Ep 32: Understanding the Buyer’s Journey

BuzzSprout Audio

Understanding the wants and needs of your prospects is a critical part of successful sales. If your sales reps don’t connect with a prospect’s pain points, and why your product or service addresses those issues, the likelihood of closing the deal drops significantly. In this episode, we discuss why ensuring that your sales reps understand the buyer’s journey is so important and share ways you can help your sales team have more effective conversations with your prospects that ultimately lead to more sales and happier customers.

“The salesperson is the guide. The buyer is the hero.” – Taylor Barnes


Putting Yourself in the Buyer’s Shoes

Josh Sweeney: Hello, my name is Josh Sweeney, joined by my co-host, Taylor Barnes. Taylor, how are you today?

Taylor Barnes: I’m OK, Josh, my feet are a little sore because I’ve been spending so much time in the buyer’s shoes that I’m a little uncomfortable.

Josh Sweeney: Well, you should understand all the challenges that somebody goes through to buy something then.

Taylor Barnes: I do now, I have learned from pain.

Josh Sweeney: All right, so the sales leader challenge for today is that your sales reps don’t put themselves in the buyer’s shoes, which hurts your ability to close deals.

Taylor Barnes: Sure does. I mean, how many times have you heard this right, regardless of whether we lose a deal or never even get started on a deal, there are so many times where I go to talk about this opportunity, and the sales rep says, “Yeah I’m going to sell him this.” The question becomes, “OK, why?” They reply, “I don’t know, because it’s on the shelf and that’s what I need to sell.” And I say, “OK, well, what about that product or service makes you think that that buyer wants it?”, and again, “because it’s on the shelf.” It’s like, no, no, no, no, that’s not how it goes. You have got to be able to put yourself on the buyer’s shoes, because if you don’t, you run the risk of losing it right out of the gates. You’ve got to understand what they want. There was something that I learned in the 15 disciplines of human behavior and I’m forgetting the author right now, but he talks about the fact that all humans have three core wants, those are security, approval and control. Security is obviously all your money, family’s health and safety and all that. Approval is love and affirmation. If I put in an effort, I want to be recognized for it. And if you don’t have either of those things, you want to be able to control the outcomes. So it’s very important for people to know this when they’re going into a sale because the same wants that you have are the same wants that they have. So to be able to kind of unpack it, peel out some of the layers, it just really gets down to the human behavior. Being in the buyer’s shoes is extremely important to your success as a salesperson.


An Experience in the Buyer’s Journey


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, and it gets really interesting when those wants are not aligned. It makes me think of when I was going to get married. I wanted to propose to my wife and I needed to go get a ring. I didn’t know anything about jewelry or diamonds or anything to that level. I purchased things before bracelets and whatnot, but not that big of a purchase.

Taylor Barnes: Right.

Josh Sweeney: So one of the stores that I went into, I was what we would call in the awareness phase. I know I have a challenge, which is I need to solve this problem and I’m going to do some research. So one of the stores I go into, I tell them what I’m looking for, what I’m interested in, and instead of helping me, the first thing he starts talking about is their payment program and signing up for this payment program. And I’m like, oh, so all of a sudden our wants don’t align because I just looked at the guy, said, “hey, man, I’m paying cash. I don’t need that. Just let me know about what I’m looking for.” And so he takes me over to a case and then he’s like, “well, I just want to reinforce that we do have payment programs for these.” And I’m like, wait a second, this is not working. I was getting frustrated. I was starting to leave and somebody came up, “hey, why are you leaving?” Look, I told the guy like three times I was paying cash. I don’t want a payment program. And that’s all he kept talking about. I’ve been here ten minutes and haven’t seen a ring.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: So his want was to take what was off the shelf because he’s probably getting permission to push a payment program.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: And that killed the sale.


