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The Inbound Sales and Marketing Blog

The Sales Process And Buyer's Journey: Close the Gap, Close the Sale [PODCAST]

by Dorene Goff on August 14, 2015


Close the gap between the buyer's journey and the sales process - and then close the sale.

So, you have traffic, you have leads, but you're not closing the sale. This seems to be a common struggle for companies and their sales teams. So where's the disconnect? Most likely, it's a misalignment between your sales process and the buyer's journey. Where marketing is honing in on who the prospect is and their position in the buyer's journey, the sales team is focusing on their standard process. Meaning, a lead comes in and is approached with information or questions that they've either already heard or aren't yet ready to hear. 

On this episode of The Funnel - A Sales and Marketing Podcast, John and Lindsay offer insight on this disconnect and provide suggestions on how to close the gap between the sales process and buyer's journey. Take a listen and start closing that sale.

Podcast Transcription:

Lindsay Kelley: Hey, welcome.  Thank you for joining us again this week on The Funnel, your favorite sales and marketing podcast.  I’m Lindsay Kelley.  I am the marketing arm of this podcast as well as the chief marketing strategist for Convergo, with John over there making some fun dance moves for some reason.  Hi, John.


John Shea: Just trying to get us cheery and ready for the podcast.  My name is John Shea and I’m with the Lime Group and the inbound sales economy.  We’re both really tired from some travel, and we were having the pep talk to one another about how we have to be peppy for the recording.


Lindsay Kelley: Right. Peppy.  Peppy.  I’m usually peppy. This is me not peppy. I can be a little intimidating for some people. 


John Shea: You know what?


Lindsay Kelley: What does she look like when she’s peppy?


John Shea: That’s the new normal.


Lindsay Kelley: What’s the new normal?


John Shea: The new normal is you’re not as peppy.


Lindsay Kelley: I know. The new normal. I’m not as peppy. This week on The Funnel you wanted to talk more a little bit about sales process and buyer’s journey, which really is an exciting topic because we know how passionate I am about making sure that there is a buyer’s journey, and that folks are thinking about their buyer and not about themselves as they go through the process of attracting leads to their website.


John Shea: This came to me out of a number of conversations I’ve had the last few weeks with different clients and sales people, sales managers, and so on.  You know, the buyer’s journey is that framework that acknowledges a buyer’s progression through a research and decision process. It ends with them buying, right, or a purchase.  You go to HubSpot; they’ll give you the buyer’s journey right on their website. You can see what that looks like. It describes the process a typical business buyer takes as they move through the decision-making – what I call the decision-making funnel.  It starts with the marketing side and then ends through sales, in most cases.


Inbound marketers do a really great job of understanding who the buyer is, right. They develop the buyer persona, and then they write content for each stage of the journey to bring them closer and closer to you.  The content changes as they progress, in some cases, through the journey.  I think we’ve seen a lot of really good stuff with inbound marketing the last few years in bringing people in. 


What I’ve observed is that there’s a gap between what happens with marketing and what happens with sales.  In some cases, there’s a lot of really good stuff happening.  We’re attracting to the website.  We’re bringing in leads.  We’re turning them over to sales, and then they disappear.  This is not a sales and marketing thing.  This is just really a problem solve for a business. Why are we creating traffic, bringing in leads, and not closing?


We’ve had some discussion around this before, so, this isn’t a new discussion. For me, it’s okay; let’s kinda dig into this a little bit.  Let’s figure out why this is happening.  Could be the leads are bad.  I don’t know. Could it be that the sales people are bad? I don’t know.  Do we have an alignment issue?  Could the sales reps be making assumptions regarding the leads and skipping pieces of the sales process?  I can’t answer the question for every company in this podcast because I think there are different answers based on different companies, and a good evaluation would tell me that.


But I wanna touch on the one that I think could possibly be the culprit more often than not. That’s the process piece, the sales process or the sales – walking through your sales process and methodology. It can’t follow precisely the buyer's journey.  There are steps that we have to take as sellers, as salespeople, that are not part of that journey. We have to align the two together. I’m thinking that there’s probably a gap there where that’s not happening in a lot of companies. They’re laying out the buyer's journey. They’re doing a really good job with the persona.  They’re walking people through it.  But somewhere in sales, they’re not aligning their sales process up with that journey.


