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Understanding today’s buyer and the need to change

Updated: May 9, 2023

As a sales professional for over 25 years, I have been involved in many professional development sessions and I have taught sales people the very basics of selling concepts and techniques. Having read many books on becoming a better sales person one thing has become very apparent.

The same concepts have been taught for over 100 years:

In 1899 Elias St Elmo Lewis coined the phrase and approach in order to capture the attendion of a prospect, to inform them and make a customer of them, thus are the origins of the AIDA Model. The AIDA model is one of the founding principles of modern marketing and advertising and when applied to a sales process it helps to better understand where your client is at in their motion towards becoming a customer.

The assumption is that the salesperson must first make the potential customer aware of a product; foster interest; stimulate desire; and, finally, encourage action (to purchase). We will delve into this concept in more detail as it is as true today, as it was 100 years ago.

Dale Carnegie published “How to win friends and influence people” in 1936, since then we have seen influencers like Real Estate extraordinaire Tom Hopkins, John Kehoe’s “Mind Power”, Brian Tracey the sales strategist and many other sales people who have published great books, audio programmes and live seminars. Writers and orators like Robert Greenleaf and Daniel Pink recognise the learnings from these publications but have adapted some of the principles into newer more modern thinking and learning which lets face it we all need to evolve with the times.

Many learnings that these great sales professionals, authors and intellectuals have documented carries great truth and as a sales person I have learnt a great deal of what I know today from understanding their work. So why have I written this book you may ask? The answer is a simple one; Buyers have changed and as a sales professional our focus on the way we sell must also change.

Today’s consumer is much smarter and market aware than ever before and because of this, to become the best you can be as a sales professional you need to adapt. You need to learn from the past and sharpen your skills for the future, otherwise achieving your goals and targets will become an unrewarding day’s chore.

A modern sales professional has the opportunity to realise one of the most personally and professionally rewarding daily activity you can imagine. To do this you must develop your skills and be true to yourself. The time for sales techniques have passed their used by date!

This blog is dedicated to discussing the skills a sales person must develop, why these are the more important skills and how you can develop them or sharpen them no matter how much experience you have to become the best sales professional you can be and win more happy customers than ever before.

I will make no false promises, like in learning from what is described in this blog you will make an unbelievable amount of money, that is not the point. However I believe you will get that opportunity and the rest is up to you. What I can promise is by learning and developing the skills discussed in this book you will have more opportunity than you have ever had before and what you do with that opportunity is up to you. I speak from my own personal learning’s and experiences having been one of the most successful salespeople in each industry I have worked in. My motivation to write this book comes from the satisfaction I have gained through helping others and I hope this book can help you.

The most important advice I can give any salesperson is “Focus on the process and execute the sales process to your highest standards and with the greatest professionalism and as long as you are in the right company, the rewards; financial and of recognition will take care of themselves!”

Working in the IT industry means I can quite comfortably and with no inhibitions blame the Internet for the change in consumer behaviour and I will follow that up with search engines such as Google being square in my sights. And you know what?

This is the best thing that could have ever happened to the selling industry; we needed consumers to get smarter. Ill-informed buyers were giving sales professionals a poor image, uneducated buyers gave wake to things like closing techniques such as the; the alternate close, the puppy dog close, the take it away closing technique because the ill-informed buyer didn’t know any better! I got over of going to sales training courses where some has-been sales coach wants to teach me about open and closed questioning techniques, encouraging small talk to get the customer to think you are interested in the same things the customer is and then trying dodgy closing techniques because you haven’t done your job properly in the first place. No More!!

Educated buyers have given sales professionals a rude wake up call, these old car salesmen techniques don’t work anymore. (In making this comment I do apologise to the car salesmen that are honest and do a really professional job but to everyone else you know what I am talking about.)