Understand the Buyer’s Wants


Taylor Barnes: Yep, that’s right. And look, there is nothing wrong with promoting offers, incentives, whatever that you’re that your organization is going to do, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you also cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. So without understanding why the buyer is there and really kind of thinking, OK, well, today they are asking me questions. Tomorrow they might want to demo something. The next day they might want to validate this. They might want to go to another competitor. You really have got to understand if you’re them and you’re making the kind of business decision that they’re going to make, what do you think goes into that? Obviously, it’s going to take a group effort. He or she is going to solicit feedback from potentially their management team. They’re going to want to know what the market is. It’s no different than what you just said, Josh. When I bought a ring for my wife, I went out to three or four different people. I educated myself. I learned a lot. I want to enjoy the experience and all that. I wanted to maintain a happy thing because it was a happy moment. If I was getting sold a bag of junk like you were getting, that would annoy me too. And that would have been the loss of that sale. That’s just something that you really got to look after. You have to look after the fact that you’re trying to sell something, or talk about something, or educate someone on something that they have no interest in because of where they’re at in the buyer’s journey. You’re cutting yourself short right out of the gates.


Where Do Sales Reps Go Wrong?


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, so let’s look at some reasons this happens. Why do your sales reps not put themselves in the buyer’s shoes and truly understand the decision making process that the buyer’s going through? What’s what’s one reason you have on your mind?

Taylor Barnes: One of the things that I think is confusing is that they’re not committing to the target market that they originally had set out for. So here’s an example. If I’m going to go out to a specific area in a specific demographic and really target shoes, for example. I’m not going to all of a sudden call them and talk about pants or shirts or whatever it is, because you’re going to confuse your target market. So I guess one of the reasons that I think this happens is that the company really doesn’t understand their target market as well as they thought.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, we see this all the time when we do the customer analysis portion of what we do. We dig into the titles and the geographies and everything else about the clients that our clients have sold to before. And really understand those. An enterprise buyer has a different journey than a B2C client. All of those have a different journey that they go through. As a HubSpot partner, we look at their buyer’s journey and use that. But there are three phases: awareness, consideration and decision. And a lot of times people don’t know how that decision making process lines up with their target audience.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah, this doesn’t shock me at all. One of the reasons it sounds like you’re mentioning is that they don’t have a documented process of a buyer’s journey or they don’t have any sort of historical case studies of the buyer’s journey that individuals can learn from.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, most definitely.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: So, there are different ways that a sales rep is going to work with you based on where you are in that journey. If I walk onto a car lot and I say, I’m thinking about buying a car and I’m very early. I just decided it. Then I’m going to do research. You’re not going to close me. And that’s a different stage than somebody who comes up on the lot and says, you know what, I’ve been researching everything for the last six months, went and looked at a couple of other lots and I decided I want a white forerunner with black rims and thirty four inch tires. I already know what I want. That person’s in the decision making phase. And so that rep really has to understand that journey and what their role is. I use some B2C examples here because it’s easier to portray, but it’s significantly more complex when we’re talking about B2B sales that could take six months or a year.


In the Mindset of Selling, not Buying


Taylor Barnes: Right, and I think that’s a really good example you just made. That’s another practical reason. The salesperson doesn’t put themselves in the buyer’s shoes because they’re in sales. Right. They haven’t really educated themselves on the buyer’s journey or really put themselves in an appropriate mindset to say this individual is just coming here for an education for now. I need to be mature enough in this process to know that, to learn that and then make a decision whether or not I’m going to entertain it or not. Because at that point, it becomes a choice.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I like what you said. They’re in sales, and they really haven’t walked in the customer’s shoes. We see this all the time. If you go to a sales rep and you say, hey, why did this person buy? Why does this person buy this product and you really drill them on it? A lot of times the conversation flips to features and functions and you’re like, no, no, no. Why did they buy?

Taylor Barnes: Right.

Josh Sweeney: What did they need? What problem does this solve for them? Right. That’s a different conversation that a lot of people have a hard time understanding because they are the salesperson and they see it from their perspective, not from that buyer’s perspective. The buyer has an internal issue. They have something that’s emotional, that’s causing this pain or a strong need in some way. And the salesperson really needs to be in tune with that.


