In a previous article we looked at Features, Advantages, and Benefits, where we kept referring to “the customer”.

But who exactly are our customers?

Too often salespeople assume that their operational contact in the buying organisation, or someone in Purchasing, is their customer – well that’s both right and, unfortunately, wrong.

In any organisation no matter how small or large, public or private sector, buying decisions are rarely taken by just one person. What’s more, the purchase process and the people involved in it are often obscure, and it’s the salesperson’s job to shed some light on it.

Luckily there is a sales technique which does exactly that, a part of the sales process which looks at the different yardsticks particular people in the customer are using to evaluate the sales offering.

And what you the salesperson can do is map this business buyer behaviour and use it to plan your route through the buying decision jungle.

Why Complex Is Simple

The sales terminology for this type of sale is The Complex Sale – whose simple definition is: “More than one person is involved in the buying decision process”.

The good news is that no matter how large the organisation, ALL buying decisions can be reduced to just three sets of criteria.

And as it’s people who are making these judgements, let’s look at what they’re thinking and saying to themselves, what turns them on and what keeps them awake at night.

1. Strategic – Business Performance

My focus is economic
I look longer term
I authorise Budgets
I watch the bottom line
I look at money IN and business-wide savings
What’s the ROI (Return on Investment)?
Where’s the impact on our Organisation’s Key Performance Indicators?
Where’s the shareholder value?
Where’s the Value For Money?
How does it fit our Strategy?
In what way does it support our Vision, Mission, Business Objectives?
How does it help our corporate strengths and opportunities?
How does it impact our organisational weaknesses and threats?

Often these people have “Director” in their job title.

2. Tactical – Operational performance

I use or supervise the use on a day-to-day basis
How will it perform?
How will it affect: – my department/branch/site/plant? – my people/my direct reports? -me?
How easy is it to implement?
How confident am I it will do the job?
My focus is shorter term

Often these people have “Manager” in their job title.

3. Assessor

Does it meet spec: – technically? – contractually?
I compare
I evaluate
I look at money OUT
I have the Power of Veto – I can say NO!
Usually these people have “Contracts”, “Legal”, “Purchasing”, “Buying”, “Buyer”,”Finance”, “Accounts”, in their job title.

Sometimes referred to as Gatekeepers because unless your proposal meets their corporate Terms and Conditions they can let you in, or keep you out.

So, the sales technique is first to identify the individual living breathing human beings who are involved in evaluating your proposal against these particular criteria. Once you have done that you make sure that each one is satisfied with your offering. (In some sales, for example to Governments, this could involve whole committees.)

That does not mean to say that you personally as the lead salesperson have to meet with each one face-to-face. But it does mean that you are responsible for ensuring that the appropriate people in your organisation are covering the relevant bases in the buying organisation.

Like Velcro – Your Hooks In Their Loops

And like Velcro, the more contacts, the more individual relationships between your organisation and the customer’s, the stronger the bond. Which makes it hard for the competition to pull you apart.

Plus, who do Board Directors, MDs, CEOs, and Chairmen like to spend time with?

Exactly – people just like them.

The same goes for Contracts, Legal and Purchasing. The only proviso is that your people must have some sales techniques awareness. If not, someone who does will have to be there to hold their hands.

How Not To Get Lost In The Unfamiliar Territory Of The Customer Organisation

To help you navigate your way around the customer organisation you’ll need help, and this helper we call your Guide.

There is no simple definition of a Guide, it’s not in their job title or on their business card. The general rule is it’s someone who you have a good relationship with and who knows, or can find out, who is active in the buying process FOR THIS SALE.

Sometimes Guides aren’t even in the buying organisation. For example they could be in another (non competing) supplier, or a customer of the customer.

It pays to be creative and open-minded when sourcing Guides. And wherever you find one, do it quickly, or you’ll be stumbling around, getting lost, and following false trails through the unknown terrain of the buying process.

But with your Guide to show you the pitfalls to avoid and the shortcuts to take, you dramatically increase the probability of a successful outcome. You will be miles ahead of your competitors who don’t understand the buying process b2b, and will be left way behind you floundering in the forest.

So the next time you’re pondering who your customers are, just do a buyer behaviour analysis based on the criteria above. You’ll be able to answer the question with confidence, and in the knowledge that you know exactly where you are in the sales process, and precisely where to head to next.

If you’re wondering how you go about finding out all this information, well there’s a process, and sales techniques, for that as well – Open Questions.