A sales process is a very specific process outlined by the company that’s selling the product or service.  You just can’t pull a sales process off the trees.  You have to understand your buyers.  You have to understand your product.  You have to understand what it can do and how they like to buy and the solutions that sells for them.  Then you build your process around that.  Your process is very benchmark-centric.  Once you finish this in step one that allows you to move to step two and so on. There’s specific criteria to hit in those steps.  That has to match up with the buyer's journey. 


There’s a couple really good things that come out of process, the sales process. One is you shorten the sales cycle. Two, you have a much higher level of success.  Then comb methodology into that, sales methodology, that’s the tools and the sale program that you use to move from step to step, that’s how it works.  But if you’re not lining your process up to the buyer's journey, you’re missing something.  How can sales do that without matching those two?  I knew you were gonna say something.


Lindsay Kelley: Let’s think about the buyer, from their perspective, for just a minute. Sometimes you have to make certain tweaks to how you are selling to your folks.  Is that not true?  The buyer has evolved.  The buyer does different things, now.  What worked for you ten years ago in your sales process might not work now because of the evolution of some of the tools and technology that these buyers have.


John Shea: Here’s the great part about a process.  A sales process is unique to your company.  You can change it any time.  Let’s talk about methodology real quick.  If you buy spin selling and you follow that methodology, that’s the sales methodology you’re using unless they come out with an upgraded version or an updated version of it. That’s it.  That’s your methodology.  That’s what you use to go between the steps of the process.  The process is unique to you and to your buyer.  As the buyer evolves, your process should evolve. Your process should change to meet what that buyer’s doing. 


I think that’s a really good point.  I think that’s step number one. That’s one of the things that are missing.  Maybe the processes haven’t evolved to what the buyer’s doing. They’re trying to stay where they were before, and they’re trying to fit a round – what is it? A square peg in a round hole? I always get it backwards.


Lindsay Kelley: A square peg in a round hole.


John Shea: Somebody laugh at me and say, “Wait a second.”  I think a round peg does fit in a square hole.  It’s the other way around.


Lindsay Kelley: Right. Right.


John Shea: You have to be able to make those changes.  Let’s say you make the changes to the process and you’re running that parallel path. That’s great. 


How do you make those changes?  Pretty simple. First, you understand the buyer. You understand how they buy. If you’ve implemented inbound marketing, you get it.  You get that they’re using all the tools and technology today to attract potential prospects. The gap may be between sales and marketing is sales hasn’t adjusted the process.  You have half the battles completed because you know how the buyer buys, and you get it.  So, how do we adjust that process?


You start at the beginning.  Step one: what’s the buyer doing and what are you doing in your sales process? I’ll make this simple. I’m not gonna go through every step of the buyer's journey and every step of the sales process. But a really good –


Lindsay Kelley: You’re kinda not explaining the buyer's journey and what they do today. People right now are going “What is the buyer's journey?  What do they do? What are they doing? Tell me.”


John Shea: Go ahead. Explain the buyer's journey. You should because you’re marketing. Now!


Lindsay Kelley: 92% pressure! Sssh!  92% of BtoB decision making processes now begin online. That was not the case five or even ten years ago, but today, one of the first things that business folks will do is go online.  Even if it’s something that might have started organically off with a phone call or something else, they’re doing due diligence and they’re researching online. Now, John, go ahead. So, Google is huge. Social media from a LinkedIn perspective is huge, from a Twitter perspective.  These are all things that feed into the buyer’s journey. Where they find information to solve their challenge or need.


John Shea: Basically, they’ve evolved to the point where they don’t need somebody to explain what’s out there; they can find it themselves.


Lindsay Kelley: Exactly. If I need my window fixed, I’m not gonna break out my yellow pages.  I’m gonna go online.


John Shea: Well, you’d have to stand up because you’re sitting on them, right, to boost you up a little bit?  So you can see into the camera?