The Buyer is the Hero, the Salesperson is the Guide


Taylor Barnes: Yeah, and, to your point, one of the things about salespeople that happens a lot more than it should is the fact that they are out to sell something, whatever they have. That’s their goal. Just sell something at all costs, no matter what. Just sell, sell, sell. Look, I’m not trying to say that that’s not important. Of course it is. That’s why we’re in business. But in the same breath, you also have to understand that you’re not the hero of the story. The buyer is the hero. He or she is the reason this is all happening. Donald Miller, who owns a story brand, says it best that the salesperson is the guide and the buyer is the hero. Until we start acting like a guide and treating them like a hero, we’re never going to be able to be put in their shoes, ever. When you sell something, that’s fantastic. Hope it’s awesome. Hope it’s great, hope it makes a load of money. But if that buyer does not become the hero as part of that transaction, then you probably won’t hear from him or her again. It is so important to change that into a mentality of making the buyer the hero.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I love that. I’m a big fan of Story Brand, and that’s what I think of in the back of my mind, especially on intro calls. How do I make them look like a rockstar? Even early in the buyer’s journey where they’re just looking for information. What information can I give them that they’re going to take back to their team that makes them look great?

Taylor Barnes: Exactly.

Josh Sweeney: And I’m not talking about the trivial things that help close the deal. I’m talking about things that make them look like, oh, this person went and did some research and there is a thought leader in the organization. And I’m immediately on their team. I want them to win.

Taylor Barnes: Yep, that’s that’s so well said. That’s exactly what Donald Miller was trying to portray. We make the buyer the hero so that they can look good in the process. There is a very high probability that if you make that buyer the hero in that regard, he or she is going to give you a call back to finish everything up. So we talked about the reasons that sellers don’t put themselves in the buyer’s shoes. Those could include, but may not be limited to, companies not knowing their target market, possibly they don’t have a documented buyer’s journey or enough history as an organization putting themselves in the customer’s shoes, the fact that sales people are in sales, and then, of course, the fact that sometimes salespeople forget that they are not the hero, the buyer is the actual hero, and that we as sales managers and founders and reps are the guides to make them the hero. So I’d like to get into some of the solutions, Josh. On the first one, if the company doesn’t know the target market, I think a natural solution could be to commit to a target market. What do you think?


Narrowing your Focus


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, most definitely. I think this is also why so many organizations that are in niche industry verticals continue to succeed oftentimes faster than people who serve many different verticals. Because if I want to know what it’s like to walk in that buyer’s shoes, let’s say I sell to 10 different different industries, I now have to really understand why each one of those different titles in those verticals buy. But if I only sell into a target market of, let’s say, lawyers, then I can go out and really figure out, hey, how do I speak the lawyer’s language in the way that resonates with them based on what we offer and how we solve their problems and remove their pain points. And oftentimes I think that’s where people think a little too broadly. Your ability as a sales rep to connect in their language and really understand exactly how they would say it to their other lawyer buddy at the conference of the problem they’re having, that’s what really puts you in line. If you can’t tell me, as a sales rep, what they’re feeling and really explain that, preferably through experience, then you really haven’t walked in their shoes. So learning the target market truly helps with that because it allows you to focus on a certain type of person.


Documenting the Buyer’s Journey


Taylor Barnes: Yeah, I think that’s really good practical advice. I hear a lot of times that people don’t have a documented buyer’s journey. Well, one way to get that is to start soliciting feedback, start asking for references, understand why you won or lost the business. That is part of the majority of the transactions that we go after. When we win, I ask why. And when we lose, I ask why. And the feedback that I get gives me the ability to step into their world for a second to find out maybe if I missed a need or a want throughout the buyer’s journey, if I misinterpreted what stage they were in, if I was too conservative or too aggressive throughout the cycle. Those are all things that are tremendous feedback to get from somebody, a customer specifically. When you win or lose, start soliciting feedback so that you can start documenting the buyer’s journey to give you a little bit more insight into what they’re going through on a daily basis.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. Understanding their why at the end and documenting that is part of understanding their decision making process. And another thing I really liked, and we’ll post this document up for everybody to download, is digging into the search terms at each phase of that  buyer’s journey. That really brought it home for me that somebody goes through this decision making process. So if you think about the way somebody has a problem, let’s say sales managers and leaders that are listening to this say, well, how we used to do sales is no longer working. We’re not generating the leads that we need. Well, now they’re going to go start looking. What is sales outreach? What are sales outreach ideas? How do I resolve this issue? How do I improve? They’re going to be searching for more broad terms because they know they have a symptom, but they’re not really sure how they want to solve it yet. So that’s an early stage of the awareness journey that you document. And then it gets more and more concise over time. Their search terms start to ask, what are the solutions for this? What are the tools? What are the service providers? What’s the software? So at this point they’re in the consideration phase. They think, I could solve it with a tool, I could solve it with a consultant, I could solve it with sales training. There’s multiple different ways that they could solve the problem. And so those search terms give you an idea of what that buyer is really doing. They’re getting smarter and smarter and narrowing down what they want. And then finally, the decision making phase. They’re actually comparing the short list of a few options. They’re comparing pros and cons and their terms are really getting narrowed down. So if you want to document and understand your buyer’s journey, that’s one way I like to think about it: what are people actually typing in and searching for in that Google search box?


