So many selling organisations today focus on their selling process – their methodology – and too few really study the buying process for their marketplace. Aligning your selling process with the buying process in your market is critical to growth and success.

Today the buying process is more and more driven by procurement functions.  If the selling and buying was characterised as a game of poker then it seems that procurement hold all the cards and dictate the play. Sellers needs to have a few cards up their sleeve to combat the power shift that has evolved over the last decade and more.

As Atticus Finch said in the famous film of the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee…

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it”. So, let’s do that. What do procurement want?

Stage I: They will want to consult with the business to understand the need – talking internally to users of the service and technical specialists. Gone are the days when procurement can afford to run a process in isolation of the business need – their preferred solution needs to get business buy-in.  Those fully qualified members of CIPS – the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply – know what their role is and have professional standards and reputation to maintain.

Stage 2:  They want to issue a specification that solves whatever the business issue is. To do that their role is to review the marketplace. What is the latest and best solution specification? Who are the key players?  To do so they might issue an R.F.I. – a controlled method of gathering market intelligence – a route to shortlist bidders. Or maybe meet with prospective sales organisations to be educated. Now there’s a thought to consider! When was the last time your sellers prospected with Procurement?

Stage 3: When they get to RFQ stage they want to be able to compare like for like compliant bids – to evaluate the options. They need to prove due diligence and then choose on the basis of price / best value – an objective not subjective evaluation.

Stage 4: their ideal scenario is three like-for like quality bids on the table that can be easily compared – apples for apples. (Psychologically three always seems to be the magic number!) Additionally many procurement teams have KPI’s that are driven by the savings that they generate – some with a target to recover the cost of their department and more. So, of course, they need to demonstrate value to the business.

What research tells us is that 57% of the buying process is undertaken in Stage 1. Uncannily this maps exactly to what JP Guilford, the renowned American psychologist research said on how people make decisions. People start with “cognitive” thinking in Stages 1&2 thinking about the issues and understanding the situation then they move onto “divergent” thinking in Stage 3 when they start to evaluate options and then ‘convergent’ thinking in Stage 4 when they make a decision. Each stage takes less and less time.

So why is it when selling organisations only come in at Stage 3 when a tender lands on their desk do they get excited?

Their chance to influence and build relationships with the users and technical specialists and indeed the procurement team is in Stage 1 and 2! This is where you can influence the solution image in the minds of the customer and shape the specification to match your proposition Instead of getting excited they should reflect on why they didn’t engage with the organisation earlier and predict their needs.  Once in

Stage 2 and 3 their ability to sell, form relationships, persuade and influence and shape the solution has rmostly gone – because, by then, the rules of engagement are different – whatever information you request needs to be shared with all bidders and you can’t talk to anyone other than procurement through proper channels. All of your traditional selling skills are impotent! And their task now is to do all of the things they are not good at – process, compliance and structure. But more of that in subsequent blogs…

There used to be a sales mantra fallen too much into dis-use:

“Go High, Go Wide, Go Early!”

Go High means aim for the top – engage with those with the highest influence – they can make things happen. Convince them and you are in a great position. Even if they delegate the nitty gritty down to their team, you have made a connection and have credibility – transferred credibility – though you do have to on and earn it personally.

Go Wide means expand your network within the organisation. Even in medium size B2B opportunities research tell us 6.4 people have an influence on the outcome. Use your relationship building skills to influence more people to your proposition. How often do I see salespeople with only a couple of relationships within a prospect company? As  a result they are not engaging with  two thirds of the people who influence the outcome!

Go Early means get in at the top of the process, so you have a huge chunk of that 57% to you and your team. And yes I do mean your team – the days of lone wolf selling are well gone. Establish multiple relationships with the prospects. The opportunity owner needs to be more like the conductor of an orchestra knowing when to bring in the violins one minute and the clarinet the next! More of that again later when we talk about selling behaviours and competencies.

Quite simply your selling needs to be done by the time the tender has landed.  If not, let it land – but in the bin!

To enable this to work sales organisations need to change the way they reward and manage their salespeople too. Instead of rewarding and managing people purely on what’s in the funnel and what drops out the end – they should reward them on the activity above the funnel. This is where selling really takes place!  The number one priority should be to fill the hopper!

Check out our next blog covering which sales methodology you should follow.