I was participating in a board meeting for a young software company and the CEO was asked by an investor how long their sales cycle was. The CEO started to respond, corrected himself several times and finally shared that once he got in front of the right person he could get their eyes to light up in less than 20 minutes. Another of the board members humorously asked if he had enough operations staff to handle all the orders that he would generate. I always recall that situation as it so representative of many enthusiastic folk I have worked with – they mistake interest in their offering as a commitment to buy. Needless to say it is a very costly mistake and more often than not a harbinger of missed forecasts and disappointing revenue growth.
Our research over the last few years has thrown significant light upon what happens in the buyer’s world after they – in the words of the story above – have had their eyes lit up by some new offering. Perhaps the most revealing observation is that in many cases the prospective buyer not only understands the new offering but also believes in the value it will bring their organization – and yet does not buy. Indeed, with a good ROI, a case could be made that they’ve been offered $20 bills for $12 each and still decide to pass. Ironically in these situations, the sales person usually continues to hammer away on the offering and the value it will deliver and when no purchase is forthcoming, the selling company either blames the messaging or questions the sales person’s ability (or inability) to deliver it. And remember, these are situations where the buyer is seriously interested in the offering.
Our research then looked deeper into what happens in the buyer’s journey between these two points of interest and acquisition and the short answer to what we found is, a lot. This is where all the internal effort of the buying process is concentrated. The prospective buyer has many hurdles and bridges to cross before getting an organizational commitment to move forward with an acquisition. Firstly, there are many more people involved in any buying decision than in the past. All of these different individuals can influence the buying journey in any number of ways due to their own motivations and agendas. Then there is the simple question of why and how an organization would divert time and resources from whatever they are doing to this new initiative. There then follow numerous questions and anxieties about the implications and changes that may be required if they invest in the offering. And as one CFO once shared with me, there is no shortage of great ideas coming at them of how they can gain greater business success.
Our research showed that even those sales proposals in which an organization is sincerely interested, the majority lose momentum in the buying journey due to one or more of nine specific buying concerns. These are the friction points that we have identified and documented that slow down and/or stop the buying journey, and in turn lead to those missed sales forecasts and lack of revenue growth. The key here is that these issues are all internal to the buyer and have little to do with the selling company.
We recommend taking a very hard look at your prospect’s buying journey, especially that critical zone between interest and commitment. By understanding this part of the buying process, actions can be taken to deal with the inevitable roadblocks and so smooth the way of your customer’s journey to acquisition. Sales must be looked at from the outside-in, because in today’s world it’s not what they buy, it’s how they buy.