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Sales and the Customer Experience: 25 Ways to Make Sales Buyer-Centric

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).

To design a sales organization that is truly focused on the buyer, you need to take what you know about the buyer and operationalize it in a few different areas.

Make the buying process the foundation of your sales process

You need to design your sales process according to what your buyer wants. In other words, your sales process needs to be about how the buyer buys, rather than how sales sells. The buyer-responsive sales process is predicated on understanding the buying process. There are a number of techniques you can use to truly incorporate the buyer into your sales process.

  1. You should develop a detailed buying process map that shows the key activities, objectives, and conversions that a buyer engages in as they make a purchase.
  2. With a buying map in hand, you can now overlay your sales process on to the buying process map. For example, you might decide that your sales qualification phase should overlay with when the buyer is trying to understand their requirements.
  3. In fact, it’s critical that you understand how the different stages in your sales funnel map to the buying process. A simple example of this is making sure that the buyer is ready to gather pricing data when sales sends out proposals. You should also think about whether the factors or probabilities in your funnel correlate to the probability that the buyer will actually buy something.
  4. The sales process should incorporate the key activities that sales will use to engage the buyer. The idea here is to design these activities to provide the buyer with what they want when they want it.
  5. Your sales process should reflect how long it takes the buyer to move through each phase in the buying cycle. Many executives try to design sales processes that “shorten the sales cycle”. That’s fine – just remember that most buyers are on their own timeline and most process design won’t have a dramatic impact on buying cycles.
buyer journey map

A buyer journey map from the broadband industry

Design sales touch points that engage and help buyers

A touch point is when sales interacts with the buyer. Most touch points consist of a combination of content and communication. In the sales world, content can take many forms, from collateral, to presentations, to email templates, to voicemail scripts. Communication can take place using the phone, email, in person meetings, and other online modes such as social.

Given the importance of content to buyer touch points, it’s remarkable how many sales teams use content as a blunt instrument. One thing that our research consistently shows is that different types of buyers prefer different types of content. Creating content packages that are specific to different types of buyers will increase engagement and conversions.

  1. The themes and topics around which you develop content should reflect the buyer’s priorities and objectives. Homeowners don’t want to refinance their mortgage – they want to save money. Financial professionals don’t want to buy ERP software – they want to close the books faster. Make sure your content speaks to what the buyer wants rather than what you’re selling.
  2. Most buyers prefer a certain voice and tone when it comes to communicating with sales. In fact, your voice and tone matters a little over 5X more than the words you actually use. Your voice is really a representation of what your company stands. Your tone is how you make those words more human and engaging. Most buyers want sales people to be understanding, caring, friendly, and responsive They also value consistency – they don’t like it when sales people have a voice and tone that’s all over the map.
  3. You should develop content packages that are built for specific buyer personas. The stay-at-home mom who is looking to buy a new car likely has a different set of priorities than the father of three who is looking to buy a new car. Providing these different buyers with content that is tailor made for them helps increase conversion rates. In fact, 82% of consumers enjoy consuming content from brands so long as it’s relevant.
  4. You should also map your content to particular points in the buying process. Buyers who are comparison shopping want content that helps them compare vendors. Buyer who are trying to justify a purchase financially want tools that help them understand things like total cost of ownership and return on investment.
  5. Once you have content packages developed and mapped to specific types of buyers, you need to make sure that your sales and marketing content is up to date. Too often, we see sales using old content that doesn’t incorporate the buyer simply because it’s what’s familiar. A shocking 65% of sales people claim that they can’t find content to send to buyers.
  6. You also need to update the emails, call scripts, and presentations that sales uses to communicate with buyers. Sales people often like to do their own thing when it comes to these tools, but it’s critical that you provide sales with the content they need to more effectively touch the customer.
  7. Finally, you need to update the offers that sales uses. Common offers include things like free trials, pricing incentives, demos, and starter packages. These are often developed with little to no regard for what the buyer really wants. Given that offers are a critical touch point when it comes to converting leads into customers, it’s essential that your primary offers deliver something that your customer actually wants.

Buyers also prefer to consume content and information in very specific ways these days. Understanding your buyer’s communications preferences can also improve conversion rates. There are now a variety of communication techniques you can use to touch your buyer, including in-person meetings, the phone, email, and social media, so it’s important to have a good understanding of how the buyer prefers to communicate with sales.

