Most of our time, as sales people, is figuring out, “What do we do next to win this deal?” We focus on the steps to advance the sale. We think of things like, “Who are the decisionmakers, how do we reach them? How do we respond to competition? What more information should we be providing them? What do we need to do to get a decision by the date we need it?”

It’s always important to think about the things we need to do next for each opportunity. But I wonder, what are we missing?

What if we shifted our focus from “advancing the sale,” to “advancing the buying process?” Perhaps the thing that is standing in the way of a purchase decision is the buyer’s ability to advance their process. It may be wordsmithing, but I think this change forces us to shift our perspective.

Helping the buyer advance their buying process changes our thinking from ourselves and our goals to the buyers’ perspectives and their goals. It also causes us to look more broadly at the customer’s tasks. There is a lot they must do to complete their job, not just the activities they do with us. They have to align the interests of a number of different constituencies within their organization. They may be facing shifting priorities and focus from their management, often being redirected. They may be facing changing needs or redefinition of the scope of what they might be doing. And unless they are frequent buyers the category of products we sell, they may just be confused about what they should be doing. They may be missing things, they may be wandering through lack of knowledge, they may simply have lost interest–though the need may still be there.

It’s these things, most often performed independently of our activities with the customer, that stand in the way of our ability to “advance the sale.” If we focus only on what we must do, we are missing a lot of what needs to be done. Additionally, we are putting ourselves and the customer at risk of not completing the process.

Focusing on advancing the buying process, changes the conversations we have with customers. It focuses on their work, the jobs they have to complete. It can help them put order and discipline to their process, increasing their ability to successfully reach a decision. And by increasing the customer’s ability to achieve success, leads us to more successful outcomes.

This also changes how we conduct deal reviews, internally. Usually the focus of reviews has been, “What have we done, how are we positioned, what do we do next?” Now we have to broaden our inquiry. We have to start asking ourselves, “What has the customer done, where are they in their process, what do they need to do next, what can we do to help them with those activities?”

Take a moment, look at your qualified pipeline. For each deal, do you know what the customer needs to do to advance them in their buying process? Are you helping them move forward with their work?