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Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, Nick Toman: The Challenger Customer

Different functions bring different agendas to the table. Excessive collaboration adds time (but not value) to the process. Information abundance buries the core issues; opportunities that initially combined strategic advantage for the buyer with strategic opportunity for the seller get watered down or abandoned altogether.

The hardest part of selling solutions

Despite suppliers’ improved ability to convey their unique value, there’s strong evidence that today’s customers are less willing than ever before to actually pay for that value, even when they perceive it. While today’s suppliers may win the battle for awareness, consideration, recommendation, and even preference, they still lose when it comes to what matters most: getting paid.

While there are many reasons customers fail to buy, the primary culprit is the dramatic increase in both number and diversity of customer stakeholders typically involved in solutions purchases today – and, more damning, the severe dysfunction that is bred by the ever-expanding number of individuals who need to weight in before a deal is signed.

To win today, you need a Challenger inside the customer organization. Who are these customer Challengers? We call them Mobilizers.

The dark side of customer consensus

When sales managers push sales rep to sharpen their value proposition as response to competition, they don’t realize that this is not the right way. Customer can always reply the other company’s solution is good enough, and they’re a lot cheaper. Much of the problem lies less in a supplier organization’s inability to sell effectively and far more in a customer organization’s inability to buy effectively.

The customer consensus challenge has become worse. The number of customer stakeholders involved in a typical deal continues to rise. Why?

  • A sustained and widespread aversion to risk among both individual customer stakeholders and organizations.
  • Most ‘solutions’ today have both technological component and a higher price tag necessitating not only the involvement of IT but additional scrutiny by operations and procurements executives.
  • Tighter regulatory requirements and information protection protocols.
  • Customers’ effort to expand operations globally.
  • Most ‘solutions’ today are purposefully designed to integrate more customer functions and tasks in order to provide customer higher impact, better value, and improved ease of use.
  • New management styles and organizational structures leading to flatter, more networked organizations.

All these leads to more people, who need to sign off. More often than not, it’s a purchase by committee. It’s a collective consensus across a formal or informal group of senior employees, each with the ability to stop a deal if it fails to meet their particular needs, or speak to their individual priorities.

An average of 5.4 different people formally involved in a typical purchase decision. This isn’t just 5.4 different people, it’s 5.4 different perspectives. That’s the real challenge of customer consensus today. It isn’t just a quantity problem. It’s a diversity problem.

Purchase Intent by Buying Team Size (according to CEB analysis) drops from 81 % if there is one person involved, to 55 % with two, all the way down to 31 % if there are six. Average buying group size is 5.4. You can do the math.

The first dimension for selling to diverse stakeholders is a challenge of access. Beyond identifying them, is the more difficult task of winning the right to speak with them. Beyond winning access to each of these individuals, however, sellers still face the even greater challenge of winning each of them over. But the real challenge is, this is no longer a single sale, but a serial sale, each one a little different and carefully positioned to each stakeholder.

A high-quality sale. The idea here is: Suppliers aren’t looking to close just any business. They are looking to close good business. It’s not so much the low quantity of deals commercial leaders are doing that causes the real pain, but the low quality of the deals that are ultimately sold. A quality sale is a deal where customers:

Did not settle for a less ambitious solution, but purchased a premium offering relative to the base offering.

There are two approaches to cover all 5.4 stakeholders. One is winning access or tracking them all down. The second one is better individual positioning or winning them all over. If you want to position yourself in a way that your solution will cover the needs of each individual stakeholder, you can actually reduce the probability of closing quality sale. Too much tailoring can actually hurt you.

How to sell to a diverse group of individuals. Finding a way to connect the diverse individuals that comprise a buying group around a higher-level vision than where they’re most likely to land on their own.

Unlike customer diversity, which is largely out of suppliers’ control, customer dysfunction is something they can do something about.

The various stages customer stakeholders must pass through to move a purchase forward:

  • Problem definition.
  • Solution identification.
  • Supplier selection.

