Many of the world’s best sales forces are the best because they have codified and developed a documented sales process. Having a map of the things we as salespeople have to do to make a sale provides a framework for sales planning and activity that reduces mistakes and shortens new hire ramp-up time. However, what is conspicuously absent from most of these process maps are the things that our prospective customers have to do each step of the way in order to buy. The truth is that the things we do at any particular step or stage in the process could be a complete waste of time if the client doesn’t do what they must do to move forward to the next step or stage in their buying process.

Focus on what they do

As sales professionals, you and I don’t retire quota or earn commissions for anything that we do. We get paid on what our clients do. When they sign a contract or issue a purchase order, then we make some money. This is the root of one of the major challenges of selling. We have to accept that we cannot control our customers. We can only seek to understand them and influence their actions.To further illustrate this point, I ask you the following question; “Is it possible that we could do everything that we are supposed to do in our sales process and still not make the sale?” I suspect you’re thinking “Yes.” Then I ask you this; “If the client does all of the things that they need to do to buy, and we missed a few of the steps we had to do, could we still book the deal?” Of course. So, in reality then, it’s not what we do to try to make the sale that really matters. What matters is that the client does the things they have to do to buy.

Map it out

As sales people or managers we often ask, “What do we have to do to close this deal?” That, in fact, is the wrong question. What we should be asking is, “What does the client have to do in order to buy?” and then the follow-on question is, “What do we have to do to get them to do those things?”Whether or not we have or follow a documented sales process, we should endeavor to understand and document our client’s buying process. We must understand not only the things that have to happen throughout the selection and approval process, but who will be involved along the way. You won’t take the time to do this for a small add-on sale, but if you intend to complete a six- or seven-figure transaction, which might take months to close, the payback is well worth the investment.

Sell with specific intent

Armed with a thorough understanding of the steps and stages of our customer’s buying process, we can plan our work accordingly. Then every single move we make can be made with the specific intent of enabling or empowering our client to take the next step they need to take in order to buy.If you think about it a minute, before we speak to a prospective client on the phone we should know and understand exactly what has to happen next in their buying process, and what we’re going to do on this call to make that happen. And if we spend the time and money to go visit a client without a plan of what we intend to say and do to help them take the next step in their buying process, then we are little more than a professional visitor.Defining and documenting a useful map of our customer’s buying process will take time, it will take effort, and it will require that we reach, qualify, and sell to all of the people who will play a part in the selection and approval process. We will need a lot of input and perspective because simply accepting any one person’s opinion of their process leaves too many variables to chance and ultimately leaves us with too much exposure and opportunity for failure. Taking the time to thoroughly understand all of the things that the client needs to do in order to buy often makes the difference between the very successful and those who simply hope to hit their quota by playing “the numbers.”About the authorBill Stinnett is the founder and President of Boston-based Sales Excellence, Inc. and is a highly sought after speaker appearing at sales meetings, conferences, conventions, and annual sales kick-offs world-wide. He is the creator of many popular sales programs including Selling at the C-Level® and Accelerating your customer’s buying process™. For more information on these and other services please call 1-800-524-1994 or send email to [email protected].