6 Important Lessons I Learned from Becoming a Buyer

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By

Thomas Edwards

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Aug 18, 2021

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Solutions Consultants and Sales Professionals alike must be the masters of the sales process but we rarely have the opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes of our stakeholders by becoming a buyer.


At the start of 2019, I was part of a fast-growing organisation where it was a challenge to hire enough talented Solutions Consultants to keep up with growing demand. I could see that we needed to consider new ways of scaling Presales beyond simply increasing headcount. I wrote an internal white paper for my senior leadership on how we could introduce video into the sales cycle to help scale the Solutions Consulting team. Fortunately, he agreed with me and gave me a go-ahead to initiate the buying process for a Presales Enablement tool.


It was at that point that, for the first time, I became a buyer of enterprise B2B software. In this article, I will take you through what I learned from being on the other side of the sales cycle.


1. Pushing to get contact with budget-holder


We often talk about the importance of having access to the most senior stakeholders in the sales cycle. This can be important for a top-down deal where we need to have access to the key decision-makers and budget-holders. However, in my situation, although my boss would be signing the contract because the cost was coming from his budget, this was a typical example of what we call a 'Directed' opportunity. I was responsible for leading the project; it would ultimately be me who would implement the tool, manage the process change, and would have KPIs attached to the outcomes of the project.


The Best


The best vendors to work with were the ones who could openly give me materials to help me build a business case. By doing so, my business case naturally included content from those vendors - it used their terminology and their differentiators. In some cases, it even used screenshots of their product.


The Worst


On the other hand, it was challenging when I was confronted with vendors who pushed hard have a conversation very early in the process with my boss because he would be the one signing the contract. If I had allowed that, my boss would have been inundated with having to watch 10+ demos. He simply didn't have time for that which is why he had handed the reigns to me in the first place. He wanted me to lead the project and present a select few at the end of the process. It was therefore challenging to work with vendors who were adamant that they required time to speak to him at an early stage.


The Takeaway


In sales training, we often hear that we need to involve the most senior decision-makers as early as possible. But this needs to be balanced with not being overly pushy when the person leading the buying cycle has been appointed by the budget-holder.


2. Help me measure the problem


The reason I was buying software was to solve a problem. I wanted to introduce video into the sales cycle to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of my Solutions Consulting team. However, this was not a problem I had tried to solve before. I was often trying to do research or take the best guess in terms of which metrics I should be measuring to quantify the problem.


According to Gartner, only 17% of the time during a buying process is spent meeting with vendors. Furthermore, considering I was speaking with 3-4 vendors, each had a maximum of 5-6% of my time.




I found these findings by Gartner to be largely reflective my own experience. By the time I was speaking with vendors, I had already done my own online research into products and my thinking had already been formulated by available marketing materials.


Therefore, I wanted vendors to really add value in the time I spent with them. I didn't want a sales pitch, regurgitating information I had already read on their website. I wanted the Solutions Consultants to challenge my thinking, pick holes in my strategy and add value that would help me to be successful in my role.


The Best


As part of discovery, the best Solutions Consultants asked the right questions to help me measure and quantify our existing challenge. At this stage, they weren't even selling their product, but the metrics they asked me about were the ones that they knew their product could help impact. In some cases, these were metrics that we weren't measuring at all. This helped us see how big our challenge was and made the solution all the more compelling.


The Worst


On the other end of the spectrum, I encountered Solutions Consultants and Sales Reps who just wanted to take me through a corporate slide deck during what should have been discovery. Admittedly, these decks would often have case studies and metrics which were useful, but I could have simply read through them in my own time.


I am sure this is often driven by a lack of confidence from Sales and Presales alike who want to use a slide deck as a crutch rather than having an in-depth conversation with a prospect.


After I had experienced this, Gong released some analysis that showed that discovery calls were 17% less likely to be successful if a prospect was shown a slide deck. This really resonated with me because their study also showed that when a slide deck was used, the call became less conversational with the prospect. This was exactly what I had experienced.




The Takeaway


Time with stakeholders is precious. With only 5-6% of the time in the buying process being spent on a single vendor, that time must really add value rather than regurgitating marketing materials which could be read in the buyer's own time. Furthermore, by helping buyers measure their problem, it makes the solution to that problem all the more compelling. This measurement can also later feed into an ROI analysis.


3. Understand how my company sees itself in terms of operational excellence


Although I was aware of some of the capabilities on the market, I was also aware that my organisation didn't have the level of maturity to fully utilise them straight away. The first stage was to help automate a currently manual process. We could then later use a solution as a platform to get more out of an automated process. I needed vendors to understand this and show me how their solution would help solve our immediate challenges.


As part of this, being able to quantify our challenge was useful. But using that quantification to help compare us to a peer group was even more beneficial. I got the most out of interactions with vendors when they could tell me something new or helped me see a challenge in a new light.


The Best


The best vendors didn't just listen to where we saw ourselves in terms of operational excellence. They actually helped us see this through benchmarking. With our challenges now quantified, they could show me whether these challenges were typical of similar companies. This helped me justify acquiring a solution further because I had empirical evidence to show in which areas we were lagging behind similar companies. In many cases, the vendor had led these benchmarks or they were utilising surveys from industry analysts.


The Worst



Some vendors expected me to already have an idea of where we stood in terms of operational excellence. Others made assumptions. In many cases, I was presented with a highly complex solution where I felt my organisation simply wasn't mature enough. Instead, we needed a more simple solution that would move us away from a manual process. We could then move towards operational excellence over time.

