About 40% of sales people miss their number. Most sales executives and thought leaders cite classic issues like low quality leads, poor sales execution, and bad forecasting when trying to explain why such a large percentage of sales people underachieve. But often there’s a bigger issue at work that’s the root cause of the aforementioned challenges. That issue is sales people’s inability to understand what the buyer is really doing as they work their way to a purchase. There are a number of psychological and behavioral issues that cause sales people to misunderstand the buyer, but there are also a number of techniques you can employ to overcome these biases.
Understanding the customer experience is one of today’s hottest topics and for good reason. Companies that become truly customer-centric (given that we focus on sales and marketing, we prefer the phrase buyer-centric) tend to outperform their peers on a number of fronts, including faster revenue growth, higher conversion rates, shorter buying cycles, and lower churn. Of course, the first step in becoming a buyer-centric organization is to understand the buying experience. For more information on how to really understand your buyer, check out our recent post on buyer research.
But there’s a second step that’s just as important to becoming an organization that is built around the buyer. This step involves taking everything you’ve learned about the buyer and operationalizing it. This has implications for the entire organization, but you need to pay particular attention to the sales team, given that they are on the front lines of many buyer interactions (it’s also important that marketing get on the buyer bandwagon, but we find that this is less of a challenge given that marketing often spearheads the buyer research effort).
Paul Graham of Y Combinator has written an excellent post called Do Things that Don’t Scale. I think it’s one of the most important posts of the year. The gist of the post is:
Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going. A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.
That’s a powerful idea for a few different reasons. First, Paul’s right – achieving success in a handful of areas, even if it requires serious effort, can have a transformative impact on a business (and not just startups). Second, it’s a really accessible recommendation because just about everyone I know is capable of doing things that don’t scale. Third, I’m a fan of contrarian ideas as a competitive differentiator in business and this is definitely a contrarian idea.
This is particularly true when it comes to building relationships with people who can help make your company successful. Of course you can build relationships with lots of different people. Examples include your employees, investors, and influencers. But in my mind, the relationships that you build with your customers are the most important. That’s why the first thing I thought of when reading Paul’s post is that we should do things that don’t scale with our customers.
One of the most profound changes in sales and marketing in recent years is the idea that companies should focus on engaging customers more than selling products. A big part of the customer engagement movement involves using various communication techniques to create a meaningful relationship where the customer values you and your company, independent of what you’re selling.
There’s been some analysis on a handful of techniques that can drive engagement. Popular examples include social media, storytelling, and content marketing. But most of this analysis has focused on tactical execution, as opposed to how knowing what the customer really wants (read: the customer’s psychology) can help you drive engagement.
Robin Dreeke has written a book called It’s Not All About Me. It’s a primer on how to use ten different communication skills to build rapport with people. Dreeke is the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and his recommendations are based on a good understanding of evolutionary and social psychology, as well as years of experience in the field.