  1. The foundation of buyer-centric communication is to understand how the buyer prefers to communicate throughout the buying process. There’s some low-hanging fruit here that you can take advantage of, such as not relying on the phone too early in the sales process. That’s because buyers are typically 50% to 90% of the way through the buyer journey before they want to talk to sales.
  2. Another basic building block of buyer-centric communications is to make it easy for the buyer to communicate with you. A lot of sales people are conditioned to push for phone and face-to-face meetings, but many buyers now prefer email.
  3. Phone communication remains a critical touch point in most sales organizations. Buyers have strong preferences in this area that have a big impact on conversion rates. The general rule here is to keep phone conversations and voicemails short and sweet whenever possible. For example, voicemails that are 25 seconds or less generate higher response rates than those that are longer.
  4. Email is becoming the communication tool of choice for most buyers and sales people. It makes sense – most buyers don’t want to talk on the phone with sales people, even when they do intend to buy something. Like phone-based communications, buyers have strong preferences about email. They want email to be short, easy to read, and personal. In fact, including something as simple as a headshot in your signature can increase response rates.
  5. Even with the move to digital communications, In-person meetings are still a common way for sales to interact with buyers. One common buyer preference is to keep meetings short. Try to keep meetings to 30 minutes in length and never break the 60 minute threshold – sales people lose the buyer’s attention when they let their meetings run longer than an hour.
  6. More recently, social media has become a way for sales to communicate with buyers. Although it’s a nascent tactic, it’s worth understanding what social media platforms your customers use.

Build a buyer-responsive sales organization

Most sales organizations are not designed or staffed to be buyer-centric. For examplInside sales should be organized according to buyer persona and process maps. For example, some buyers prefer to work with “farmers” as opposed to hunters.

  1. A good starting point for thinking about how to design a buyer-centric organization is to think about overall organizational structure. How can you design an organization that incorporates buyer preferences? One way is to think about whether your buyer wants to work with “farmers” or “hunters” (two common sales personas) and design your team accordingly.
  2. Your job candidate profiles should incorporate who the buyer is and how they make purchasing decisions. For example, a good profile might list subject areas that candidates should be well versed in that are only tangentially related to the product you sell.
  3. You should recruit and hire sales people who will naturally relate to the buyer. Look for candidates with direct experience in the buyer’s industry or people with high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ).
  4. Training is an essential component of an effective sales organization. Most training programs focus on product and process when they should in fact focus on the buyer. Furthermore, a lot of buyer research lives in a vacuum (usually somewhere in the marketing organization) and sales training is the most effective way to release this information to the front lines. Focus on getting sales to understand the buying process and the key touch points that can drive conversions.

Track metrics that tell you about the buyer

Most successful sales people have a good sense of who their best customers are. They know which buyers to spend time with and which buyers to avoid. While this decision is usually based on gut instinct, it doesn’t have to be.

  1. Sales should segment key funnel metrics by buyer type. To overcome some of the reporting challenges that you might encounter in this area, start by simply tracking metrics like number of leads, pipeline opportunity, and closed business across different buyer types. To segment this data, look for easy-to-use filters such as industry, company size, or geography.
  2. Look for performance bottlenecks in the sales process that are caused by a mismatch between the sales process and buying process. Are buyers going dark after you send them a proposal? Most sales organizations would blame pricing for this, but in point of fact, many buyers simply aren’t ready for a proposal when sales sends it.
  3. Finally, on a regular basis, make sure that sales management and reps receive detailed, qualitative data on the buyer. Pay particular attention to changes in the buying process and how sales should adjust their touch points accordingly.

While these 25 tips can get you started, creating a sales organization that is buyer-responsive is an ongoing process. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important of which is that today’s buyer is constantly changing. Furthermore, it’s essential that individual sales people have a buyer-centric mindset that is reflected in their day-to-day engagement with buyers. The only way to ensure that this happens is to continuously make the buyer the foundation of everything you do in sales.

About the author:  Scott Albro is the CEO and founder of TOPO. TOPO is a research, advisory, and consulting firm that believes in a really simple, but powerful idea – that all revenue can be distilled down to a series of conversions. By connecting everything we do back to this core idea, we help sales and marketing organizations exceed their revenue targets. You can connect with Scott on Twitter.

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