Lindsay Kelley: Hey now, I’m not that short.


John Shea: I am. I am.  You’re not.


John Shea: Actually, you’re probably as tall as me.  And with heels you’re taller than me.


The journey is the – the beginning of the buyer's journey is the awareness “I have some issue or problem,” and they begin their search, and they conduct that search online.  That’s part of the buyer's journey.  Then there’s the consideration stage where they’re looking at different options out there, taking in the content that’s available to them, whether it’s an eBook or a white paper or a podcast, or whatever it is they’re grabbing off your website. They’re going through this consideration process.  Maybe they’re looking at multiple places for that.  At some point, they get to the end and they make a decision.  We’re gonna buy.  That’s the journey there.  That’s how it starts on the Internet and it ends with execution of a contract, normally in a BtoB world, through sales.  It’s this process that they go through to educate themselves.  That’s great.


What happens when sales gets it?  There’s a couple things that could be going on there where your process is broken.  First, you’re not recognizing the fact that they’ve gone through this education process, and they have a better understanding of their problem. Maybe sales might be jumping into the process and starting over again with questions like, “What keeps you up at night?” instead of zeroing in on all those data points and all that information they have of what the potential prospect has done on the website, what they’ve downloaded and consumed, and trying to get an understanding of how they understand their problem.  That’s a simple way to explain how, gee, there’s a gap here in the process.


In the past, the sales process was my job is to educate the customer.  I go out.  I find you. You’re sitting in your office. You have no way of educating yourself on solving your potential problem.  I identify it or we identify your problem together, and then I educate you on the solve, the problem solve.  They might talk to two or three vendors, or they might talk to one, but that was their way of consuming the information.


Today, they don’t need you to provide them with that kind of education early on in the process. Why?  Because it’s available at their fingertips. They don’t need you to come into their office and show them that stuff.  It’s online.  They can do that research themselves. 

Get your buyer persona worksheet

Lindsay Kelley: Right. And then take into account the fact that sometimes sales reps will sit there and say, “But wait. We planted the seed of something that there is a problem.  We called.  We figured out that this person had a need that they didn’t know they had.”  Okay, great.  Guess what? They’re still gonna go online and your competitor could actually have been the one to get through, but you’re the one with all the excellent information online, educating, informing, and actually becoming a trusted partner for them.


John Shea: That’s a great point.  Understand that how they arrive there might be a little different.  It’s not a perfect world.  But if you have the right content and you’re putting the right message and you’re drawing them in, you might be the one they talk to. When you –


Lindsay Kelley: Exactly. And I get that question all the time: “Should we stop cold-calling now that we’re doing inbound marketing?”  I’m like, “No.  No, no, no. This is an add-on. This is another –


John Shea: It’s an add-on, right.


Lindsay Kelley: Yeah. And eventually you’ll start to get so many leads you can decrease your cold-calling?  Absolutely.  But please don’t stop cold turkey.


John Shea: Right. I would say that their prospecting efforts need to change but that’s a whole other podcast, how they prospect or cold call, right?


Lindsay Kelley: Right. Prospecting, right. I don’t associate that with cold calling.


John Shea: But the real issue here is why, and I’m coming back to, why is there a gap? Why are we providing all these really good-quality leads and there’s something missing in the process of closing it? I think there’s a lot of assumptions going on.  First and foremost, what the problem truly is.  Even if they downloaded a lot of stuff and they’ve read a lot of things related to problem X, without your expertise or your discussion with them, it might be more a problem why. It could be that they just don’t understand. That’s great.  Maybe it is problem X and you didn’t ask them about it because you’re too busy going back to the beginning of the research phase and asking them very basic questions and they quickly get bored with that.


What do you have to have as a sales rep?  First, you have to have the understanding of your own industry and the knowledge to portray to them that you’re educated enough to collaborate on finding a solution, not telling them what the solution is, but collaborating with them on that solution. You have to have the ability to quickly establish a relationship, quickly establish credibility, and then move that forward in a collaborative way.


