The Buyer Whisperer

What do today’s buyers want? Talk about a general question. While nobody likes to answer a question with a question, Martyn Lewis believes there’s a logical place to start. He suggests beginning with the fact that nobody buys anything because of a sales process—they buy because of their own buying processes.

The longtime sales consultant and thought leader calls this process the Customer Buying Journey. Lewis, who has consulted globally with Fortune 500 companies across 44 countries, in 17 languages, pushes forward with this compelling argument in his latest book, “How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t.”

Gleaned from the results of more than 20 years of research with hundreds of companies and thousands of interviews, Lewis’ book serves as a guide in today’s interconnected business world, essentially blowing away the notion that customers buy because of value.

Here’s the lowdown on today’s seller/buyer process. Back in the day, there used to be a saying: “When the brochure is delivered, the selling stops,” inferring that once the customer received the knowledge, the sales rep was no longer a necessity. But today, thanks to technology, the largest brochure in the world is on everyone’s smartphone and desktop.

Lewis says that buyers can—and do—move through the early stages of their buying journeys without the need to talk to salespeople. Research shows that most buyers, even in the B2B world, only reach out to an actual supplier when they’re well into their buying journey. By that time, they have evaluated various alternatives, reviewed case studies and testimonials, and are looking for confirmation and final proposals. And yet, burdened with outdated approaches and processes, too many salespeople mistakenly believe they still control the situation.

They don’t—the customer does. “There are a lot of good salespeople from good companies selling good products—and selling hard—but the results suggest otherwise,” Lewis says. “Most salespeople know how to sell, they know the techniques and approaches, and they know their product offerings inside out. But they don’t know their customer’s buying process. Nobody has ever bought anything because of a sales process—they bought because of their own buying process, that Customer Buying Journey.”

The best way to do this is to ask a lot of questions and listen, listen, listen. Discover everything you can about their world, their priorities and their challenges. Over the years, Lewis has found that if you ask insightful questions and you listen, your customers will be willing to talk.

If that sounds like common sense, you’re right. But you’d be surprised how many salespeople skip over these steps. “The No. 1 key is listening,” Lewis says. “Thereafter, knowledge of the buyer’s market, their company and their needs, leading to the ability to ask insightful questions to help determine their current requirements. Start by mapping the buying journey—not what you would like it to be or even imagine it to be, but rather discover everything your customer would do, all they go through, how they make decisions, who would be involved, and why they would be motivated not just to buy, but to buy from you.”

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…
Truth be told, the best sales process will go nowhere unless a buyer engages in and completes a buying process. The key, more than anything else, is to put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. View the world as they do, and from the world they live in.

This is the approach that John Waid recommends to the clients he consults with. The simple, but sure-fire advice is the mother of all sales strategies. “It is best to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer because the buyer is the most important and has all the power,” says Waid, founder and CEO of C3 (Corporate Culture Consulting), which offers consultancy-based sales, management and leadership training.

Think about it—you do not sell anything unless someone buys. Waid remembers a conversation he had with a salesperson who boasted that he sold $3 million in products. Waid’s response: “You did not sell anything.” The salesperson was baffled.

But when Waid explained that the salesperson helped someone buy $3 million in products, emphasizing that this approach is a much greater gift than selling, the salesperson nodded in agreement.

“We are really not salespeople; we are ‘facilitators’ for buyers,” Waid says. “The mindset needs to change from a focus on getting the sale to an emphasis on helping the buyer to make sure they bought well. Along with the mindset change also has to come behavior changes. Buyers are not looking for a sales process. They’re looking for a human being that is going to help them. Sales processes take the humanity out of selling. Buyers want the humans to come back to selling.”

Waid breaks down the three attitudes/behaviors buyers are looking for in today’s salesperson:

Is the seller interested in the buyer, do they know something about the buyer and are they prepared in writing and with a great attitude to help the buyer?
Will the seller ask the buyer open-ended questions to help the buyer figure out what they need and want and how best to help them?
Will the seller really listen to the buyer and ask them great follow-up questions to help them buy?

“It should be more what the salesperson wants to hear from the seller than the other way around,” Waid says. “The buyers want a salesperson who asks and listens, not one who talks and preaches.”

Part of that process is looking into the mirror and truly trying to reflect on what you see. “Get to know all the alternatives they face, the conflicting and changing priorities they deal with, the vast network of other colleagues who get involved and the hurdles they have to jump to get anything done in their own organizations,” Lewis says. “Then, and only then, will the mysteries of how your customers buy and why they don’t, become apparent to you.”

The bottom line is that as a seller, you either trigger or engage in your customer’s buying journey. It is not the other way around. “In some cases, we will trigger the buying journey, in other cases the buyer may tend to be well into their buying process before engaging with a seller,” Lewis says. “This is a very important component of what we call the Market Engagement Strategy. That is how and when to engage in the buying journey.”