Here’s an old chestnut:
What are the three questions a sales person should ask about a potential customer before making a call?
- Are they ready to buy?
- Are they ready to buy now?
- Are they ready to buy from me?
If sales people can answer yes to those three questions, then they consider the potential customer qualified and they call them.
If the answer to any of the questions is no, then they move on to the next prospect.
I never liked these questions. So mercenary. So opportunistic. So short-term.
However, the sales person who asks these questions is probably behaving rationally. Sales people are on a short leash. They have to make a quota. If they don’t hit their nut, they can’t make a living. Soon they’ll be shown the door.
Most buyers are not in the evaluation stage of their lifecycle
So what’s the problem? The sales people are doing what they are given incentives to do — focus on immediate opportunities. Meanwhile your company is ignoring most of its potential customers. Take a look at the graphic below.
Customers experience a lifecycle in relationship to you and to the problem they want to solve. They go from lack of awareness — because they’ve learned to live with the problem or work around it — to learning about the problem and evaluating ways to solve it.
At any particular moment, potential and current customers fall into groups that are at different stages. Some are in the evaluation and purchase stages — it makes sense for sales people to talk to them. But most potential customers are at earlier stages in the lifecycle.
If you only look for potential customer who are well along in the evaluation phase, you lose two ways.
- Many of the people who don’t meet your qualification criteria are simply at an earlier stage in their lifecycle. When you label them unqualified, you lose the opportunity to identify where they are today and to help them move forward in their lifecycle.
- If you ignore all those potential customers because they “aren’t ready,” guess what? Someone else is going to educate them, nurture them, and build trust with them. When those potential customers are ready to evaluate products, those other guys will be part of the picture. But you won’t.
Cultivate a community
Instead of searching solely for individuals who are ready to buy, cultivate a community of buyers who all have the same set of problems in common. Find ways to help them move forward, no matter where they are in their lifecycle.
Seth Godin calls it creating a tribe — a group of people who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.
Brad Feld describes it as marketing through “thought leadership” instead of “look at me and buy my stuff.”
What are the characteristics of a community?
- They interact with each other.
- They are moving in a direction toward solving a set of problems that are important to them.
- They bring each other along. Leaders like you who are further ahead pull along those who are further behind.
The benefits of this approach are that you signal:
- You are about more than just selling a product. You are passionate about your topic or domain and are committed to helping people solve the kinds of problems you work on.
- Whether they buy from you or not, whether it is in three months or three years, you want to help the people you serve to be educated about the subject and their options.
- You know not everyone is as passionate about the topic as you are, so you want to make it as easy as possible for people to adopt your product and then get on with their life.
Photo Credit: James Cridland