Your company’s already established credibility because you put all this really great stuff and they came to you, and now you have an interaction.  It’s not an assumption they’re gonna continue going with you because they downloaded a really cool white paper.  You have to be knowledgeable enough and professional enough to understand the situation you’re in and move that deal forward.  The process needs to adjust to where the buyer is in their education.  Go ahead.


Lindsay Kelley: Just to piggyback on that, you also need to make sure that your sales rep is completely in the know as to who that persona is, that buyer persona, who that target person is that you’re selling to and what they’ve consumed. That’s a big deal. Having a conversation wrapped around what it is that they have read and what was it that’s triggered you to do this and –


John Shea: The sales rep should know – I’m sorry.


Lindsay Kelley: But you’d be surprised how many times they don’t.  That’s a big no for us in working with some of these sales teams. The sales people still don’t completely understand that’s why we do inbound workshops with them so they understand what inbound marketing is.  It’s very important that your sales team understands inbound marketing, how it works, and how it’s gonna benefit them at the end of the day. And why it’s important to read this stuff.


John Shea: That’s more of an alignment, and I’m gonna go back to – remember I said –


Lindsay Kelley: But we’re talking about alignment.


John Shea: We are, but I’m really focusing on – you’re right.  That’s an alignment issue.  If they don’t know who their ideal target is, their ideal prospector as marketing calls, buyer persona, that’s a whole other – you’ve got some alignment issues there that – you’re exactly right.  If they don’t know what they’ve downloaded or consumed or where they’ve gone on the website and how long and all that, that’s an alignment issue. You’re not providing – that’s a sales enablement issue.  You’re not even providing them access to the things they need to do their job.


Let’s just make an assumption that they have some of that.  Even if they start the conversation, I’m telling you, even with all that data point, all those data points, some of them still start the conversation back because the process is this is how I’m supposed to do it. This is what I’m supposed to do. I think that the process needs to adjust to that.  You’re not gonna be at a decision maker every time you engage with somebody that’s done some online research.  Your process should adjust to that.  It should say if you’re not at the decision maker, these are the criteria you establish to move to the next step to get to that decision maker or that committee or whatever it is.


The process needs to be adjusted to that.  I would line up the buyer's journey.  I would line up your process and see where it hits and misses based on your inbound leads, based on what’s coming in, and begin to adjust that process and train your reps on how to engage at that point.  How to engage with an inbound lead.  This is my secret that I tell everybody, “Oh, by the way, all these inbound techniques that you’re learning as a sales rep, they apply to your outbound work. They apply to your outbound work.” Just keep that in mind.


The other thing that I think that’s really – I don’t wanna say sales people are getting lazy. I think it’s the natural inclination to have all this information that says they downloaded this, they did that, dapapapa…  They need my product. I’m gonna sell it to them. I already know everything I need to know because of what they downloaded.  They’re making raw assumptions there that they probably shouldn’t make.


The other part (it’s not in a buying process, it’s not in a buyer's journey) that cannot be written down in step-by-step, is what’s happening within that prospect’s organization. How they are run: the people, the politics, the agendas, the other projects that are on the plate.


I just had this conversation with a client last week.  They’re looking to purchase ten months from now, so, they did a demo on the software. We were kinda noodling that around. What’s the best approach when they’re looking ten months down the road to buy?  Do you really want a demo now?  I’m not really big on demoing something they’re gonna buy ten months from now. I think the objective would be to take us from eight or ninth on the list of projects to one. Start moving that up the ladder because, quite honestly, a demo you do today is not gonna hold water ten months from now.


The objective is to understand the political landscape, the players, the agendas. That is beyond process and beyond buyer's journey.  There’s things the sales rep who’s worth their weight in gold can navigate through. They understand how to quickly establish that relationship and begin the collaboration process, not just around the product or service or problem you’re solving, but understanding the landscape of the client, and how you’re gonna have to navigate through it.


You wanna know where expertise comes in?  It used to be here’s the – in your world – here’s the feeds and speeds and here’s how mine’s faster than the competitors.  I can tell you everything about the equipment that you need to know.  Let’s buy it.  Now they can find that stuff out online.  They don’t need you.  What do they need you for?


