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Inside the Buyer's Mind

Getting into the psyche of your prospective clients will allow you to ask better questions and get higher-quality information. To do this, you need to know what drives your buyer's behavior and what pushes his buttons. Here are some areas that your questions should explore:

Who is an influencer? Salespeople often talk about finding the "decisionmaker."

That may even be one of the questions you ask prospects. But it's a dangerous and misguided question, and can quickly lead you down the wrong path.

Decisions—especially in complex business-to-business sales—are rarely made by one person. Organizations have safeguards to ensure that decisions aren't made until all possible factors are considered.

So asking "Who's the decisionmaker?" is based on a false assumption. Your prospective customer must report to numerous people, such as bosses, other departments within the company, colleagues on the team, stockholders, and board members, as well as customers who depend on the company to deliver a product.

What you should be looking to understand is (1) Who are all of the people 'influencing' the decision to buy? (2) How much influence does each one wield? (3) What buying criteria are important to each person?

Figure 2-1 (figure not shown) illustrates the different factors prospective customers must deal with when making a decision about whether or not to do business with you.

Who are all of these people shown in Figure 2-1? The category of "internal customers" includes bosses, board members, colleagues, and coworkers in other divisions. Internal customers set limits for how much money your prospective client can spend and may even erect obstacles to block the completion of a sale. Internal customers have their own agendas—agendas that you need to learn about as soon as possible in the course of the sale. Many times these agendas conflict with each other and lead to disputes among workers in the same company. If you can uncover the motivations and concerns of your prospective client's internal customers, you will be able to defuse the situation and move on with the sale.

"External customers" include those who do business with your prospective client. These are the people whom your client wants to satisfy. Therefore you should try to gain as much information about external customers as you can in order to better understand what drives your prospective customer. A prospective customer who has managerial or senior-level responsibilities will definitely be more eager to learn how your solutions could help in dealings with external customers because external customers are what keeps her in business and allows her company to grow.

What is the personal impact? Companies don't buy, people do. Just like you, your prospective customers have a personal stake in buying or not buying from you. In most cases, they're motivated to improve their standard of living, upgrade their position in the company, enhance their job security, achieve the recognition they deserve, and avoid looking stupid or being ostracized. You will have success building relationships with your potential customers only when you can get into their worlds and identify the forces at work in their lives.

So it's important to understand each influencer's career goals and other personal motivations. There's the supervisor who wants to become a vice president, and the president who wants to take his national company to international levels: All of your prospective clients have visions and dreams for themselves. By carefully unlocking those desires, you can present yourself as a "solution provider"—someone who can assist them in achieving their goals.

And just to complicate things further, you'll need to understand the personal impact for each of the influencers that you've identified. One "no" can be enough to kill a sale, even if it comes from someone who's not perceived as a key player.

How will you help their competitive position? Like you, the people you call on are worried about their competitors. Depending on the position of your prospective customers, beating the competition will be anywhere from a minor concern to their number-one priority. If you're meeting with the president of a company, it's likely to be at or near the top of the list. When discussing software with the head of information technology, however, the actions of his competitors may not even cross his mind. Either way, it is important for you as a salesperson to discover to what degree internal customers, external customers, and competitors influence the decisions of your prospective clients.

Hot-button issues. One final influence on prospective customers is the "performance pressures" they feel on the job every day. These include issues of profits, losses, and costs of production and they can dictate the day-to-day lives of many working people. A salesperson who identifies these pressures can appeal to the needs of prospective customers to meet their budgets, generate more revenues, reduce costs, save time, or reduce stress so that they can effectively meet their performance objectives.

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