, complex buying teams (up to 10.2 buyers now according to Challenger Inc.) often bring their own personal and departmental biases and priorities to their "buying journey."
It's little wonder that such a large percentage of projects (some estimates top 60%) end up in "no decision." The largest competitor faced by many manufacturers, particularly in the capital equipment space, is actually the status quo.
Fortunately it's not impossible. There are several important steps for companies to take to improve outcomes.
- First, understand the outcomes and improvements they deliver for buyers.
- Second, switch from a sales process orientation to one that mirrors the buying journey.
- Third, adapt their marketing to help buyers solve for the right problem.
Shovel or a hole? Or safety for the family dog?
You've heard the traditional line that nobody actually wants to buy a shovel. Instead they're buying the hole.
That's only partially true. What they're buying is the outcome. A thriving shrub growing in the yard or perhaps the fence post firmly planted in the hole and safety for their child or pet who stays in the yard.
If they're selling the shovel to a contractor with three crews on the road, the outcome that buyer seeks will be quite different - long, reliable service.
And if to a public utility purchasing hundreds of shovels at a time, a very different outcome.
Obviously this analogy is overly simplistic in the context of complex products and large buying teams, but the premise applies.
Your buyers don't care about your product. Really. They don't.
Teach Buyers How to Buy
Your sales process is an impediment to success.
That isn't to say that salespeople should just careen about spasmodically pursuing random activities.
But a sales process is built around the way you wish projects would unfold from your perspective and for your convenience of forecasting and planning. What's vastly more important - at least if winning deals is the objective - is the way companies (read individuals) buy.
That's complex at the individual level. And at the company level it's more than just the sum of 10.2 individual buyer journeys - the corporate buying team journey is closer to the product of those individual journeys - sort of 10.210.2!!
It's further complicated by the fact that buyers probably don't know how to buy your product. How often will they buy robotics, or HR software, or LED lighting, or primary packaging machinery?
Once every five years?
The engineering, maintenance, controls, finance, HR and maybe even operations teams will be different. Not to mention evolution of the prevalent market technology and options since the last procurement.
The fundamental job of marketing and sales, therefore, is to teach companies (read people) how to buy.
You figured sales, but why marketing? You know the stats:
- buyers are 70% of the way through their journey before they typically engage with sales reps
- 74% of the time they select the vendor who first provided value
So marketing is actually doing a lot of the selling.
And of course sales has to guide the deal champion with enablement content and coaching, to get the other 9.2 buyers on the team aligned despite their often conflicting departmental and personal priorities.
Here's the key point. "How to buy" means just that. It's not a veneer of education on top of a process to induce them to select you. It's about helping them reach the right decision for them.
Hopefully your marketing helps with self-(dis) qualification, and your pipeline management process discourages projects for which you aren't legitimately the best solution.
Solve for the Outcome - Not the First Problem
It's well known in sales circles that the problem people identify isn't really the one to fix. Sometimes it's because they're cagey buyers who are hesitant to open up for fear of being pressured or manipulated. More often it's because they don't have the context to know.
- recognize unconsidered needs
- quantify the consequences of leaving them unaddressed
- illustrate a feasible resolution
(If you're interested in this, Corporate Visions' eBook "To Challenge or Not To Challenge" provides some great insights into disrupting and preserving the status quo. Among interesting points is that step 3 above is critical. Without it you've done most of the work, but miss approximately 10% of the deals.)
Of course that means you have to understand their business as well as your product. That's a stretch for most sales teams. And that's the opportunity with thoughtful marketing and sales enablement.
Think about most case studies for instance. They simply highlight the recognized need and the product solution. Rarely do you find one that unpacks the real issues - much less puts those front and center in the discussion. That's a huge missed opportunity. Ditto for website content, assistive chatbots, email nurturing, presentation decks, etc.
It's a miss both for prospects who would approach their buying more thoughtfully and be more likely to buy from you because you helped them to do so, AND for your sales team who will perform better if you push those dots close together for them.
In other words, sales management and training can help with questioning skills, forecasting, qualification, and other technical sales skills. But it's product marketing that has to do the heavy lifting here.
And the eponymously named product marketing function typically focuses on....you guessed it...the product. That's a swing and a miss in today's markets.
Your Mission...if you'll accept
That brings us to the point.
Marketing is no longer about getting leads and teeing up the sale.
It's now about helping buyers want what they need and prompting them to take the necessary action.
That takes trust. Trust is built on your ability to help them understand their situation, and doing it in a way that's comfortable and supportive.
That means content in various forms (short and long form text, social snippets, video, images) and helpful interactions.
In fact, boil it all down and I believe that's the real value of conversational marketing. It's not just boosting conversion rates or getting to meetings faster. It's really about creating a peer relationship with prospects around helping them navigate, understand, and solve their challenges. If you have great ideas, insights and content AND create easy, comfortable dialogs to share that info, you'll create the right deals and be on the track to winning them.
Stop talking about you.
Stop talking about your product.
Stop pitching easy and quick fixes.
Play the long game.