To explain how buyers being more educated impacts sales professionals I will refer to the AIDA concept of sales and marketing as this articulates the buying process in its simplest and I would say purest form. I will explain what the process means from the buyers perspective and the traps and opportunities for sales professionals.

Awareness – This is where our buyers have got really smart, over 10 years ago, we as sales professionals where charged with creating awareness of our product through cold calling and prospecting which gave us the opportunity of being the educator and in so being the trusted advisor to our customers. This meant rapport building and starting the sales process with our customers became easy, all we had to do was get in front of customers. If we created awareness around a product or service that the buyer was interested in the buyer would allow us or even invite us to advance to the next stage in the selling process.

Today it is not quite so simple unless you are a first to market product. Buyers invest time in trawling the internet and are bombarded with 10,000+ marketing images per day so awareness of the options available to them today is literally at their finger tips. As a sales professional that talks and gets excited about their products and services this is the first major trap. If we talk prematurely about our product to a customer that has agreed to meet with us we will quickly anchor ourselves to this buyers mode which will get us into a product vs product race to the bottom price discussion, if not lose their interest as he/she will likely already know quite a bit of what we think we are telling them. Buyers much prefer the sound of their own voices than they do ours so encourage them to talk and they will like you more for it. If they tell you facts about your products then it is true in their mind and we do not need to convince them of these wonderful features of our product or service. Think about this statement for a minute….

If you can have your potential customer describe your product or solution then what has happened? What ever they have said is true and real to them and this is where we must get our customers to and then we can build on this conversation.

Another common trap from educated customers is they will ask direct questions that they think they need to know the answer to and this also has the effect of having the over eager sales professional talking prematurely. Not wanting to state the obvious but educated customers may just want to know the price to see if they think they can afford it rather than understanding the value of the product or service to their organisation. Beware this buyer; you need to be very careful in how you answer their questions. This may just terminate the opportunity by giving them an answer that they were looking for to qualify themselves out of buying your product or service. These are often price based questions for feature based and they need to fill the gaps in their knowledge to confirm their need to buy or not. This is an opportunity to take a moment to test the temperature of the conversation up to this time and re-qualify the opportunity for yourself. Do you invest your time in this opportunity when the customer is looking to qualify themselves out of buying and turn them into a happy customer or do you use your own qualifying questions to qualify them out for both of you. There is another option and that is to use this as a practice round or just pack up your note pad and close the meeting.

The opportunity here is the “listen and lead” skill that will be covered in a future blog. When discussing products and services to today’s buyers, we must listen and find out what they know about our product or service first before we discuss it ourselves. We need to extract every bit of relevant information out of them first in order to set the direction in which we need to take the customer, to convert them into a buyer. Take control back by answering questions with intelligent questions that the buyer can answer whilst feeling like you haven’t changed the subject. The answers give you more information about this buyer’s motive because only by asking quality questions can you find the why, behind the why this customer needs your product or solution. An example of this is; when asked “ how much is your notebook 1x3”? I would answer “we have a promotion coming up, how many notebooks where you thinking and are you sure the 1x3 is the right model for you”? At this time I would be very quiet and listen carefully to what my buyer is saying and look for opportunities to ask more intelligent questions. This kind of engaged question will take a level of control back from the educated buyer and give you the right to progress to the next step in the selling process as they see straight away you are listening but looking for more information to help them find out what they need to know. By introducing the idea of a promotion means there is a different price depending on their needs and time of purchase. However never give away details of a promotion then and there as later we will discuss how there is always a promotion to be leveraged whether your company is having one or not.

Interest – What is interest? Interest is when the customer moves from being a shopper to a buyer. They are starting to think about what owning your product or service means to them. They are likely to be fitting your product into their buying criteria at the same time you are qualifying them as a customer. With this in mind we need to ask what does it mean to them or WIIFM “what’s in it for them” questions so we can turn interest into desire.