On average, group decisions are nearly twice as hard as individual ones. While customer stakeholders might all agree they have a problem, there’s likely going to be some pretty significant debate on the best way to solve the problem. The thing least likely to create disagreement among stakeholders is Supplier selection.

Generic messages regarding value proposition sound like that: “Our company is a leading, customer-focused global provider of innovative solutions supported by cutting-edge innovations designed to empower organization with different-in-kind sources of broad-based value creation at their most critical moments of need. And oh, by the way, we’re green.”

On average, customers are 57 percent of the way through typical purchase process prior to proactively reaching out to a supplier’s sales rep for their direct input on whatever it is that they’re doing.

Customers are now doing on their own most of the things that suppliers were hoping to do with them together: They are identifying a need. They’re prioritizing that need relative to others. They’re determining which capabilities they’ll require to address that need. They’re identifying which suppliers are best able to deliver that capability. They are also doing preliminary research on how much each of those suppliers cost.

On the other hand, group conflict peaks at 37 percent of the purchase process. That’s the summit of the “me to we” mountain where deal is most likely to die.

Customer consensus isn’t a sales challenge, it is a commercial challenge. B2B marketers are going to have to find ways to anticipate customer disconnects far earlier in the purchase process and avert them proactively.

Each stakeholder will have their own goals, priorities, means, and metrics, all unique to their particular perspective. Stakeholders’ divergent mental models are what is causing the dysfunction in the decision process. An otherwise dysfunctional group of customer stakeholders unable to agree on a common vision but forced to agree on something is likely to agree on doing nothing – or at least doing as little as possible – in order to find common ground. A dysfunctional group is full 50 percent less likely to pay a premium for a high-cost offering than a functional group.

Aligning a supplier value proposition more closely to each stakeholder’s mental model is making things worse, not better. With that sellers are exacerbating the very separation that keeps this group from agreeing on anything.

We live in a world where each person says ‘Yes’, but then the group ultimately says ‘No’. There’s a vast difference between a collection of yeses and a Collective yes. Using the mental model construct, we can now understand exactly how that might be possible.

If the seller personalizes the offering so much, then when each of the 5.4 comes together to compare notes, they find that the proposed deal is far bigger, far more disruptive, and far more expensive than anything any one individual thought they were signing for, and then that group will naturally scope it back down to an acceptable size.

Purchase process has three phases:

  • Phase 1 – Customer’s Status Quo
  • Phase 2 – Individual Willingness to Explore Alternate Course of Action
  • Phase 3 – Group Consensus for High-Quality Deal

The distance between phase 2 and 3 is far longer than between phase 1 and 2.

Without the right partner inside the customer organization, the sellers will likely fail to build a bridge from “me” to “we”.

The mobilizer

The question of who to target as a supplier is as old as sales itself. On marketing side, it has to do with market segmentation. On sales side it is influenced by particular sales methodology or recent training program or specific guidance from a sales manager.

How do star sellers win the consensus-based sales? They are running a completely different playbook – one designed to build consensus and not just find it.

Number one thing the senior decision makers care about most in choosing one supplier over another is whether or not that supplier enjoys widespread support across the customer organization.

Customer Stakeholder Profiles (as determined by factor analysis by CEB):

  • The Go-Getter: Champions other’s good ideas. Always delivers more than asked. Learns from mistakes and moves on.
  • The Skeptic: Perceives unclear projects as risky. Prepares influential stakeholders for disruptive ideas. Believes changes require small wins first.
  • The Friend: Readily accessible and enjoys conversations with reps. Often networks reps with colleagues. Generous in giving time to reps.
  • The Teacher: Often teaches new insights. colleagues and senior executives seek their input. Good at convincing others.
  • The Guide: Provides information typically unavailable to vendors. Speaks the truth when sharing with vendors. Distributes information equally.
  • The Climber: Needs to personally gain from projects. Wants personal rewards for risks taken. Likes to tell others about successes.
  • The Blocker: Believes stability is a goal in and of itself. Believes improvement projects are distracting. Rarely helps vendors.

