Why Sales Might Have a Hard Time With The Buyer Journey

My initiation into the world of sales happened at the height of the “Glen Garry Glen Ross” days.  It was the time of “blue suits” and “fast talkers”, and not a piece of sales automation or tracking technology anywhere to be found.

We’d roam our territories searching for conversations hoping it would lead to something more.  At the end of the day, we’d return to the office and put our “numbers” up on the board; # of conversations, # of leads, and closed deals ($).  The white board was our “sales dashboard” highlighting performance against goals for the month, and year-to-date.  Our view, and control over our success, was determined day-to-day.

Over the last 25 years, sales has been enabled with a broad set of new technologies, from sales force automation to CRM to cloud based mobile sales tools. All aimed at helping the sales organization better track, measure, and achieve quota. And with each advancement in technology, sales has gained the feeling that it has more control over the process, and outcome.

The buyer’s journey is marketing’s “shiny new penny”.  Over the last couple of years, numerous consulting firms have produced research trying to map the journey with varying estimates on how late in the journey customers are now engaging sales.

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Before you go off preaching this newfound perspective on how buyers are now in control to a sales organization, who might just have a counter viewpoint, there are some things you need to know:

  1. This is not necessarily “new” news – educated buyers have been engaging late in the process for years, and in some cases, bypassing the sales reps all together ordering direct.  What’s different now is that we have better tools to track their behavior.
  2. It can be threatening – sales folks “cover” buyers, be it a prospect or an existing customers.  Their job is to start a conversation and to continue the discussions to, hopefully, a successful outcome.  They can’t be everywhere, or everything to everyone, but to suggest that they are not providing buyers with the right information at the right time, or that they may not be “covering” them will cause a defensive or hostel reaction.  Be tactful in the way you present the findings.
  3. Buyers channel surf – don’t assume that buyers are only online in the early stages of the buyers journey, and likewise, that they are only talking with sales in the late stages of the process.  Unlike the past, when we could estimate where customers were in the sales process by watching how they engaged with content and channels, buyers now use all channels, and all information sources, at all stages of the journey.
  4. Good sales people already get it – good sales people are very intuitive by nature.  They already have a feel for how buyers research and purchase products.  They also know how to use the best content and/or tools to help buyers advance their learning and to move the process.  As a result, they will want to know how you can help them.
  5. Have a Plan – especially for the sales people I just mentioned.  The question that you should expect to get after sharing the information is; “So what now?  Given this new insight how should we change our sales and marketing approach.” Make sure you have an answer.

My gut reaction was that the buyer’s journey would pose a significant change for sales, I now realize that it’s a much bigger challenge for marketing.  Given the amount of time spend online in the research phase, buyers already have a good feel for the “business value” of your product or service by the time they engage sales. It’s why they have put your organization in the “consideration set.”

The challenge, according to recent research, is that buyers are unable to differentiate your product or service from the 3-5 other companies they are also considering.  To create separation, you must be able to illustrate and communication “personal value”.

And that has not been a strength of marketing, but it’s a core competency of good sales people.  Use this opportunity to partner with sales to developed content that resonates with buyers on emotion level deeper into their journey.   Sales may be losing control over the buying process, but they know how to connect on a personal level with individual making the purchase decision, use that to your advantage.

Inside The Ritz-Calrton Customer Experience Model

Original post date July 29, 2010

Ritz-Carlton has long been know and recognized for its ability to delight customers.  Although I’ve used them frequently as a best in class example for clients, I never truly experienced what makes them so good…until now.

My family and I just returned for our summer vacation where we had the good fortune of staying at the Ritz-Carlton on Grand Cayman for the week.  While we originally booked the Marriott, but a special off-season promotion through America Express and the loss of our family pet led to a change of plans.

The experience was memorable, even though the weather wasn’t…we now understand why it’s called the off-season.  Nonetheless, during our stay we were continually delighted by the service we received.

The Ritz-Carlton has created a perception of exceptional quality and service, and the staff delivers on it.  They are in the hospitality industry, and as a result it’s “people” business. But their model is not just as simple as ‘serve the customer.” They add interact, engage, and listen.  So simple and intuitive that it makes you wonder why other companies can’t do the same. 

