"Creativity is nothing more than having the ability to understand the forces impacting upon us and then being able to utilise those forces as a means or a tool for reaching our objectives. It's the ability to understand our conditions and environment and then put them to work for us." Bear Bryant
In our last blog, we posed a dilemma often faced during the sales process: If you can't communicate directly with the purchasing authority in your target organisation, then how can salespeople help their prospect sell internally? While there isn't a straightforward solution, dealing with this issue is very achievable using the framework we’ll outline in this and the next three blogs. It will help any salesperson support their principal contact and champion.
As we outlined last time, the culmination of the process is having your contact implement the right sales strategy. But before you can have them do that, you have to develop your sales strategy – and that starts with allowing for the creativity that Bear Bryant cites in the above quote.
How can you help yourself be creative? Like Bryant says, you must understand the forces impacting upon you. In other words, what factors shape the client's conditions and environment? What are the various influences and personalities at play?
When it comes to the sales process, there are two core elements that shape the prospect's environment:
- Where is the target business in the purchasing cycle?
- What is the make-up of the buying team?
Today we’ll look at the first of these two influences on the prospect's environment: the PURCHASE cycle.
When making a major purchase, the vast majority of organisations (public, private, small and large) go through a process that is comprised of a series of sequential steps that inform their decisions. Although much of the content of the process is unique to each organisation, the structure of the process can be distilled to some universal basics that are shared amongst all. Even with a very general understanding of where the prospect's organisation is in this cycle and the forces impacting upon them, you will glean invaluable information that will support and enhance your creativity.
We've captured the essence of each step in the PURCHASE cycle below:
P roblem identification
In order for any person or entity to undergo change, they must experience a problem that causes some form of pain. In this initial period, the organisation identifies such a problem and acknowledges that they need a solution; this ‘identification’ can often be informal and unconscious.
U ncover various alternatives
The organisation considers whether anything can be done to alleviate their dissatisfaction (pain). If there are no feasible alternatives, they'll live with it. But if they identify that a potential solution maybe available, they will move to the next step.
R esource identification
The organisation considers how it can solve the problem: Can it be addressed in house or will they need to seek a solution from an external supplier?
C oncrete specifications
Almost always written, the buying team develops the criteria of what's required from a solution so that it can adequately solve their problem.
H old out the opportunity to suppliers
The organisation reaches out to various suppliers seeking information about what's available in the market.
Note: This is often where many salespeople enter the process. However, as a rule, the earlier you enter the purchasing cycle the significantly greater strength you have with the prospect.
A nalyse suppliers
The various suppliers present their proposals to the organisation. During this stage, it's not uncommon for the organisation to determine that they need to rewrite their specifications, either because they didn't capture everything well enough the first time or because they've identified new opportunities.
S elect preferred supplier
The organisation selects their preferred vendor and engages with them in a negotiation process. This is where you can expect your margin to come under the greatest pressure.
E ffect the solution
The organisation implements the purchased product or service.
As we said at the outset, even though the content of this buying process will be unique to each organisation, the PURCHASE acrostic acts as an informative pathway to guide salespeople. By determining where the organisation is in the process, how close they are to a purchase decision and what steps they still need to go through, they afford themselves an invaluable snapshot of their environment; this enhances sales creativity, and allows them to develop and manage a more effective sales strategy.
But the purchase cycle is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the prospect's environment. In order to manage it effectively, and therefore fully realise the potential of your creativity, salespeople must also determine who they're selling to, because we don't sell companies or organisations – we sell people. And we'll explore this topic in our next blog, when we look at the buying team.