This is the step where most inexperienced sales people get confused and lose a potential sale sitting right in front of them. To take away any confusion this is the step where we as sales people qualify the potential purchase of this buyer. At the same time this is where the buyer is qualifying themselves in or out of buying our product or service making this the most critical step in the sales process. All preparation in a sales appointments, needs to be focused on getting the right to take the customer to the next stage otherwise you might as well say goodbye to the customer and thank them for their time and move on to the next opportunity.

Trap: Never assume because a buyer talks about our product that he will buy it, especially when he or she talks about it with passion and knowledge. The educated buyer will be looking for pricing options and they will be looking for what deal you might offer them without giving too much away. If you give them what they think they want this early in their emotional journey you will miss out on completing the sales journey with them and your competitor will take your customer and inso they will but an inferior product or service and you will have done your customer, your employer and yourself with those who depend on you a disservice.

Let them feel that they are in control by having them do the talking but avoid discussing the real price until the desire for the purchase from the customer is real. You also need to use this time to analyse if this is a real opportunity that you can win or if you could use your time more effectively with another customer. There is nothing wrong in agreeing with the customer that your product will not meet their requirements at this time and close the meeting. You never know sometimes this single act demonstrates trust and sincerity that they decide they want to buy off of a professional that is not forcing a product down their throat. Then they might possibly restructure their requirements to become your customer as have many of my long term loyal customers that have followed me from company to company because being trusted in this profession is a huge honour and wonderful responsibility.

Opportunity: Your opportunity as a sales professional here is to slow down and understand the buyer’s motives. What does he/she like about your product? Are they the right person to authorise the purchase or influence the sale? What are their timeframes to purchase and what are they thinking are the business motives for the purchase? This is your opportunity to become the trusted advisor by asking key, intelligent questions that shape the purchase in your mind and especially in the mind of the buyer. This will have the buyer talking up their reasons why your product will benefit their business and give you all the ammunition you need to start creating buyer desire to own your product or service. This is where you get to take the customer to the next stage in the buying process and take control of the sale! The skills we will discuss in later chapters to help you with this will be Hearing what is being said, Understanding the benefits to the buyer and Applying logic.

Desire: This step in the sales process is ours to control. No matter how smart the buyer is, by this point the customer should be emotionally involved in the sales process. If you continue logically through the process and demonstrate and ability to articulate the business requirements to business value being the benefits gained through the customer making the purchase you will progress to the action step of the process. not get ahead of yourself, slow down and breath! This is where over confidence will trip you up, and eagerness to close the deal prematurely can turn your customer off you and you may go through the painful experience of handing an easy sale to your competition. This is the point where being focused on the fundamental basics of customer service and relationship management will ensure your success.

Trap: The trap here is to be a victim of your own success. You have done a great job getting your buyer to this point but one false move and watch it come crumbling down. This is where educated buyers are also educated about sales professionals. They are looking for techniques, they are looking out for being sold to, and they are intent on proving to themselves that you are a sales person just looking for a sale. And that my friend you proud of that fact, don’t run from it or give into false offerings from the smart buyer trying to trap you. You are a professional and a professional stays true to the process and gets the right outcome. You owe that to yourself and more importantly if you believe you have the right product or service for your customer then you owe it to them to close the sale by finishing the journey that is the sales process. Take them to the point of action.

Opportunity: Demonstrate to your customer that you are a true professional, that you believe in what you are selling and that they will buy it because they have realised it is the right decision for them to make. Not because you sold it to them. Do the basics, follow up with reason, if you say you are going to do something, be specific and follow through as you have committed. Be prepared to Give and take which we will discuss later. Most importantly articulate back to your customer all the benefits to their organisation that they have described and demonstrate your intent listening skills. By doing this you are pushing the hot buttons and reminding the buyer why they are buying the product. This is the point when you need to discuss the Implications of timing so that you and the customer both understand very clearly when they must act.

