Skies that had been sunny blue for nine months become overcast.
A series of storms roll into the coast from the Pacific Ocean. By the third storm the ground is saturated and the creeks start to rise.
Suddenly the California hills that had been golden brown all summer turn green. The wildflowers push up and begin to bloom. Lupine and primrose. Buttercup and shooting stars. Poppies that blanket the meadows.
The seeds of these annual wildflowers lay dormant in the dry ground all summer. It only took a few rainstorms in the fall for them to germinate, grow quickly, and bloom.
Is the buying cycle as predictable as the lifecycle of wildflowers?
Robert Jolles explains that buyers go through a repeatable, predictable process.
The predictable process of the buying cycle begins with a brief feeling of satisfaction which is quickly followed by an acknowledgment of the next problem that needs to be addressed.
The cycle continues with the decision to make a change. It proceeds to stages of evaluation and selection. After some “buyers remorse” when customers reconsider their purchase, buyers complete the cycle with a fleeting feeling of satisfaction before acknowledging the next problem.
Your job then is to analyze where your customers are in their buying cycle and to help move them toward a decision.
Your biggest opportunity lies with buyers in the acknowledgment phase
Buyers in the acknowledgment phase will admit that, yes, a problem exists and that, no, they are doing nothing in particular to solve the problem at this time.
With multiple stages in the buying cycle, you might think that customers spend about the same amount of time in each stage.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It turns out that most buyers are in the Acknowledgment phase, about 80%. That is a huge number!
Then why are most sales people told to ignore the acknowledgment phase?
What are most sales people told to look for? You’re right, they are told to find buyers with a need. When they find buyers with a need, sales people can then demonstrate how they can provide a solution by linking customer needs to the benefits of their product.
But guess what? If buyers have a need, someone else has already framed the way those buyers think about their need.
To make matters worse, every other sales person is also pursuing this group of buyers. Because they also were taught to find buyers with a need.
And finally, you and all those other sales people are fighting over about 8% of the potential buyers—the people who are in the criteria, measurement, or research phases.
Instead, Bob Jolles says why not pursue those 79% of buyers who have a problem, but not a defined need? You would be talking to the buyers that other sales people are ignoring. At the acknowledgment phase you have the opportunity to influence the buyer’s criteria to look more like your solution or product.
The biggest benefit of all: Marketing can do much of the heavy lifting
Modern business buyers do most of their study and research online. Therefore marketing plays a key role to find buyers in the acknowledgment phase and influence them to move toward a decision.
What can marketing do? You can educate the buyer about the problem and the consequences of not solving it. This is not the time to talk about your solution. That will come later in the buying cycle.
You spend 10 times or even a 100 times less on resources when you use Marketing to influence buyers in the acknowledgment phase instead of Inside Sales or Direct Sales.
How will you know if you are influencing buyers in the acknowledgment phase?
Jolles cautions that the transition from the acknowledgment of the problem to making a decision is the most difficult for a buyer to cross. It’s our nature to avoid change. Rather than fix something, we tend to wait for small problems become big problems.
However, this decision point represents a psychological “line in the sand” for many who take a long time to move through this. Once they do cross this line, they move briskly through the rest of the decision cycle.
You will know that your buyer has made a decision to fix the problem because the buyer has a sudden sense of urgency, an emotional power that drives them quickly from making a decision to evaluating criteria. From there buyers move quickly through the rest of the decision cycle.
Occasionally in California we get some early rains in September or October. This causes the wildflowers to germinate and we get an unexpected floral treat on our hillsides. The wildflowers weren’t waiting for November. The seed stage of their lifecycle shortened when they received the right influence, rain.
Most buyers spend a long time in the acknowledgment phase. But they don’t have to. With the right influence you can show them a path to solve their problem. Like those early wildflower blooms on the hillsides, you can move your buyers to the next phase earlier that anyone expected.
Photo Credit: Jason Hollinger