Star sellers are looking for customer stakeholders who can: drive across their organization and build consensus among their colleagues. They focus on building connections with Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics, while average performing salespeople target Guides, Friends, and Climbers. The Go-Getters, the Teachers, and the Skeptics are “Mobilizers”. The other three are “Talkers”.

For the average sales rep, a Mobilizer sales conversation isn’t necessarily an easy one. Go-Getters will press you because they want to, Teachers because they want to know, and Skeptics because they want to test.

Challengers sell to Challengers and Relationship Builders sell to Relationship Builders.

Suppliers must get three things right in order to fully unlock Mobilizer potential:

  • They must teach Mobilizers where they learn.
  • They must tailor their engagement efforts to specific Mobilizer type.
  • They must equip their Mobilizers to take control of the consensus-building process.

To be successful supplier can introduce three elements in the sales (purchase) process:

  • Commercial Insight lies at the heart of the new-world Challenger commercial model. Building insight is an organizational capability, not an individual salesperson skill.
  • Collective Learning is a technique for taking control of the consensus process.
  • Commercial coaching is coaching your Mobilizer on how to buy.

The art of unteaching

Every B2B supplier today is selling the same thing: change.

Most suppliers’ single biggest competitor today isn’t so much the competition but the customer’s own status quo.

If we consider the challenge of selling change within the context of creating customer consensus, we begin to see how monumentally difficult selling solutions truly has become.

New physics of sales, Mobilizers allow me to minimize inertia and maximize momentum. Setting a Mobilizer in motion across that first shift from Phase 1 to Phase 2 requires a convincing vision and credible evidence that that change is even worth it in the first place.

Why customers are delaying contact with sales reps. Because they can. Left to their own device, customers will always engage a supplier as late as they possibly can.

Suppliers’ teaching must:

  • Capture the attention of a Mobilizer, in a way that
  • Motivates them to champion a change in behavior, leading them to
  • Rally the support of the other 4.4, around a vision that
  • Leads that customer back to their unique solution.

This is what Commercial insight is.

The fact that content is “easily accessible” and “quick to find” has no bearing on customers’ likelihood to change their thinking. Nor does the degree to which content “contains interesting facts or anecdotes” or whether it’s “easy to understand.”

Content with statistically significant impact on changing a customer’s purchase direction has two drivers:

  • Teaching the customer something new and compelling about their business.
  • Providing customers with a compelling reason to take action.

This is insight. It demonstrates to customer, that they missed something about their business. That kind of insight isn’t designed just to teach customers something new that they’ve never thought before, but to unteach them something that they already have.

There are a number of different “layers” to that “content”. First is general information. Then we have accepted information. The third layer is thought leadership. The fourth is insight. The fifth is then commercial insight.

The more counterintuitive or surprising the finding, the highest the burden of proof, and therefore the more robust the evidence must be.

The insight should provide the argument why the cost of current behavior is higher the potential of alternate action. The pain of the same is greater than the pain of change.

Commercial insight is insight that meets the “frame-breaking” bar, but simultaneously leads the customer back to that particular supplier as the only one able to help them take action on that insight. In order to do that, you need to answer those questions: What are we good at? What are we uniquely good at? Which of our unique capabilities is sustainable?

True differentiators are: unique, valuable, defensible and sustainable.

The key to Commercial Insight isn’t a story about the supplier at all. It’s a story about the customer and how they’ve missed something materially important to the performance of their business. The only way to (diplomatically) tell a customer that they’re “wrong” is to first understand what they believe in the first place. That set of beliefs is something we like to call a “mental model”.

A customer’s mental model dictates virtually everything that they do. If you want to change behavior, you first have to change the mental model. It’s the “frame” in the “frame breaking” we need to do to really call it insight.

