Those who know me or have read anything I have published in the last decade would know that I am always banging on about one thing – the need for sales organizations to surrender the focus on their own internal sales process and instead turn things outside-in by focusing on their customer’s actual buying journey.
In our research we have talked to over 2,000 customers, and one of the many insights gained has been simply that customers in today’s world do not buy as a result of a sales person completing a sales process – they buy as a result of completing their own buying journey. You can have the best salesperson following the best sales process (whatever that may be) but that never guarantees that a customer will buy. The only guarantee is if a customer completes their buying journey – guess what – they buy. It is my belief that the singular mission for today’s sales organization must be to initiate, support and manage the customer through their end-to-end buying journey.
I believe that this Outside-In approach can only succeed by gaining a deep understanding of exactly how a specific market will go about buying a particular offering. Not why they should – that quite frankly is the easy bit – but how they would buy and why they don’t. Based on the insight that such a deep dive into the customer buying journey never fails to deliver, an overall market engagement strategy can then be crafted. Let me offer you a glimpse of the dramatic results that are possible with this approach by offering seven simple ways in which you can start the transition to Outside-In.
Let’s take seven straight-forward questions that sales leaders often ask a salesperson about a any sales opportunity. For each of these questions, let me invert them and offer an equivalent Outside-In question. I encourage you to try them. It isn’t as easy as you may expect; you may have to change the habits of a lifetime. But let’s give it a go, and instead of asking the “traditional” question I list below, start asking the Outside-In equivalent.
I promise that you will see an immediate and dramatic result. It may not lead to what you want to hear. You may well discover that a deal that was forecast to close this month, doesn’t look so good. You may discover that deals that are stuck in the pipeline may be shouldn’t even be in the pipeline. However, would you prefer to discover these dark secrets now, or when it is too late do something about them
Here we go and let me know what happens.
1. Traditional Question: When will you close the deal?
Outside-In Question: When will the customer be able to make a commitment and sign the order?
This is a simple and dramatic one to start with. What would you prefer to know; when a salesperson thinks they can or should close the business, or when the customer will be able to buy? It should be the exact same thing, but it rarely is. The follow-on discussion is also very interesting. Exactly how much do we know about what has to happen for the customer to be able to commit?
2. Traditional Question: How’s that deal going?
Outside-In Question: Is the customer in a buying journey? How do you know?
You can hear a lot of stories about a particular deal, and your sales team can commit a lot of cycles to it, only to discover that the customer isn’t even in a buying journey. It happens more than many would like to admit. These are the deals that get stuck or are lost to “no decision”. The customer could have been educated or even entertained by the selling effort, but they were never in a buying journey.
3. Traditional Question: What do we have to do next on that deal?
Outside-In Question: What does the customer have to do next?
That first question leads to hearing the same things again and again, and likely lacks any real insight. However, how about looking into what the customer must do next to move things along through their buying journey.
4. Traditional Question: How did it go? (Meeting/Presentation/Demo/Call)
Outside-In Question: What will the customer do as a result? (of the meeting/presentation/demo/call)
The only thing that matters with any customer interaction is how it impacts their overall buying journey. Asking how something went invites a lot of storytelling and may be some chest beating. However, asking about what the customer is going to as a result of the interaction dives a lot deeper into the situation and focuses on the objective of positively impacting that buying journey.
5. Traditional Question: What step are you at in the sales process?
Outside-In Question: What step is the customer at in their buying process?
No comment necessary, I hope.
6. Traditional Question: Who’s the competition?
Outside-In Question: What alternatives is the customer considering?
The biggest competitor in today’s world is the customer doing nothing, staying with their status quo. Regardless of how great an offering may be and the undeniable value it can create for an organization, customers often opt to stay where they are. There are many reasons for this, and many customers turn down great offers every day. Customers don’t think about competitors – they think about their alternative approaches. It’s far more effective to think about the alternatives a customer would face than simply list your traditional competitors.
7. Traditional Question: Who’s the decision maker?
Outside-In Question: How will the customer make their decision?
The days of the traditional decision maker are long gone. In today’s organizations, decisions are made through a dynamic network of decision influencers. We must stop thinking that there will be a single decision maker and start mapping out how a customer will arrive at a decision and what we need to do to support and manage that process.
There you have it. Seven questions you may ask each day. Invert each one and ask the Outside-In equivalent and see what happens.
Let me know what happens and contact me for an easy Quick Reference Guide.