Lindsay Kelley: He’s talking about a copier, for those of you who are like, “Feed and feed?”


John Shea: Right. You’re trying to move them from point A to point B.  Maybe they need help navigating the waters within their company.  “Help me move my project up the list.  How can you collaborate with me to help me get that through and get to the right people and move this up on the agenda?”  Your expertise is beyond sales methodology and sales process. It’s more about the relationship and collaborating with them to get that movement forward. Does this make sense?


Lindsay Kelley: Yeah, absolutely.  This is great stuff.


John Shea: I see these gaps and I think that there’s some big ones here.  I don’t wanna discount alignment because I think it’s pretty amazing how much of an alignment issue there is; that all this great stuff is being done by marketing and somehow sales doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, or they don’t really comprehend it.  You have to fix alignment issue.


The next is your process doesn’t really match how the buyers are buying today. Your process is broken. And again, buying process is – your sales process is unique to your company, steps that move you from point A to point B all the way to the close, and things that need to be done. Actual.  Not “Do they like me?  Yes. Okay, move to the next step.” That’s not part of the process. You can’t quantify that. These are true benchmarks that get you to the next step.


That process needs to be adjusted to the way buyers buy now, and how you’re delivering your content.  That’s the next one. And then finally, where sales brings value to the table – I get it.  They have to have methodology.  They have to have process.  They have to understand all that stuff.  They have to be good at that.  Where they truly, really add value is that collaboration point.  When I make that connection and I understand the landscape of the company I’m dealing with and the person I’m dealing with, their own challenges and hurdles internally to have success, and how can I help them get through that.


Sometimes it’s not even about product or services.  How can I – I just went through this myself.  I’m putting together a series of workshops for a company, and it’s a pretty big company. I have the VP of sales, “I want this and I want it now.  What can you help me with to navigate those waters because we have six other projects behind it – or ahead of it?  How can we get it up? Help me do that.” That’s where the value is. First it’s the process. Second it’s that, not understanding that there’s more to this than just the standard sales fare. You have to understand the company.


Think of your own company. How much, if you’re in a pretty decent-sized company, how much of that stuff’s going on?  You have to deal with different people, different agendas. If I wanted something done at X company what would I have to do to get that done?  Who would I have to make happy?  IT? I don’t know.  Admin?  Whatever it is. Does this make sense?


Lindsay Kelley: No, it definitely makes sense.  A lot of times people don’t even have that sales process in place in the first place. While you might be at a disadvantage, maybe you’re at an advantage because now you can go in and build something, understanding who your persona is, to align everything up and think of things like that.  What are those obstacles internally?  What can I do – what part of the process can I alleviate and match up to this buyer's journey?


John Shea: I think your point is well taken.  Oftentimes, methodology’s confused with process.  While we’ve been through spin, oh, that’s your methodology.  Those are the tools you use to go from step to step. Process is different, and if you don’t have one in place, bar none, that’s where I would start. Right there.  I’d start with a process.  You wanna move the sale along a lot quicker?  You wanna close things faster?  You wanna really understand your pipeline and forecast? Put a good process in place.


Lindsay Kelley: Absolutely. We did a podcast on that, my goodness, over 100 podcasts ago, on process versus methodology. Go find that.


John Shea: You have a better memory than I do.  We did! Process versus methodology. I’ve explained it a thousand times and it’s important to understand the difference between the two. But if you don’t have a process in place, how the heck are you gonna close those inbound leads? I don’t understand how you would do that.


Lindsay Kelley: And with an investment like inbound marketing, I mean, you’re talking about, basically, somebody’s salary for a year.  That’s just for starters, to get started with inbound marketing. So, if you’re gonna invest that much money, you need to make sure that you’re going to have salespeople who understand and have a process wrapped around how this is all gonna work, and how you’re gonna get to the close.


John Shea: Yep. The other thing is that there’s a misinformation.  Companies’ll look at their inbound and say, “Yeah, you generated a lot of leads for me.  Yeah, we have a lot of traffic.  Yes, we have people consuming our content, but we’re not selling anything.  We have a problem with marketing.”


You don’t have a problem with marketing.