We need to establish current beliefs of the customer and work from that to desired beliefs and behaviors.

Working on Commercial Insight, these questions can help:

  • What are our sustainable, unique strengths?
  • Of those unique strengths, which ones are currently underappreciated by our customers?
  • What is that the customer fails to fully understand about their business that leads them to underappreciate our unique, sustainable capability now?
  • What would we have to teach that customer about their business that would lead them to value that capability more than they do now? (What kind of evidence, how high is the “burden of proof, what evidence do we have now, how can we build evidence that we’re missing?)

Building commercial insight

Commercial insight helps customers think differently about their company. And that can come only from deep understanding of how those customers think of their business in the first place.

Mental model is representation of how someone thinks of their world. The first thing we need to establish is the customer’s goal. In many cases, the goal will be denominated in some sort of commercial metric (revenue or margin).

Once we’ve established that end goal, we can then work backward from there to identify primary and secondary “drivers” of that goal and begin to map out their relationship to one another. These models can be built out with almost endless amounts of detail. However, you’ll find there are significant diminishing returns after nailing down the top three or four nodes. After we’ve built out the mental model, we can work back up the tree to pressure-test the logic and be sure we aren’t missing anything important. You can always test for importance of different branches by asking customer to rate them.

The main part of commercial insight is to break down the A before your build up the B. If you were to distill this process into its basic building blocks, you’d find the entire process boils down to three ways of change.

  • You can add a node.
  • You can increase the importance of a node.
  • You can add a causal link.

In drawing actions: add a box, make a box bigger, add an arrow.

The sweet spot for insight is typically around one to three levels below the economic outcome.

Commercial insight in action

Xerox’s Insight Model consists of two concentric circles to guide efforts for creating Commercial insight. The inner circle is meant to capture the key components of the supplier’s value proposition and should include key points of differentiation. The outer ring is what customers care about at a higher-order level, independent of any supplier’s capability. The idea here is to create connection points – literally draw arrows. Those arrows are, in essence, Commercial insight candidates.

Here are the steps:

  • List your differentiators.
  • Create a list of outcomes your customers care most about.
  • Prioritize and choose an outcome as a starting point.
  • Map customer beliefs about outcome drivers.
  • Hypothesize connections between your differentiators and customer outcomes.
  • Test and validate connections.

The first three steps in this process are the work that you’d do before you get to the mental model mapping. Step 4 is the mental model mapping itself. Step 5 is where you figure out how to break the mental model. Step 6 is all about pressure testing and validating the insight.

An outcome is best thought of as an action verb and something that could be measured in some fashion. In the era of the consensus purchase, suppliers have to understand the outcomes that the broader set of stakeholders hold most dear.

Commercial insight prototype includes:

  • Business problem and what customer is currently doing. To qualify you need to ask yourself does this reflect customers’ top-of-mind concerns?
  • Highlight what customer is missing. To qualify you need to ask yourself does this disrupt the customers’ thinking and teach them something new?
  • New customer approach (leading to supplier solution). To qualify you need to ask yourself does this lead back to a specific set of supplier differentiators?

It turns out the mix of talent is make or break when it comes to creating great Commercial insight.

Teaching mobilizers where they learn

“Where customers learn” has been moving target with the explosion of both digital and social media channels that customers tend to trust far more than classic marketing channels.

Three high-level points of guidance to explain content marketing: look smart, be useful and be present. The problem with look smart is that the vast majority of content written in the name of thought leadership focuses on building up the B and completely overlooks tearing down the A.

Once they have created a Commercial insight, marketers need to step back and create a related content strategy.

SIC or Spark-Introduce-Confront Content Path is the way how to overturn the customer’s mental model and come to Commercial insight. The first step is to spark exploration of the frame-breaking at the heart of your Commercial insight. Having gotten the Mobilizer to want to learn more from the Spark content, the Introduce content (second step) lays out the idea in more detail. Next you path the Mobilizer to Confront content, the third step.