The Human Factor


Taylor Barnes: Yeah, I think that’s a really good one. A practical approach to this is to just flat out ask the buyer where they are in their process. Are you just educating yourself or have you educated yourself and you found us because we’re a contender and we’ve got subject matter expertise and you found us online. Just ask. It’s very important to remember that you’re talking to another human being. Just ask where they’re at in the process. They called you or they’re pursuing you just like you’re pursuing them. It’s not unreasonable for you to ask where they are in their process. I think, Josh, a lot of that comes down to training. It’s so important, especially for seasoned veterans, to explain what we’ve learned throughout the process so that we can paint a bigger picture for people and give them a glimpse into what it’s like to be a buyer.


The Buyer’s Journey – A Real World Experience


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, the training is such a huge part of that and you can really only understand it when you go walk in their shoes. I had an early glimpse of just how pivotal this was. We were building a solution specifically for heavy equipment dealers, for their sales teams. A mobile CRM on the iPad and it was for Caterpillar dealers. When I talked to the sales leader early on, he said, no, no, no, no, I don’t want to explain this. I want you to fly to Indiana. We’ll pay for it. You’re going to fly to Indiana and you’re going to go live the life of one of our reps. You’re going to sit in the truck with him and go from job site to job site and see what they do and how we can make that more efficient and what their needs are. And man, you want to talk about understanding like the true needs of an individual, go work side by side with them. Understand the process that they’re going through. That really gave me the bigger picture. Later, when I was able to sell that software and go to other dealers, I knew exactly what to say. I knew their needs and spoke them in such a way that it made that sale easier.


Training Guides, not Heros


Taylor Barnes: What a great experience. Yeah, and look, I hope everybody out there listening gets an experience like that to truly ride along, no pun intended, in the customer’s journey when they’re looking to make that kind of buy. But that is such a good example, such a tremendous experience to see how it looks from where they are in the process so that you can meet them where they want to be, speak the same language, connect with them, make their lives easier. My last solution that I would come up with here is we need to make sure that we are training our salespeople to be the guide and not the hero. We need to make sure that they know that the reason we are here as an organization is because there is a buyer out there somewhere. We can’t do it without them. We can’t do without the hero. There’s a lot of things on the shelf, a lot of services out there. But we have got to start making the customer the hero in the process, treating them as such and making sure that at the end of the day, it is a victory for them, that they’re the main character, that they’re the star of the show because they decided to go with us. They’re the hero, we’re the guide. That’s the kind of training that we need to make sure our salespeople get.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, most definitely. And, in the vein of training and being the guide, the question is, what are we as sales managers doing to provide the data and the sales enablement content that they need in order to be that guide? We can help show them what that journey looks like. Hey, here’s what most of our clients go through. There’s all kinds of sales enablement content. We’re going to give you that worksheet and fill it out with you so that you can preempt any questions you’re going to get and look like a rockstar and look like that hero.

Taylor Barnes: Yep, love it, man. I think we’ve made our point clear. It’s extremely important to commit to your target market, understand their journey, solicit some feedback, get some references, understand why you won or lost the deal. Josh’s incredible example of riding along in that cat. If you have the opportunity, guys and girls, to literally ride along and understand the buyer’s journey, then take advantage of that. Train your salespeople to be the guide and not the hero. I’ll tell you what, Josh, my feet are getting pretty uncomfortable. I think it’s time I got out of these buyers’ shoes.

Josh Sweeney: Got to get out of here! So the final question is, does your sales team understand the buyer and their needs at each stage of the journey?

Taylor Barnes: This has been purpose driven sales with Barnes and Sweeney. Now go lead on purpose!

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