Action: This to me is the act of the customer buying or the sales person closing the sale, which when the sales process is complete is actually one and the same. Today’s sales professional is not the best closer; they are the best at setting up the sale and taking the buyer through the buying process. This I believe is the number one thing that has made me successful over the past 20+ years in selling. It is important to understand that most of my managers have always believed that my success is due to me being a fearless closer. This is purely perception as I believe if you set up the sale and take the buyer through the sales process end to end, you have every right to ask your customer for a purchase order. If you take them through the sales process they will give you the order. However like all steps in the process there are traps and opportunities.

Traps: Losing focus at this point due to belief that the sale is complete when the purchase order has not been raised is a common trap. The customer will often test you in the early stages and latter stages of your relationship. Often at this point and you will be challenged to make judgement calls that relate to you and your clients relationship that can jeopardise the sale. The first point is, always consider the risk value proposition. Does the risk outweigh the reward for meeting the challenge or letting it go? This, only you can be the judge. The other trap is missing a key decision maker’s involvement and over estimating their role or underestimating their influence. If you had covered this in the Interest phase you should not have an issue with it now, but it is always vital to consider what you know again at this final stage in the process. Be careful who you tell when you think you are close, it is a small world and you never know what information might come back around. There is another trap which is more about missed opportunities and that is ask the customer if what they have agreed to buy is everything that they need to buy, and never be afraid to ask them how they intend to make the purchase as there may be other opportunities at this point when the customer is most excited about a purchase. As a sales professional that has been totally focused on getting through the process it is easy to take the agreed order without looking around for what else is on the table. Just to be clear, I do not mean “would you like fries with that”. Very rarely is a customer only buying one thing at any given time, and if he already likes you enough to buy the product you have sold him there may be something else you can help him with that you can add to the order.

Opportunities: Increasing the value to your organisation with this final step can have great rewards and does not always involve the customer. After you have ensured you have the order from your customer ask yourself is there an opportunity to go back to your supplier and request a better price to increase your profit, pay for additional marketing (take the customer out for a bite to eat or a beer) or invest in the customers education about you and your suppliers product through a briefing centre or meeting with a Senior Supplier Product Executive. This is still selling and is also the role of today’s sales professional to extend the opportunity and enhance your customer’s experience. This takes away the old technique of asking for referrals as this happy customer will hand them to you as qualified leads next time he comes across a peer with similar requirements. Try to re-channel your excitement in closing the deal by getting on the phone and calling the last 5 people that didn’t agree to meet with you, what is the worst thing that can happen, they say “no” for a second time?

Once the sale has been transacted make sure you have diarised a follow up call for the next 6 months, these 30 seconds every month will ensure the customer always remembers you as the sales professional that took the sale and followed up. This is a small thing that when followed through on is very powerful, but you will very rarely see, the direct benefit. The next person from your company that visits this client will understand the value of your actions. This I guarantee, will enhance your reputation and increase your profile, internally and externally within your customer base like you will never truly fathom.

The idea behind this blog is to help you understand the difference in dealing with an educated buyer and relating it to the buying process. So this means you should have two take-a-ways to digest and understand; the selling process is made up of 4 key steps as articulated by the AIDA concept and today’s buyers are not stupid.

To read this blog and gain benefit from the skills that can be learnt, you need to relate it to what it is you do out in the real world. What you do is sell and selling is a process, the skills I want to help you develop are going to be discussed relative to the stage in the selling process so you can logically put the steps together and use the steps as a map to guide you through the process that is selling. If you can master the process of selling you can master any company’s product and service and be the leading sales professional you desire to be.

To be successful you must realise that buyers are now more educated than ever before and have researched all about your product or service before they meet with you.They understand the role of a salesperson; they are consumers out in the real world everyday and deal with all types of sales people in all types of situations.You must stand out and differentiate yourself, educate yourself, arm yourself with skills that can navigate the fiercest, most educated buyer there is today.Most importantly you must understand yourself to be yourself.Only then can you be open, to being the best you can be

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