There are three rules:

  • Rule 1 – All content should be tied in some way to a Commercial insight.
  • Rule 2 – Content that isn’t itself frame breaking should directly path back to content that is.
  • Rule 3 – All other content should be discarded or never created in the first place.

Done well, a tightly managed SIC content strategy should lead marketers to create less content than they currently do, but drive greater impact on the commercial metrics that matter.

Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman believe that awe-inspiring content is defined as having two components: its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.

Tailoring is where we start to transition from winning the individual to winning the group.

Two types of tailoring

The ultimate goal in any solutions sale, of course, isn’t to get stakeholders to believe your insight, it’s to get customer organizations to buy your solution. To do that, requires to change their behavior.

Tailoring to Mobilizers is far more important than tailoring to stakeholders more generally.

In the second movement of a typical purchase process, the goal here can’t simply be creating better individual resonance; it must evolve to ensuring profitable collective consensus.

If we were to break down the reasons why core reps naturally gravitate to Talkers (and not Mobilizers), it’s largely because core reps aren’t thinking so much about driving customer change as they are gaining customer access.

Stars’ ability to assess stakeholders is based on a deep and nuanced understanding of how customer organizations operate. They do not accept people at face value.

We need to qualify different profiles inside customer to screen out Mobilizers. It is easier to identify Talkers. After you identify them, you are left with Mobilizers. The first step in this exercise is to lead with a thought-provoking insight and gauge the customer’s reaction. If they don’t engage you are probably working with Blocker or a Friend or a Guide. Second tell is how they talk about their needs and challenges. If they talk from a group perspective, then chances are that they are Mobilizers. If they don’t, they are undoubtedly a Climbers. Only once we test the willingness and ability of our would-be Mobilizer to actually mobilize, we can be certain. We should give them a task and check if they deliver.

Neither title nor seniority is statistically predictive of Mobilizer tendencies.

Tailoring our approach to the type Mobilizer we’re dealing with will ensure not just that they are fully engaged with what we’re saying but that we’re going to have to support each of these Mobilizers a little bit differently to have the best shot at forging consensus.

A Go-Getter is going to be interested in the big picture, but they are going to quickly want to understand the implementation details. Engaging with a Teacher, the seller is going to want to tailor his approach by appealing to the Teacher’s desire for a grand, sweeping vision. When dealing with a Skeptic, the seller will want to tailor his approach by encouraging questions and exploration.

While the seller wants to tailor to each Mobilizer’s perspective, they must also guard against allowing those perspectives to overtake the message. A Mobilizer’s strength, in other words, can also become a weakness when it comes to getting others on board.

A Challenger sale based on 5.4 different flavors of the same Commercial Insight can lead to just as much trouble as a sale based on no insight at all, as either way customers will be forced to do on their own what the supplier failed to do on their behalf, namely, establish clear alignment across a common B – a mutually agreed-upon alternat mental model. The alternative is to break down A individually, but then build up the B collectively.

Taking control of consensus creation

If dysfunctional groups are marked by diverging mental models, “functional” groups are characterized by converging mental models. Functional buying groups are 40 percent more likely to purchase a more ambitious offering than dysfunctional ones.

What might be necessary to encourage this kind of convergence. The first might be to create a common language. Second would be encouraging collective understanding of individual perspective and goals. Third is clarifying group objectives. Fourth is overcoming individual and group biases that might stand in the way of establishing higher-order agreement.

Norming is the process of people learning from one another in order to establish common ground and collective expectations. At its best, it’s driven by a collaborative exploration of problems, objections, and opportunities.

Quality wins aren’t the result of getting each individual on board with the supplier’s solution, but rather getting the entire group collectively on board with a broader vision of what they should even be doing in the first place, irrespective of supplier.

At a high level, Collective learning is: An interaction where stakeholders explore and socially norm by debating and building on each other’s perspectives, finding points of unrecognized agreement, and arriving at a shared decision. In other words, it’s the ability of a group of customer stakeholders to overcome their natural disconnects and learn together.

