In the good old days, the buying process meant buyers routinely met with salespeople to learn about their products and to begin a dialog about possible needs. Along the way, they developed a relationship.

Buyers were happy to have introductory meetings with salespeople. They were valuable sources of information, not only about their products but also about the industry.

Salespeople, empowered by useful information, had significant control over the buying process. They could “push” the buyer toward a decision.

How the Buying Process Has Changed

All that has changed. There are two key reasons: the internet and corporate downsizings.

  • Reason #1―The Internet provides buyers with all the product and industry information they want. They no longer need salespeople for that.
  • Reason #2―With corporate downsizings, buyers are wearing many more hats. They don’t have the time to develop a relationship with a salesperson unless the salesperson can solve an urgent problem.

That means salespeople have less control over the buying process. They must pull their customers, not push them. Sellers must sell the way their customers want to buy.

The schematic below shows the buying cycle in many sales situations mapped against the selling cycle. Instead of initially presenting a solution, sellers must first convince buyers that they have a problem and that the problem is worth fixing.

The interaction between the salesperson and the purchase decision maker is like a dance with many intertwined steps. It’s a back-and-forth process of uncovering needs, evaluating options, and then agreeing on a solution.

Follow the Buying Process through Buying and Sales Cycles

Example of How the Cycles Work Together

To illustrate how this process works, we’ll use a hypothetical example. Riley is a salesperson for Titan Systems, which sells software to manufacturing companies. She is trying to convince Fred, the manufacturing vice president at ACME Industries, to buy Titan’s newest product, Titan 2000.

Riley will take Fred through a series of steps to educate him about the issues and Titan 2000. There are five stages:

  • Stage #1―Define the problem and its costs.
  • Stage #2―Determine the advantages of taking action.
  • Stage #3―Evaluate options and agree on a solution.
  • Stage #4―Sell solution.
  • Stage #5―Approve and close.


Define the Sales Process Problem

Riley’s first step is to get Fred’s attention. She needs a reason to contact him.

She knows that a private equity firm has recently purchased ACME. The private equity firm has a reputation for pushing operational efficiency at its portfolio companies.

Riley thinks Titan can reduce ACME’s headcount because it automates certain tasks. This should appeal to the new owners’ cost cutting focus. It could also make Fred look good.

After an initial phone call, Fred recognizes the potential opportunity. He agrees to meet with Riley.


Stage 2 of the Sales Process

Automating tasks is not Fred’s highest priority. He is focused on producing more units to meet sales demand.

Riley’s immediate challenge is to convince Fred that automation will have a big payoff and that the project should move to the top of his priority list. She provides him with an ROI analysis showing a $500,000 a year reduction in headcount costs.

After reviewing Riley’s info, Fred is convinced the project is worthwhile and that he must do something.


Evaluating Options in the Sales Process

Now that Fred is ready to act, he must decide on a solution: Titan 2000, another vendor, or do it in house.

Riley needs to convince Fred that that Titan 2000 is the best solution. Through a series of presentations and additional info, she persuades Fred.

Note that she didn’t push Titan until Stage #3 of the process. She first had to convince Fred (a)he had problem (or opportunity) and (b) it was worth fixing.


The Sell Solutions in the Buying Process

Fred is sold on Titan 2000. He must now sell his CFO, IT Director, and CEO.

He does this by having Riley present to all the senior executives. He then works internally to build a consensus with his colleagues. At the same time, he works with Riley to address the individual concerns of each executive.

With a tentative consensus in place, Fred asks Riley to submit a formal proposal.


The Buying Process Closing

After reviewing the proposal, the executive team approves the project. Riley then works with Fred on the implementation plan.

Pull. Don’t Push.

Riley pulled Fred through the decision making sales process. She didn’t try to push a solution.

Fred had to be convinced of the size of the opportunity and of Titan’s value. He then became an evangelist for Titan within ACME.

Once Fred was on board, he was Titan’s most effective “salesperson.” Riley helped Fred and ACME’s executive team buy the way they wanted to buy. She also made Fred look like a hero.