The Sales Process Versus the Buyer’s Journey

Most sales and marketing organizations will acknowledge by now that when mapping their sales process, it is important to spend a little time thinking about the value each phase represents to the customer. This enables them to develop a better approach than the internally focused mess that happens when they don’t make themselves answer that question.

However, companies usually still find themselves in the horns of some dilemmas:

  • We have to get the salesperson to call on the decision maker (yet the customer doesn’t seem to agree).
  • We have to sell based on value (of course, the meaning of value is debatable to the customer).
  • We can’t let the customer define and control the playing field (automatic resistance by the customer).
  • How do you get the customer to have a sense of urgency? (Customer seems to have other priorities!)

In other words, even though we are saying “what value does your sales process create for your customer?” we are still looking at it through our seller’s eyes. We are the ones who want to get to the decision maker, get them to see value they don’t see, control the playing field, and create a sense of urgency so they consider our offer.

In the past two years, I have shifted my thinking dramatically: I now base all process mapping work around the Buyer’s (Customer’s) Journey, a concept I learned from Hugh Macfarlane, author of “The Leaky Funnel.”

I used to think that paying attention to the buying process was almost like abstaining from my responsibility as a salesperson until I realized that was not what was meant by it at all.

Instead, the Buyer’s Journey represents the customer’s problem-solving process. They have problems they are trying to solve. From this perspective, helping prospects solve their problems in a better way than they can do it alone is the definition of good salesmanship.

The Buyer’s Journey can become an organizing principle that allows you to look at your company from the outside in, often for the first time. It focuses your mind where it belongs and points out problems you had not seen previously.

What the Seller Offered, vs. What the Buyer Really Wanted

Here are some general examples I’ve seen:


What the Seller Offered

  • A website designed around their product
  • Publishing newsletters, holding webinars to tell the world about their product, and having new variations on their product
  • Salespeople who are very interested in telling people about their product and making proposals
  • Offering deals on their product, bundling services and add-ons, and calling these “solutions”
  • Payment terms, financing, leasing, etc.

What the Customer Really Wanted

  • Help learning what they need to know to solve their problems
  • Understanding the causes of pain/frustration and having workarounds or solutions that are quick and easy
  • Assistance in making a credible business case to secure needed funding to really solve the problem
  • Detailed case examples of companies just like them that implemented workarounds to solve the problem
  • Some type of guarantee that things would be alright if they take the risk of buying

Do you see the difference?

Being open to where the prospect really is in their journey and helping them reach the next phase (whatever, that phase is) is a powerful and disarming strategy.

Instead of scheming on sneaky ways to reach decision makers or artificial ways of controlling or generating “urgency,” why not learn what they really need and synchronize with them?

Chances are, if you provide real information that helps them solve their immediate problems, even if it does not lead to an immediate sale, it will provide you with information and a relationship that will give you an advantage when the time comes for the real deal.

Michael J. Webb

July 3, 2007

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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