Dan Shaw on the Buyer's Journey
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Dan Shaw and I'm VP of Sales with Maintenance Assistant.
How did you first get into sales?
Like a lot of salespeople, I sort of landed there by accident.
I did my schooling at Wilfrid Laurier University but sales isn't taught in school, I really think it should be but that's a topic for a different blog.
Was there a single moment you knew that you were meant for sales and knew you would have a career in it?
No, I don't think there was a single moment. Over time I began to appreciate and enjoy spending time with customers. I think like with any sales person, the highest value activity that you can do is spend time with customers and when you get to that point where you're solving customer problems, building customer relationships, and making a difference. I think it's a very rewarding career.
So we're going to be talking about understanding and aligning with the buyer journey. What would you say are the rudimentary steps in every company's buyer journey?
Whether you're looking to buy software or you're looking to buy a car; you decide there’s a problem, a pain, or a need. You evaluate ways to solve the problem and then ultimately you proceed to procure a solution.
What step would you say requires the most attention and effort?
The evaluation step for sure, specifically looking at software sales, customers are experts at their business, they really understand what they need. That said, they're not experts in evaluating markets and competitive solutions. It's often difficult and onerous, and sometimes they make the wrong decision when it comes to actually figuring out the right solution for their business.
"There is so much value in helping a prospect buy."
What would you say are some direct symptoms that stem from the misalignment of sales, marketing, and the buyer journey?
The biggest challenge, or error, that I see sales and marketing teams making is that they tend to look inward first. They talk about product and features, and they’re not really speaking from the buyers perspective, they’re speaking from their perspective. Then they try to drag a prospect through a series of sales stages that were built to be aligned with the internal company, not the customer. There's so much value in helping a prospect buy; creating an evaluation process, helping them through the process, providing resources and advice about who should be involved, how long it should take, how much it should cost, etc, etc.
So if you're a company and you identify that you're doing a poor job, how would you start the process of aligning yourself with the buyer journey?
I'd start by reviewing five or ten recently closed deals and then do a bit of a workshop around how the customer's purchased. From there, you should be able to identify some themes, map the buying process, and make sure your sales and marketing teams are equipped with resources that align with the customer journey.
You said to make sure sales and marketing are equipped with the right resources. Are there any specific resources that you're referring to?
Yeah I think as buyers move from realizing there’s a problem, to searching for a solution, to evaluating alternatives... they'll require different types of resources along the way. So the first step is to understand that process, and the second step is to identify messaging that is relevant at each step of the process.
Early messaging tends to be really thought leadership based. You're really helping the prospect understand that there is a problem. Sometimes it's not necessarily that there's a problem, it's that there’s a pain and there’s room for improvement. As the buyer moves along the spectrum, they'll often start to think about how to solve the problem, how to evaluate alternatives, different approaches that are available on the market, and how to make a decision internally. All of these milestones, in my opinion, represent opportunities for sales and marketing to help add value and provide resources.
If you were in a lower level type role and see that there is misalignment between your teams that is causing major problems in your buyer’s journey, how would you go about making a pitch to the executives in hopes that they invest in fixing the issue?
Huh, that's a tough question to answer. Hopefully and ideally, most organizations today value the opinion of their frontline sales people. Sales is often closest to the customer and can bring a tremendous amount of internal value. Failing that, individual sales people can do some of these things on their own by choosing how they approach prospect conversations, being intentional about their message, and keying off where the buyer is in their particular journey.
To summarize, in a perfect world there is a feedback mechanism up to leadership. Failing that, I think good salespeople often find a way in spite of leadership, not because of leadership.
What are the main benefits that companies can expect to see with better alignment?
Well the short answer is, you'll close more business. I think the longer answer is that your marketing assets will be more relevant and valuable. On the sales side, you'll have more ownership over your sales campaigns and it'll be harder for the competition to establish value when you're in control of the process.
Oh - and I think you'll get some happier customers too.
Would you say those benefits are the same if you're sales rep compared to a VP of sales?
Yeah I do. I mean, happier customers and more successful salespeople all roll up to a successful sales VP which frankly rolls up to successful CEO.
"The need for sales to be aligned with the buyer journey isn't going anywhere."
In the next couple of years do you see attention shifting or changing to different aspects of the journey, or even steps being added or removed entirely?
I think the way companies buy products or people buy products is always changing, but the need for sales to be aligned with the buyer journey isn't going anywhere.
Are there any good resources that you look to, and that you'd recommend to get additional information on the topic?
I haven't come across anything that completely nails it but I'm a big fan of the CEB Challenger Sale, and The Challenger Customer books. Essential reading for anyone on my team.
For someone like me who hasn't got the chance to read those, what's the biggest takeaway that I could expect?
Don't be afraid to bring an opinion to a customer conversation - the customer isn't always right.
Wrapping up, and remember that this is a no judgement zone, what is your favourite 90's dance song?
I'm a child of the 80's. Is Sweet Child O' Mine a dance song?
If you'd like to admit to dancing to it, I'm sure sure it could be...
Thanks again for taking the time today