As a contract COO I’ve embedded a world-class sales process in several businesses. I’ve covered the details of that process in previous posts. But the success of that process depends on a deep understanding of the procurement process of the other side – the buyer.

First, a reminder of the 4 key elements of a successful sales process:

Discovery: Discovery is about research and preparation. It encompasses how salespeople get ready to engage and serve clients. The discovery process is aimed at the identification of a specific client who has the highest probability of change. No desire to change – no POs.

Diagnosis: The Diagnosis stage encompasses how salespeople help their prospects and clients fully comprehend the inefficiencies and performance gaps. It is a process of “hyperqualification” during which we pursue an in-depth determination of the extent and financial impact of their problems.

Design: Design encompasses how salespeople help the client create and understand the solution. It is a collaborative and highly interactive effort to help clients sort through their expectations and alternatives to arrive at an optional solution.

Delivery: Delivery is where all the hard work of the previous phases comes to fruition. It encompasses how the sales person assures the client’s success in executing the solution.

Now of course this process can’t exist in a vacuum. Sales is a contact sport. Think of the decision making process on the buying side. Let’s start with the flip side of Discovery and Diagnosis. Ask yourself these questions about the prospect:

  1. How do they research solutions?
  2. How do they get comfort with your credibility?
  3. How do they prioritize their problems?
  4. How they understand the consequences of their current set up?
  5. How do they persuade their boss to spend the money?
  6. How do they build a business case with ROI calculations?

Here is a little secret about users of software or hardware or services. They are often weak at justifying the financial aspect of an investment. They can wax lyrical about the technical benefits of investing in say new software tools, or new material testing systems or new IT infrastructure, but putting a business case together gives them a nose bleed. But it’s the user of your product that you are dealing with. That’s your man or woman on the inside. That’s your sponsor that is going to take you all the way to the bank!

But in my experience those users will be more than happy to blast past the uncomfortable commercial justification and dive into demos, and the technical requirements they require. In the sales process this means you are charging down the Design stage at a blistering pace towards a detailed proposal. But hold on. The question remains: where is the buyer in the financial justification process? Is it any wonder that Purchase Orders never arrive?

Moving down a rigorous sales process is essential. However the process needs to be intertwined, symbiotic with the prospect’s buying process. And the danger here is that the prospect is naïve about her own buying process. That naivety will kill your deal.

Understanding your customers and your prospects are key elements to successful selling. But understanding means, not just the issues that should be priorities and need fixing, but also the decision process that your prospect is compelled do go down to find the money.

In practical terms this means building into your sales process some tools that help your prospects buy. Or if you like building tools to help your prospects sell the idea internally. You need to turn all your sponsors in every deal into great sponsors. Weak sponsors kill deals.

In the current cautious environment in which we all try to do business, I believe it is essential that sales professionals fine tune their understanding of the buying processes going on within the customer’s business. Buying processes don’t start and finish in the procurement office. Buying starts with research, understanding of issues, analysis of needs, exploration of consequences, assessment of priorities, justification of investment, exploration of solutions and validation of the credibility of the seller.

Your sales process needs to reflect that fact. Further examples of this thinking can be found in a recent ADMET post I wrote explaining how to buy a world-class material testing system.

Like the way we think? You’ll love the way we work.

The Portfolio Partnership embeds sales processes that integrate with any CRM system and are empathetic to the way people buy.