List of behaviors that could serve as indication that Collective Learning is happening:

  • Thoroughly Exploring Concerns and Uncertainties Across the 5.4.
  • Honestly Surfacing Disconnects and Competing Ideas.
  • Mutual Willingness to Explore Problems and Consider Alternate Views.
  • Active Probing for Potentially Overlooked Interdependencies.
  • Establishing Joint Resolution.

Collective Learning boost customer willingness to pay more (by 70 %) and to buy more later (23%).

Three “key operating principles” defining world-class supplier-led Collective Learning:

  • Principle 1: Supplier-led Collective Learning requires facilitation, not just presentation.
  • Principle 2: Supplier-led Collective Learning requires bonding, not just prompting.
  • Principle 3: Supplier-led Collective Learning requires coaching, not just listening.

We call approach at Principle 3, Collective Coaching. Commercial Coaching: lead to self-discovery, build confidence to act, lead to the supplier and equip to build consensus.

How should Mobilizers be commercially coached to build consensus.

In the first stage, the seller helps the Mobilizer construct a plan for building consensus. Seller should be mindful of tailoring to your Mobilizer strengths and weaknesses.

The second stage helps the Mobilizer confirm their organization understands its true problem and the best course of action. This stage largely depends upon you getting your Commercial Insight confidently into the hands of your Mobilizer. At this stage, it’s vital to ensure your Mobilizer understands the cost of inaction on their organization’s part.

In the third stage of Commercial Coaching, you’ll support your Mobilizer in surfacing and addressing any remaining stakeholder concerns. Partnering with your Mobilizer you will help highlight objections and stakeholder disconnects that may not be obvious at this point. Blockers often exercise their influence on a purchase at this point in the sale.

The fourth stage of Commercial Coaching establishes negotiable points related to the purchase. This is where you and your Mobilizer will take control of the purchase process by helping the customer actively make trade-offs related to the purchase. Negotiable options are attributes of the purchase that can be conceded in order to satisfy any remaining stakeholder concerns without materially impacting your differentiated solution. In this phase customer stakeholders should agree on option B – new desired state. Also in this phase, Blockers should be neutralized.

The fifth and final stage of Commercial Coaching is predicated on securing stakeholder commitment to move forward. Commitment should be about committing resources and support for implementation of your solution and broad commitment that your solution is best positioned to support their business.

Making collective learning happen

Creating collective learning starts with finding common ground. We need to find a common language to use in messages that bridges that apparent disconnect. The other thing we need to do as marketers at this stage is to equip Mobilizers to bring those stakeholders together.

Because your sales tools were likely created to focus on you as a supplier, you’ll need to modify them to focus more broadly on the nature of the problem and solution. One tool in the kit is a stakeholder guide. Another tool is an objection handling guide. As well, what you’ll see through the toolkit are stories. It’s all about making it as easy as possible for the Mobilizer to mobilize.

Stakeholder Commitment Process map includes: assess and convey points of disconnect, create urgency for resolution of disconnects, confirm support for stakeholder workshop and set expectation for participation. Three phased for workshop are: prompt, explore and converge.

Helping customers gain consensus in a managed environment reduces sales cycles and positively influences our commercial opportunity by identifying customer commitment early in the sale.

Shifting to a challenger commercial model

To win today, you need a Challenger inside the customer organization. A new go-to market strategy. Some areas of implication of this new approach:

  • Demand generation
  • Marketing talent
  • Social selling
  • Managing blockers
  • Sales process and opportunity planning

Demand generation is not any more about creation of demand but about mobilizing a demand. Few spots where conventional wisdom might lead marketers astray. There are three main failure points:

  • Conventional wisdom leads us down a path of creating ever more content, and content quantity quickly trumps content quality.
  • Conventional wisdom is mum on the absolute criticality of upending how customers think of their own business.
  • Conventional wisdom is about better connecting individuals in a buying group to you as a supplier, not about connecting them to each other.

