If I were to contend that during the COVID-19 pandemic, your customers started buying differently, you would probably laugh and say, “Tell me something I don’t know.” But it’s true. While there have been ongoing changes in the buying process for decades now, the pandemic has certainly accelerated some and disrupted others. Since the beginning of 2020, we have been consulted more times for longer sales cycles, decreasing forecast accuracy, and difficulties in forming customer relationships than ever before – all of which are byproducts of not adapting fast enough.
But where we’d start disagreeing is if I asked how we need to start selling differently. Suddenly, a million voices cry out at once with a different suggestion citing conflicting evidence and a contrasting priority. Yes, it seems everyone can recognize that customers are buying differently in the virtual world, but what’s fallen by the wayside is, “How do we know and what do we do about it?”
Why Their Voices Matter
At some level, we are all aware of these changes anecdotally. Just like many of us are guilty of checking a text or an email during a video conference, almost all of us have caught a prospect doing the same thing. However, while this might be indicative of a broader trend, can you say for sure? could you tell me why this is happening? and more importantly, could you tell me what do about it?
The answer is simple: you can’t, but your customers could.
Listening closely to your customers always paints a better, more accurate picture of their reasoning, experiences and needs than behind-the-desk guesswork. Yet given the sheer amount of training courses and publications being released about these pandemic-driven changes, it is alarming how little focus there has been on actually talking to buyers – learning what they are challenged by and hearing what they now expect from salespeople. Worst of all, those that do bring research to the table are often using the limited scope of surveys or focus groups as a replacement for in-depth, one-on-one interviews.
Take for example the difference between, “From the survey, your customers slightly to strongly agree your presentations are too long. We suggest cutting the deck in half.” versus, “During our interviews, your buyers complimented the quality and depth of your content but said your presentation style hasn’t translated well to the virtual space. In their words, here’s how you can make your deck feel shorter by making it more engaging.”
Letting your customers speak candidly and as individuals can drastically change your understanding of their wants and the best course of action.
The Outside-In™ Recommendation
For the past 20 years, our Outside-In™ approaches and programs have always started by speaking with customers to decode how they buy. Our unwavering belief is that when you listen to your buyers, there are always surprises and valuable insights to be gained. That’s why we have sat down with well over a hundred customers across various industries about how the pandemic impacted their buying process and shared some of those findings earlier this year.
As always, we are here to recommend taking the initiative and speaking to your own customers about how they buy and why they don’t. Making assumptions about their buying process might be easier, but it won’t help you sell better. Those improvements can only be discovered when we are open minded, actively listening, and asking thoughtful follow ups. That way when someone asks us, “How do you know?” or “What can we do?” we can begin where we always should, with, “Our customers told us…”