Examples of how they bring this to life:

  • The Customer Experience – not only do they understand how you might want to spend your time on vacation, they anticipate it.   For example, in the mornings by the front door they had a jogging trail map, cold towels, bottled water, and a sign welcoming back joggers.  They also set up a water cooler at the water sport station anticipating that guests want water given the amount of salt water inhaled while snorkeling…maybe that was just me.
  • The Little Things – If you preferred to run indoors, they had a full service health club complete with trainers.   The most interesting thing in the gym was a 2-inch piece of a foam noodle, commonly used to float in a pool, in the cup holder of the treadmills.   It served as shock absorber, and it elevated your bottle making it easier to reach while running.  I’ve been in a lot of gyms in my life and none of them have had this…only the Ritz.  Most likely this insightful and accommodating amenity came from listening to customer feedback.
  • Going Beyond the Role –The doorman was our personal tour guide.  He told taxis were to take us for dinner, marked up maps on top snorkeling spots when we rented a car, and gave me directions on where I should run in the morning.  And of course, he inquired about our experiences each time we returned.  Similarly, our waitress at breakfast was also our personal shopper.  She told us the shops with the best deals, the best places for kids, etc.  Despite their title and/or their role, these employees played an essential part in defining our customer experience by going above and beyond the call of duty.
  • It’s about the BRAND – They understand and maintain the brand like few others.  The tennis courts by Nick Bollettieri, the golf course designed by Greg Norman golf, the world famous Silver Rain spa from Sweden, and for good measure a Tiffany’s onsite.   Brand was everywhere, on water bottles, towels, the morning newsletter, etc.   A premier brand that only associates with other premier brands.
  • Creating the Perception of Value – This gets back to understanding what guests want to do during their vacation.   The Ritz charged a $35 a day resort fee.  That fee included the use of water sport equipment like snorkeling gear, kayaks, and paddleboards, but then they charged for other items like Hobie Cat sailboats, etc.  The nearby Marriott on the other hand had outsourced their water sports to a local vendor that charged $15 a day for snorkeling gear, and $25 dollars an hour for Kayaks.  With a reef just in front of both hotels, guests at both snorkeled almost every day and/or used the gear to snorkel at other locations around the island.  For a family of four we paid $35 a day for 4 snorkel sets plus the use of the other items listed above.  Marriott guests paid $60 a day simply for the snorkeling gear.  Anticipating that guests would use snorkeling gear daily, The Ritz built it into a daily fee which we learned about at the beginning of our stay, instead of feeling like we were being “nickeled and dimed” to death each time by renting daily.  Packaging “solutions” is a constant challenge for most organizations.   The Ritz teaches us that to be effective organizations must understand how customers want to use their products.
  • Technology – the staff on the beach and at the front door wore headsets and microphones.   As I mentioned earlier the staff took the time to personalize your visit and get to know you and your name.  As you went from one location to another they would alert their counterpart that you were on your way.  This provided them time to greet you by name and to anticipate what you might want…towels for the beach, a taxi, etc.  Simple CRM, applied in a very effective manner.
  • Constant Collection and Use of Customer Information – Regardless of where their staff came from (France, Bali, England, etc.) they all took an interest in their guest’s stay.  They collected information about what they liked, disliked, and then preserved it to pass along to other guests.  In a sense, staff members built their own internal Trip Advisor based on guest feedback.  For example, one night we wanted to go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  I searched in a local restaurant guide and found one.  When I asked the Concierge about it, she said she never heard of it, and recommended another restaurant.  Finally I found a person at the front desk that knew where it was, but he proceeded to recommend the same restaurant as the Concierge.  Deciding that the other restaurant was too far, we went with the one I found. It was terrible.  No one knew of it for a reason.  Even the Taxi couldn’t find it despite having been on the island for 20 years, and it turned out to be only 2.5 miles from the hotel.

Ultimately the secret to their success is simple…they understand, personify, and cherish the brand, and they engage and listen to the customer.