I found that vendors who were pitching the most complex solutions hadn't taken the time to fully understand our challenges. It felt like I was being pitched the capabilities of an SUV for driving up mountains when I actually needed a small family car for doing the weekly shop.


The Takeaway


Ensure you understand where your prospect sees themselves in terms of operational excellence. Otherwise, you risk pitching an unsuitable solution. Go further by actually helping companies understand how they are performing against their peers. This could either be through quantified metrics vs industry averages or even walking them through a maturity assessment matrix.


4. Sellers, take charge; guide me through the buying cycle


From my role within Solutions Consulting, I had a strong grasp of what a sales cycle looked like, but I had never experienced one from a buyer's perspective. For this new piece of software, I needed guidance of who I needed to get involved in the buying process internally.


The Best


The best of the best didn't just help me establish a project plan to implement and roll out a solution globally. They also helped me with a roadmap for the buying cycle. They pointed me in the direction of who I needed to involve internally and even pre-empted potential blockers and bottlenecks such as involving our CRM administrator early in the process.


The Worst


With some of the other vendors, it felt like they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes around potential challenges for implementing a solution. They were happy to have me believe that it would be a simple plug-and-play with minimal set-up. Luckily, due to my dealings with the top-performing vendors, I was able to ask informed questions that uncovered potential challenges.


Those vendors who were trying to sell an unreasonably quick implementation soon lost their credibility once I knew the right questions to ask.


The Takeaway


Help the buyer buy. Flag up any potential bottlenecks and blockers early as it will make their lives easier as well as yours. Being open and honest will help build credibility and trust with stakeholders.


5. Add value from customer insights


I want to hear about how other companies have done this. Not just at a very high level (e.g. FTE savings or ROI), but also at very granular levels. What challenges did they have to overcome during the implementation? What pre-work do I need to do to ensure a successful project? Even what KPIs should I be looking at to measure the success of the project. I don't want to set my team and myself up to fail with overly ambitious targets.


Furthermore, my time was precious. I could read sales pitches and marketing materials on my commute home and I, therefore, wanted sales materials to educate myself rather than listening to a sales rep. I wanted a sales rep to challenge my way of thinking and give me insights about other clients rather than repeating info that I could simply read in a document.


The Best


The best vendors were keen to have a long-lasting relationship. They were careful not to overpromise and even ensured I had realistic expectations for the outcomes of the project. They even helped me consider metrics to determine whether the project is a success. It was clear that they had their eyes set on making me and my organisation happy customers to ensure a successful renewal in 12-24 months.


The best Solutions Consultants also had real-world experiences of the product. Some were ex-customers or users of the products and some had implementation experience. With this experience came a wealth of tips for planning a successful project. They helped me consider potential pitfalls and best practices too.


The Worst


On the other end of the spectrum, I saw Account Executives and Solutions Consultants take me through very high-level case study slide decks without adding any real-world stories or information. I could have happily read through these slides at my own leisure.

In many cases, it was clear that they did not have the experience to advise me on the potential pitfalls to avoid and best practices.


The Takeaway


As a buyer, I want to hear from a trusted advisor, not a salesperson. According to Challenger, 57% of the buying cycle has already been completed by the time a buyer speaks to a sales rep. That was definitely the case for me. I knew the value drivers and I could already see the value of implementing a solution. What I needed was insights into how I could successfully implement a tool in my own organisation.


With time being precious, I wanted sellers to add value for my specific situation in every single interaction.


6. Listen to my questions


In my experience of becoming a buyer, discovery conversations were guided by the sales rep all too often, and didn't have enough open questions. I wanted open questions where I could explain my company's situation. Otherwise, I went away from discovery calls feeling like we spent the majority of time on all the wrong things and only scratched the surface of our challenges.


The Best


In the best calls, I felt like I was doing the vast majority of the talking with the seller asking the right questions to draw out my pain points. It felt like I was really being listened to and in many cases, I learned something new as well. These were great examples of active listening.


The Worst


On calls with other vendors, there were somewhere it felt like I was being walked through a predetermined set of discovery questions (I probably was) rather than it being a true conversation. Usually in a conversation, what someone says will be in response to something the other person said. In some situations, this wasn't the case at all.

Worse still, there were examples where I could get a word in edgeway! The conversation quickly became a sales pitch from the seller and I was left feeling that they never really understood my situation.


My experiences are backed up by some more great research by Gong. They found that the top-performing Sales Reps and Solutions Consultants do less than half of the talking during discovery. Compare this to the bottom performers who do almost three-quarters of the talking.



The Takeaway


Don't underestimate the power of questions like "what did I miss" or "is there anything else". Even in the worse cases, this would have prevented me from leaving a meeting with the feeling that we had spent all the time on the wrong topics.


Conclusion


When I became a buyer for the first time, I thought it would be a breeze. Coming from Solutions Consulting, I thought I knew how a sales cycle worked and I thought I knew who to involve internally.


As it turned out, I still needed lots of guidance and I learnt a huge amount along the way. It taught me that listening to buyers and showing that you understand their pain and requirements is probably the most important element of the sales cycle as it builds trust and credibility.




Thomas Edwards is an experienced Solutions Consultant for Financial SaaS Solutions. He is also the Editor at The Modern SC - a website focusing on modern methods of Solutions Consulting and enablement. In his free time he enjoys playing music, holding Grade 8 certification in three instruments. He is also an avid fan of Formula 1.


Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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