Building a Buyer-Verified Pipeline (Part 2 of 2)Article by Colleen Francis, April 7, 2021
Your greatest sales success will come when you stop using seller-focused pipelines in your sales process. As I explained in the previous article in this series, that old approach—while still common—is mired in assumptions that simply aren’t true anymore.
This is an all-new economy with all-new rules. Among them: this is a buyer-driven marketplace. To reflect that, build a buyer-verified pipeline! That means taking the inputs from your sales process and checking them against what your buyer is doing and saying. This ensures alignment between what the buyer is ready for and the steps you want to take next. Buyers today are an active, deeply informed partner in your sales process…and they know it. Leaving them out or minimizing their partnership will push them away and encourage them to buy from someone who is more aligned with them than you.
Previously, I talked about the importance of looking carefully at those inputs, defining your engagement levels, gauging buyer mindset, and being on the lookout for solution seekers. Now, let’s explore four more strategies you must undertake to make this important shift happen in your business.
1. Assess the buyer’s understanding of the problem.
Your prospective buyer has reached out to you (or is open to your overtures) because they have a business problem they’re eager to solve. They see you as a potential solution provider. Take a step back and ask, “How accurately are they defining that problem?” Look carefully at what they’ve tried in the past and the assumptions they made. How is any of that different from what you’re proposing? Are they looking to solve the right problem with a solution that’s best for them? If you’re concerned their understanding of the problem and solution are misaligned with yours, step back or walk away until you can realign. Disagreement now will only lead to a no-sale later. That step was crucial for a client of mine who sells oil to heavy equipment manufacturers. As the seller, they uncovered a serious issue with the product grade that their new customer was eager to buy. It was a route that would lead to costly out-of-warranty breakdowns. The customer was so entrenched in their thinking that the seller smartly let go of the deal because the customer was clearly signaling they were not ready to move forward. Rather than pushing them to take the next step in the pipeline, the seller stepped back, continued to share information, and waited for the buyer to reframe their understanding of the problem. When they did, they were open to a new solution and then my client prospered.
2. Understand your buyer’s motive to consult others.
New prospects are almost always likely to explore other solutions or check references at some point in the process. The sooner they do this, the more serious they are about making a decision. It’s a powerful signal that they’re seriously considering their options, verifying their choices, and are ready to move forward to the next step in your sales pipeline. Consulting others is not a threat or a sign they don’t trust what you have to say. Rather, it’s that they’re seeking social proof to support or reinforce their decision. And remember: they’re not just vetting your solution. They’re vetting you as well. I encounter this behaviour regularly at Engage. New customers reach out to my existing ones and want to know more about our experiences together. When I see that happen, I know that prospect is ready to move forward.
3. Look for a buyer’s willingness to connect you with others.
Is your buyer willing to introduce you to others within their organization? This tells you plenty about whether they’re ready to buy. A buyer who is comfortable with their decision is highly motivated to connect you with others. Be sure to test this. Ask your prospect if they’re willing to introduce you to others within their business. If you sense resistance, it means they still see you as a vendor—not as a partner—and are not quite ready to move forward in your pipeline.
4. Do they make and follow through on their promises?
As Robert Cialdini reminds us in his classic book, “Influence,” once someone makes a commitment, they’re inclined to keep their word. Let’s say you are having a conversation with a prospect and you mutually agree to conduct a product comparison test and report back in a week with each other’s findings. A cold prospect won’t even make that commitment in the first place. An indecisive one might agree, but is inconsistent on following through. A buyer who is ready to move forward will say yes and will keep their word.
As you can see from these strategies, building a buyer-verified pipeline places power in the hands of your customer. Just as they’re the ones who see you first in today’s marketplace, they’re also the ones giving you the inputs you need to move a deal forward in your sales process. Without them, you’re stuck in the past.
However, don’t assume a buyer’s unwillingness to move ahead means there’s no way of closing a new deal with them. While you can’t push them in a buyer-verified pipeline process, you can—and must—persuade them. That means keeping your eyes and ears open to gaining a better understanding of their unique business problems and motivations to solve them. The more you do this, the better positioned you and your organization will be to sell more on a steady upward growth curve.