Individual willingness to buy, in a consensus purchase, means very little. Personalizing messaging and content to such an extreme, leads to driving diverse buying group stakeholders further apart.

  • Create content paths that confront and connect.
  • Adjust lead-scoring criteria to reflect confrontation.
  • Nurture leads explicitly for commercial insight and collective learning.

The key metric should be absolute volume of quality leads. Shifting from a generating demand to a mobilizing demand approach should also increase sales-generated leads.

In the “prefunnel” stage, you’ll know you’re on the right track if you experience these kinds of things:

  • Proprietary term adoption
  • Third-party references
  • Invitation to present your insights
  • Early engagement with (new) key decision makers
  • Positive sales force sentiment on lead quality
  • Instances of getting ahead of the RFP/no-bid contracts

Commercial insight skills and knowledge are in short suppl. Marketing leaders need to step in to engineer the right kinds of working teams, and create a particular kind of environment that nurtures Commercial insight creation.

Four skills authors used as a proxy for Commercial insight ability:

  • Generate insight that reshapes how customers think about their business.
  • Understand and articulate their company’s differentiated capabilities and benefits.
  • Connect those insights about customers back to the supplier’s unique capabilities.
  • Package all of that in compelling messages across a variety of content types, including sales collateral and other sales support.

Some drivers of Commercial insight effectiveness: customer native, investigative, business savvy, cocreative and encourage risk. Customer native means world-class marketer’s ability to truly understand the customer. Marketers should also be curious and investigative; not overly confident and business savvy or consulting background will help. If those type of persons are found, then it is up to managers to make sure that environment that they will work in, is co-creative and supports risk taking.

The single most powerful behavior separating high performers from core performers is using social media as a critical channel to engage customers and generate leads. It is about using social media to connect, to share opinions that are valuable to customers and using social media for lead generation.

Dealing with a blocker is another important task for high performers. The Blocker isn’t necessarily even known to the supplier. With the inclusion of one or more Blockers in any given deal, a supplier’s chances of making a high-quality sale decreases by 47 percent.

Plan for managing the Blocker should be clear. It should be addressed not delayed. The first question is: “Can the Blocker be persuaded by other stakeholders?” If yes, you need to apply social pressure. The second question is: “Is the Blocker reasonable?” If yes, seller should approach him/her. The third question: “Is there special concern the Blocker has?” If yes, think about making a targeted concession.

Shifting sales process to purchase enablement process is important. How can our sales teams help our customer to buy better? The process is predicated upon the major decision stages that nearly any customer will undergo, including:

  • Recognizing a need
  • Exploring options
  • Defining purchase criteria
  • Evaluation options
  • Validating options and selecting a favored supplier
  • Negotiation a purchase
  • Implementing a solution
  • Evaluating impact

Customers are all different, but the motion of buying is not nearly as different as you might initially think. Make sure you connect sellers’ actions (seller leads) with expected customer actions (buying signals). Seller leads are more principles than rules. You should also include the customer verifiers. They should be based on: what does it mean and why it is important.

By encouraging sellers to focus on the ends (the customer-verified outcomes that happen through the sales), not the means (the sales activities), sellers are better able to do what they need to do, naturally within ethical and moral boundaries, to help customers progress through the deal. Knowing precisely where a customer stands in their decision-making process, based upon their actions and commitments, is far more telling than a salesperson’s estimate of when the deal is coming in.

Simple five-stage customer purchase process: learn, understand need, define purchase criteria, evaluate options, validate and select.

  • Learn stage: what need should this customer be learning about? What should be keeping this customer up at night?
  • Understand needs stage: how should the customer respond to this need?
  • Define purchase criteria: how should the customer define the purchase criteria?
  • Evaluate options stage: how should the customer evaluate and reach consensus?
  • Validate and select stage: how should the customer reach a final decision?
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