Make the Shift to Buyer-Centric Selling
The need to be buyer-centric isn’t new. Yet, oddly, we live in a time where it may be the single most impactful thing you can do to radically transform your sales force and the results they produce for your company.
What Buyers Want Vs. What They Get
Recent B2B buying research consistently points out how disappointed buyers are with sellers, on the whole. This isn’t to say that great, buyer-centric sellers don’t exist. They do, and they produce outstanding results for their companies as they’re often the top 20 percent producers, or even the top 4 percent producers (the top 20 percent of the top 20 percent). But on average, we’re not doing so well. In many sales forces, the analysis of production levels is actually more of a power law distribution than a bell curve.
In addition, in the CSO Insights’ study, buyers also shared when they first make contact with suppliers and sellers:
- 70 percent of buyers wait until after they have fully defined needs.
- 44 percent of buyers wait until they have identified possible solutions.
- 20 percent of buyers reach out just to lock down the details of their purchase.
There is good news, though. While it’s likely that transactional sellers will be displaced over time – much like the disruption we saw with travel agents in the early 2000s – the future of consultative sellers is far brighter if we make a buyer-centric shift. Travel agents still exist today, for travelers who want a more authentic or guaranteed experience than self-service booking tools can offer, or for corporations who wish to ensure the lowest travel costs possible with good support for their employees, as needed. I believe the same will be true for B2B sales: buyer-centric, consultative sellers who solve problems will survive and thrive.
In the sales profession, I believe we’re near what New York Times best–selling author Malcolm Gladwell calls a “Tipping Point”, where buyer-centric approaches will be expected, if not demanded, and will become the standard for working with modern buyers.
What Exactly is Buyer-Centric Selling?
Okay, so there’s hope. But what exactly is buyer-centric selling?
Buyer-centric selling is:
- Consultative, value-based, and outcome-oriented selling
- Molded to work with modern buyers, in our current business climate
- To help buyers buy, in an informed way, to achieve the desired outcomes that matter to them
In essence, buyer-centric selling is about teaching sellers to sell the way modern buyers want to buy.
At the same time – and this is important – it’s not about being a pushover. It’s servant leadership, but not subservient. It’s about operating in your buyer’s best interest.
And, sometimes, that might mean you need to question your buyers’ thinking or share perspectives that are different from theirs. But you are always doing it with their best interest at heart – with good intentions and integrity. You pay attention to what matters most to different buyers you’re working with, and message appropriately to them based on what they value and want to accomplish. This helps buyer-centric salespeople earn their buyers’ trust and become real problem-solvers. In a nutshell, that’s what it’s all about. It’s finding buyers with problems you can solve and selling to them in ways that buyers want to buy.
To do this, sellers must shift to an outside-in way of thinking and working. To be successful, you need to infuse buyer-centric thinking and behavior into everything you do.
It’s Buyer-Centric Sales Process & Methodology
- Roles and goals
- Challenges, Opportunities, Impacts, Needs, Outcomes and Priorities (COIN-OP)
- Buying process and decision criteria
- Metrics that matter most
- Focus on problems, not products
- Discuss solutions to their problems
- Resolve challenges and enable outcomes
- Tailor messaging by person/persona
- Situation assessment
- Current and future state
- Gap analysis
- Impact analysis
- Fully understand desired outcomes
- Ensure your solution is aligned with buyers’ needs
- Timing (or urgency)
- Build to solve problems
- Build to deliver outcomes
- Communicate relevant value
- Message by person/persona
- Uncover and meet decision criteria at each stage
- Gain small commitments throughout
- Keep your commitments and build trust
- Communicate regularly with clarity
It’s Managing Buying Process Exit Criteria
You can infuse buyer-centric thinking and behavior into your sales process with a focus on uncovering, clarifying, and delivering on each decision maker’s buying process exit criteria. Buying process exit criteria is what a buyer needs to see, hear, feel, understand, and believe to be comfortable moving forward to the next stage of the process, with you.
Remember, each buyer’s exit criteria can be different. Many will likely be similar, but you want to avoid “selling by superstition”, meaning to do the same things, the same way, each time, and hope it works. If you work to understand the exit criteria in each stage for each decision–maker and influencer, this alone can radically differentiate you (and improve your win rates).
The graphic below shows an example of two different decision makers whose exit criteria (colored dots) varies at each stage of the buying process. Sellers need to work to satisfy each point for each buyer to feel comfortable moving forward.
It’s Fostering “Human Differentiators”
Being buyer-centric is also about fostering and maximizing what I call “Human Differentiators”. These include the interpersonal, cognitive, and relationship-enhancing skills that build trust with buyers, earn respect, add value, and further differentiate you from the hungry horde of sales hunters who see everyone who walks as a demo prospect. These are the things that technology and tools alone can’t provide, which separates us from the bots and machines.
It’s Shifting Completely to Buyer-Centric Behaviors
A Buyer-Centric Selling System guides sellers on how to appeal to their buyers and be other-centric. You want to meet your buyers where they are and adapt. You communicate your intentions to operate in their best interest, through both words and actions. Buyer-centric selling includes (but is not limited to) the following behaviors and mindsets:
- Be problem-centric, not product-centric. Use personalized messaging for prospecting rather than product pitches.
- Diagnose first, before prescribing. Patience is a superpower of selling. Don’t rush into providing solutions.
- Conduct in-depth discovery.
- Paint a compelling story of their Current State and Desired Future State with the impacts of inaction and the desired outcomes from acting. Dollarize the gap, whenever possible.
- Ensure that your solutions are aligned with the buyer’s needs and that each opportunity is qualified.
- Engage buyers in co-creating solutions with you – and message your solutions based on what they value and want to accomplish.
- Become an expert at managing your decision makers’ and influencers’ buying process exit criteria.
- Stop “overcoming objections” and use a process and good communication to resolve buyer’s concerns.
- Avoid “closing techniques”. Instead, summarize with what you’ve accomplished so far and ask for your buyers’ commitment to move forward to whatever the logical next step is.
Essentially, buyer-centric selling is about operating in your buyer’s best interest. This post includes many of the things to consider when making your shift to a buyer-centric selling system. It doesn’t, however, tell you how to guide your sales force’s evolution. In a future article, I’ll discuss how to effectively implement a sales methodology and support your buyer-centric transition.
I hope you fully commit to transforming your sales force into a completely buyer-centric selling machine. It’s the single most important thing you can do to radically transform your sales force and the results they produce for your company. The rewards are well worth the effort.