Lindsay Kelley: Wait a minute.  Marketing just gave you a whole bunch of leads.


John Shea: You have a problem with sales. And it’s not that your salespeople are bad or – I don’t know what the problem is.  Maybe you have an alignment issue, that marketing’s partly respons – I don’t know. All I know is that leads are coming in. Content’s being consumed. You’re not closing anything. Stop looking – you’re looking the wrong way.  You need to figure out what the disconnect is between marketing and sales.  We might be able to close that gap pretty quickly. Don’t throw – I’m gonna say it. It’s a saying that an old business associate used to use all the time.  “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”  Remember?  You remember.


Lindsay Kelley: I knew that was coming.


John Shea: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”  It was used for everything.  But it’s the truth.


Lindsay Kelley: Sometimes it just didn’t make sense, but yes.


John Shea: Right. But it’s the truth here. You really don’t wanna make those kinda decisions without understanding truly the nature of your problem. If you could tell me emphatically, and you can back it up, that the leads really aren’t quality leads and that they’re not ideal, then prove it, that’s great.  Oftentimes, that’s not the case.  It’s “I’m spending money for inbound marketing. I’m spending X number of thousands of dollars a month.  I don’t have revenue to show for it.  See ya later.” That’s a really bad decision, as far as I’m concerned.


Lindsay Kelley: And let’s be real.  A good inbound agency is gonna sit down with you and go, “Okay.  Why aren’t these leads closing?  Give me salespeople to talk to.  Let’s figure out why.” That shouldn’t even be on the table.


John Shea: You’re right. But I think – this is new for inbound agencies.  “How do I get involved in – I’ve been in marketing.  How do I get involved in sales?  What do I do?” Part of it’s sales enablement, making sure that sales has the tools they need to succeed.  That means, as an agency, you have to engage. You have to figure out who the players are in sales and where the gaps lie and try to close those gaps. I think you’d be surprised.


I know what you guys do. But I also know where your – I also know where your genesis of your company came from.  You have people who were in sales, that started in sales. You have a very extensive sales back – you didn’t sell, but we worked together for years.  So, you have a really good understanding of the sales side.


Lindsay Kelley: I’m selling now, it’s just interacting with another salesperson. Again, sales and marketing alignment. You’ve gotta have the two together. We sell


John Shea: Right. You and I, we’re a little unique in that I understand the marketing side way more than most people in my position do, in sales.  We kinda take for granted that people understand that.  I’m not 100% sure that that happens all the time. 


To summarize real quick, and I know we’ve probably beat this dead horse pretty good: the buyer's journey and the sales process absolutely have to align.  A deep understanding of your client and the political waters they have to navigate is important to the process.  That’s part of the collaboration.  Where you bring value as a sales rep is the process that’s aligned and executing it properly.  And being a really good collaborator with your client.  It’s changed.   You’re not a tech spec dump.  You’re not an educator on product.  They can do that themselves.


Lindsay Kelley: Right. Not anymore.


John Shea: The challenge I see in front of us, and that’s the challenge that’s coming and making sure that we close as much business as we can in the inbound world.


Lindsay Kelley: I think that’s a great point.  Great point.


Well, that was a great exercise. I’m really excited that we were able to sit down and talk about that because I think that it is so important to have these worlds all collide: the buyer with their journey, the sales with their process, and the marketing team with understanding it all because marketing is not the one in the trenches.  Sales is. It’s vital to have that communication and that alignment.  Sales and marketing alignment.


John Shea: There we go. Woohoo! 

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Lindsay Kelley: Woohoo! So…  Well, John, thank you.  I think we are just about out of time, but, as always, you can find John at alignment-group.com.  You can find me at converegomarketing.net.  I went over to iTunes, Stitcher.  We’re in a bunch of places now.


John Shea: Yeah. We’re everywhere.


Lindsay Kelley: We’re everywhere!  So, thank you so much for listening, guys.  And you know what? Until next time, keep filling the funnel.


John Shea: Thanks.




Find The Funnel on iTunes and Sticher.  podcast

Topics: Inbound Sales, Podcast - The Funnel, Buyer's Journey