“Emotional impact is about making absolutely sure that the customer sees themselves in the story you’re telling.” –The Challenger Sale (2013)
Data shows that customers are, on average, 37% of the way through a purchase process by the time they reach the solution-definition stage, and 57% of the way through the process before they engage with supplier sales reps.
Controlling the sales process is critical to success. But how does one control the sales process, when the buyer has done research before engaging your sales team?
We know people make emotional decisions. We know buyers respond to stories. But how does one tell the right story, for the right person, at the right time, every time?
In this post, we answer two important questions.
First, how do you control a sales cycle and your message when buyers have more control and access to information than ever?
Second, what is the ideal product ‘presentation’ strategy when considering the above mentioned challenges?
You must tailor your message to both your customer and to a specific stage in your evaluation process.
Your message must both be available and satiating, but also encourage a buyer to seek more information – without frustrating them away.
Use the stages below and tie to your own sales cycle:
Initiate—> 1. Discovery-–>2. Educate—>3. Validate—>4. Decide
1. Self-Service Resources
2. Live Education
3. The Custom Demo
4. Leave Behinds – Post Demo and Presentation – “Un-explodable Bombs” for internal selling.
Let’s break these down.
The most challenging stage, but as mentioned above – this represents 50+% of the sales cycle. Depending on the product or service you sell, it could represent even more. Most companies think they can avoid misinformation by withholding it, preventing self-discovery with a ‘call-for-demo’ button. This just frustrates your buyer, who will instead seek information elsewhere or worse, from a competitor.
“Research in psychology, decision theory, and most recently economics, has identified a number of other motives underlying the demand for information, from the powerful force of curiosity.” (Loewenstein, 1994)
Loewenstein’s theory is essential to developing your ‘self-service’ strategy. It suggests that bits of knowledge can pique curiosity and prime hunger for the development of expertise. The right quantity and quality of information – to encourage further inquiry and quench the thirst for understanding.
Provide a high-level value proposition–the top 3 or 4 problems you solve for your target buyer(s). If that value prop can be broken down by addressable market, do it. Tie customer stories into each vertical, customers who have solved problems and whose stories will resonate with future customers.
2. ‘Education’ – “We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know” or “Discovery”
Your goal in this stage is to ‘educate’ your audience, learn more about their individual and organizational objectives and to set up the custom demo. You will be tempted to pack everything (including a full demo) into this meeting! Resist the temptation! The output of this conversation will enable a healthy decision.
This conversation should include heavy use of customer stories (related to prospect’s industry/vertical) to build alignment to your prospect’s personal and business initiatives. Social proof is absolute gold, but the wrong message can be deadly.
An easy rule of thumb for avoiding misalignment — look for competitors, customers in the same vertical, or similar company size and geography. A match on more than one is desired, mismatches should be discarded and/or vetted for relevancy. If you have no pre-existing social proof, be prescriptive. How do you solve problems for companies and people similar to your audience? If you don’t know their business initiatives or goals, use this opportunity to uncover.
It is true that time is the enemy of the sales process, but only if you lack momentum and context. Frame this conversation as a step towards the ultimate validation. Buyers want to be led and it is your job to enable a decision. Discovery enables healthy decisions. The ideal outcome of Step 2 is an agreed upon list of success criteria that if both parties agree is met during the event (whether in person or online), an agreement to enter a negotiation should be put in motion.
3. The Custom Demo or ‘The Sales Cycle Crescendo’
Should be the ultimate proof-point. If the decision maker is not present… you are still at stage 2.
Rules for any custom demo:
- First, it’s not about you, it’s about the audience.
- Create an agenda, confirm that agenda before the demo(via email) and before you begin the demo(with each qualified participant)
If you aren’t circulating an agenda, co-developed with your champions and decision makers, you are still at stage 2 (education/discovery).
Simple ppt for prep and agenda can be powerful. Revisit the agenda and ensure relevancy at any available breakpoints.
Virtual audiences are challenging, be sure to engage each person in the meeting – proportional to decision-making authority and by using their first name. There is no such thing as multi-tasking – only dilution of attention. Don’t waste your prep and key points while someone checks their email.
Use customer stories – effectively. Customer stories are absolute gold, at any stage. But they must be relevant. The wrong story risks loss of attention and context.
Leave time at the end of the session to confirm you have met expectations for every relevant participant. Lack of confirmation and/or next steps = failure.
4. Post Demo (connecting after a demo)
This step can be just as if not more important than the previous steps. It is your opportunity to wrap the entire sales cycle into a beautiful package.
You should send custom summaries with a list of attendees, agenda, topics covered and any additional questions surfaced. Personalize follow-up and prescriptions, include ‘solution(s)’ in proposal w/ pricing, tying directly to business impact.
This is the time you deliver your ‘un-explodable bomb(s)’–content for your customer to circulate – where the impact cannot be ‘unexploded’. Send things like demo recordings or ppt overview, mentioned case studies, screenshots w/ solutions and anything to help your new internal champs communicate your message.
Emotional decision making is a universal constant in sales. A custom story should be a demonstration of your ability to empathize — and for both parties to see the potential for a long-term and successful relationship.