Are you assisting in the buying process?

For those of you that don’t know, I sell an enterprise level software.  What that means is that the software is for the organization to use and that it typically requires a high level of effort needed to get it live.  So it is not like you buying Microsoft office in a box back in the early 2000s and installing it on your Gateway computer.  Some companies talk about a high level of configuration, or customization or that there is an on-boarding process and that is very common for enterprise level software.  Some other examples of enterprise level software could be the Customer Relationship Management software your company uses (Salesforce), it could be the accounting software your company uses or some marketing platform.  Because the software has a lot of moving pieces, there is a fairly logical path for the sales process. 

Basic sales process

The first step in a technology sales process is an Introduction.  The goal of the introduction is for both the selling company and the buying company to identify if there is a good reason to engage in a sales process.  As the seller, I want to make sure we can solve for what they are looking for and for the buyer, they want to make sure the product fits what they are looking for.  In the dating world, this would be a conversation you have back and forth online before agreeing to a first date.

The second step in a technology sales process is a discovery call.  The goal of this call is to dig deeper from our introductory conversation and really uncover what issues the buyer thinks they have and what is their game plan to fix it.  In some cases, you may even be trying to help them determine they have an issue or problem.  Also during this call, the seller is looking for areas where they can highlight their true benefits.

The third step in a technology sales process is a demo.  This is where we go into the software and show what it can do.  A demo done right will highlight what concerns the buyer had and how the software can solve for the assumed pain.

The fourth step is a scoping call.  The purpose here is to determine what the configuration of the software needs to look like.  What customization is needed to the product or the outputs the product delivers?  The scoping call also looks at the plan to get them on-boarded.  For example, what training is provided by the company?

The final step is a contract review.  This is where the contract is reviewed, pricing is finalized and ultimate the deal is closed.

That is a very basic example of a selling process.  There could be multiple demos, you may have a proof of concept period where you demonstrate your ability to create a customization that the buyer determines is a must have.  You will probably help set up some reference calls with happy clients.  There is also a thing called a conference room pilot, where you hole up in a conference room for a few hours and different users come in and play on the software for a few minutes to a few hours to allow them time to get comfortable with the software before they buy. 

Finally, there is a thing called a sandbox.  Think back to your time as a kid. You played in the sandbox.  The sandbox was a place where you could play around and not mess anything up.  That is what a software sandbox is.  Sandboxes are typically given to a customer to allow them to test upgrades and enhancements before rolling them out to the live software.  There are times when buyers want access to a sandbox.  The reason they want it is to try and determine how much of what the salesperson has told them is accurate versus how much is salesperson fluff.  The hard part about sandboxes during the sales process goes back to the high level of configuration and training needed to get started with the product.  So if we provide you with a log in to the software: Will you know how to use it? Will your time spent in the software be valuable?  Typically it is not, because you are not getting the outputs you want since it is not your data.  Also, we have seen that most people never actually log in.  All of these potential additional steps will typically take place between the demo and the contract review.
But what happens when the buying process does not match your selling process?
One time I cold called a prospect.  I was pushing for an introductory meeting with them because I thought we could be a good fit for them.  The person I called felt that there could be a fit.  According to him, they had been burned by bad software purchases in the past so the first step in their buying process was a Sandbox environment.  My company at the time did not offer a sandbox environment but would offer a conference room pilot.  I told the person what we could do and they immediately said they had no interest.  It was interesting to me for them to say, we are willing to invest a few weeks in looking over your software in a sandbox. I then offer a one day guided pilot and they say, “No Thanks.”  Look back up at the sales process I mentioned above, the buying process was from cold call to sandbox.  Nothing in between.
This interaction got me thinking.  Is this person an outlier or has the buying process changed?  So I did a little digging and here are a few stats for you.
According to Gartner, Business to Business buyers spend just 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers, while 45% of their time is spent researching independently.  The remaining 38% is spent in meetings with other members of the buying group and 22% on other activities that typically don’t involve the sales reps The report points out that B2B buyers spend 27% of their time researching independently online and 18% of their time researching independently offline, making buyer enablement as “the provision of information that supports the completion of critical buying jobs.” Ironically, though, more often than not, problems originate not with the selling organizations but with the buying organization getting in its own way. “In many ways the single biggest obstacle to purchasing today is a buying problem that has nothing to do with the supplier at all, ” explains Brent Adamson, principal executive adviser at Gartner and editor of the report. In this environment, sellers can still win out by helping customers help themselves, enabling them to cut through the clutter of their own organizations, streamline their own decision-making processes, and buy more effectively, he says. The report identifies two components to buyer enablement: prescriptive advice and practical support. Prescriptive advice involves do this or don’t do this recommendations designed to ease the customer journey; practical support provides the tools customers would use to follow through on the prescriptive advice.  With buyer enablement, sales reps should serve as “information connectors” or  “curators or brokers of information rather than individual experts,” the report suggests. More specifically, it recommends that instead of relying on their own knowledge of the subject matter, reps should focus on finding the right tools and data and directing the customer to those resources.  In doing so, reps simplify the buying process, which in turn, increase the chances that buyers will make higher-value purchases and decreases the chance that buyers will regret their purchases later on, it says.  Adding to the complexity of the B2B buying process is the fact that when multiple suppliers are involved, the time that the buyer has available to spend with each seller is further split up. If sales reps are involved in just 17% of the entire buying experience, all the way from identifying a problem to exploring solutions to picking a supplier and ultimately making a decision, then “if you’re one of three suppliers, competing for a deal, you don’t get all 17%, you get maybe a third of it so, 5 – 6 %,” Adamson notes. “When you start looking at this world of buying and just how complex it’s become, with all the different people involved and the amount of information… as individuals, we have incredibly limited access to our customers to have any kind of impact on all of that complexity.” Adamson says. It’s incredibly important, then, that sellers spend the limited time available wisely, he concludes.

So getting back to my prospect.  I think there were a couple of scenarios that were in play with them.  (1) They had been in a buying process for the type of software my company provided and had done the research.  They knew the areas they would like to improve on and simply needed to see if those particular needs could be met.  If they were in this scenario, they didn’t need a full discovery or demo.  They just needed to see if the software could check the boxes they had on their list and then they could move forward to the next step.  (2) They had no interest in the software and were not in a buying process and they had found the best way to get rid of sales reps is to ask for the Sandbox, realizing the sales reps would back down and go away.

I was able to get the prospect on the phone again and we talked about the reason they ask for a sandbox right away and they said they had been burned in the past by sales reps who promised the world, but the software could not deliver.  They found that instead of going through discovery, demo and a sales pitch that they could save time and “play in the software” to learn more.  I asked if they failed to see the full value of the software without assistance from a sales person…they claimed no.

As I talked with the prospect more, they found that the sales process was greatly reduced with a sandbox time, they were able to see the potential value of more software products without the wasted time talking to sales reps.

As you look at your sales process, are you helping the buyer in their buying process or are you getting in their way.

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