Networked society has given buyers easy access to more information about endless solutions and purchasing alternatives. Most B2B sales professionals think this automatically means that their customers are in the driver’s seat – empowered, armed to their teeth with information, and clear about their needs.
Customers, however, seldom see it that way. More information begets more questions, which leads to customers working harder to ensure that they fully understand the requirements and the alternatives of every offer.
Buying complex solutions, such as advanced software services, has never been easy. It's your job as a modern sales professional to give your potential customers purchase easy.
In this article, we go through what prescriptive sales is all about and include a 3-step guide to how you can exploit sales intelligence to ramp up your prescriptive sales game and effectively maximize consumers ease of purchase.
What is Prescriptive Selling?
Prescriptive selling involves making a recommendation to customers backed with reasons why it’s the best solution for them. If you think of your potential customer as the person behind the steering wheel on her journey to becoming your customer, the role of a prescriptive salesperson is to be the navigator.
For this to be possible, you have to be able to demonstrate a deep understanding of the customer’s pain points and needs while offering a valuable solution.
Company data can provide salespeople with information about companies' both basic characteristics as well as their more hidden traits, their interests, pain-points and current situation.
Successful prescriptive selling requires you to
- Gain a deep understanding of the customer’s purchasing journey
- Identify the most significant buying obstacles at each buying stage
- Arm your salespeople with tools to help overcome each challenge
- Track the customer’s progress and offer tailored assistance when necessary
Prescriptive selling works best with cross-department collaboration; content marketers, sales reps and people from the sales enablement and sales operations team need to be involved.
Selling prescriptively is less of an individual habit and more of an organizational approach.
Maximize Your Customer's Purchasing Ease
According to an article in Harvard Business Review, suppliers that make buying easy are 62% more likely to win a high-quality sale. With prescriptive selling, you can increase your customers purchase ease in three easy steps:
1. Map Out the Purchasing Journey and Identify Obstacles
Although every deal is unique, with time you’ll realize that all deals are typically more similar than not – especially within a particular customer profile.
For smart and scalable prescriptive selling, you and your sales team should map and learn from the purchasing process of a handful of customers matching your Ideal Customer Profile.
The job of creating a customer journey map often falls on the marketing team, who tends to create a map from the supplier’s perspective. Effective organizations work across functions to create a comprehensive journey. High-performing sales reps are instrumental in refining the maps, since they are the ones that have superior insight into their customers' processes. The most effective sales organizations take this one step further, including their customers in the exercise. If you don’t have the necessary data in your CRM already, it’s often an easy task to conduct short interviews with some of your established customers. Ask questions such as: “who was involved in the purchase, and when did they get involved?” and “what data proved the most or least helpful when making the purchasing decision?”.
By understanding common impediments, you can work proactively to prevent them from becoming a showstopper. The purchasing journey can, for the sake of simplicity, be divided into three phases.
The Purchasing Journey in 3 Steps
Customer buying stage: Early
Common obstacles to purchase: Information
- Trouble distinguishing between meaningful and irrelevant information
- Trouble interpreting conflicting information
- Trouble knowing how much information is enough
Customer buying stage: Middle
Common obstacles to purchase: Organization
- Different stakeholders have different criteria for purchasing
- Competing priorities
- Not everyone involved in the buying decision shares the same view on the need for change
- Hidden worries about both the discussed solution
Customer buying stage: Late
Common obstacles to purchase: Decision Anxiety
- Having too many purchase options is overwhelming
- A new purchase option introduced late in the process can create confusion
- An unclear implementation plan for one or several options can cause decision-agony
2. Learn to Prevent Those Obstacles
Once you’ve found a framework for how to map your prospects’ purchasing journey, you should focus on solving the common obstacles you’ve detected.
Many of the most common obstacles lay in your prospect's organization. When this is the case, no amount of information about your solution or tweaks to your offering will work as a solution. In these cases, you have to help the prospect solve her internal challenge. You might even have to help her recognize this challenge before you can work together to solve it.
Example: Data from previous cases might tell you that it’s common that new people get involved in the buying decision late in the process, and that this often causes things to blow up. If this is the case, it’s your job to let your contact person know about this risk early on. You should encourage her to bring all stakeholders in as early as possible. Guide your contact person through the easiest way to do this successfully. For example, by handing them the answers to common main questions of stakeholders entering the process midway.
A customer’s reaction to your suggestion should never be “Aha, I see what you’re trying to do here…” but, rather, “Oh, wow, you just made my life so much easier!”
3. Track Every Potential Customer’s Progress Carefully
Merely being aware of different obstacles and their solutions isn't enough – to make sure they don't hinder your sale, you need to know what stage of the journey your customers are on as well. How else will you be able to spot and solve problems before customers encounter them?
One effective way to know when a customer is moving forward in the process is to determine so-called “customer verifiers”. Customer verifiers are clear indicators that a customer has advanced from one purchasing stage to the next.
Solid customer verifiers share two main attributes:
- They require active participation from the customer. The customer must take a clear step to confirm that she’s committed to moving forward in the process.
- They are objective – the customer either did or didn’t take a clear action to move forward in the process. Don’t leave anything up for interpretation.
Verifiers range from the fairly generic ones, such as verbally acknowledging a problem and the need for a solution, to more explicit ones, such as signing a contract.
Prescriptive Selling Helps Prevent Second-Guessing After the Completed Purchase
The expanding range of options that B2B customers face can be more of a curse than a blessing for many customers. No matter the choice, one or several decision-makers are likely to find aspects of an alternative solution more appealing.
Second-guessing a purchasing decision after signing up is commonplace.
Both you as a sales professional, and later the customer success department, have to work to prevent this by making sure your customers are fully invested in your collaboration. A customer in doubt often doesn’t experience the full value of your product or service. This can, in turn, result in an unhappy or churning customer.
You can minimize the risk of your customer second-guessing her decision after the completed purchase by tackling those obstacles before the purchase. Just be sure to identify potential obstacles occurring after the purchase when mapping out your purchasing journey, and then prescribe remedies and incorporate them into the process.
Not surprisingly, customers perceive prescriptive salespeople as being one step ahead.
Prescriptive sales may take many forms, but the companies that have mastered it employ the same practices: they have adopted a data-driven approach and use insights from company data to better understand their both existing and potential customers organizations.
Today’s best suppliers help customers consider not just what to buy, but also how to buy.
This means that prescriptive salespeople should focus less on how to make customers buy from them, and more on how customers make purchasing decisions and how that process can be made easier.