Lots of businesses focus on their sales process. Fewer talk about their clients’ buying process.
Which is the more important of the two?
Kevin Davis’s 2011 book Slow Down, Sell Faster! put forward the powerful idea that whilst many people focus on sales techniques, it’s the clients buying process that really matters. That’s what should define how you as advisers engage potential new clients. That makes sense, right?
Another expert blog I read made the following point about webinars. “The issue is often that the presenter and participant have different objectives. The presenter wants a new client. The participant wants free information.” Again, this is a concept that could as easily refer to prospects engaging advice professionals.
More recently I heard the view expressed that the upcoming challenge facing many advice firms will be that clients who are currently under the age of about 35-ish will do anything to avoid paying for advice.
Yep, they would choose to ask friends and family for guidance, follow the lead of Doctor Google or rely on free information from unattributed sources rather than invest in getting the opinion of an expert.
This is a problem. It’s a problem not just for advice firms, but also because of the potential future ramifications that follow for clients following that type of advice.
However, this is also about the shift in clients’ buying process.
Slow Down, Sell Faster! puts forward the idea that most clients’ buying process works a bit like this.
Step 1: Need. This is the point I encounter a problem, or suddenly realise there is something I want to do in my life that I didn’t yesterday. I reach a point where inaction is no longer appealing and I’m driven to do something.
Step 2: Research. I start to look at my options, accruing as much information as I can to lead me along the path to diagnosing a solution. Keep this stage in mind, because this is where the trouble starts.
Step 3: Buy. Now I decide on a solution (or select range of solutions that I can reasonably choose between). The battle between Buyer Acceptance and Buyer Reluctance rages. I must reach a point with my inner decision-making mechanism where the perceived benefits far outweighs the perceived risk. I “tip” into making a choice.
Step 4: Value. Now I’ve made the decision, I’m jumping into that interesting period where I will find out whether I’ve made the right one. Buyers remorse lurks in the wings, but I’m also just as likely to convince myself of the value if the experience post-Buy is good. This is where firms that have raving fans prove their difference.
As you can imagine, that process doesn’t always line up with the engagement process of many advice firms. In fact, I’d suggest that whilst many firms’ process hasn’t changed, the buying process absolutely has.
Research and Buy almost used to be the same stage not that long ago. I’d get a referral from a trusted friend or colleague to someone who had authority/ expertise/ experience in solving a Need.
I’d sit opposite that person, probing them with questions to assess their true knowledge, getting a sense of whether I knew, liked and trusted them. With few other sources of info available to me, I may well make the call that seeing as they seemed the real deal, I’d go ahead and Buy.
Then came the Internet and Social Media.
Now the Research piece is far more pronounced. For many firms, by the time a client is sat in your office, they may well have poured through pages and pages of information (and misinformation), self-diagnosing their problems in much the same way a patient presents at a hospital insistent they have cancer, rather than trapped wind.
Even worse, they may be coming to see you whilst they’re still in the Research phase, so instead of actually coming to take your advice they’re there to remove the uncertainty from their own research.
Or they may even be overwhelmed altogether, never getting out of Research and, by default, get trapped in the Procrastination Zone.
So, what can you actually do about it?
- Be clear about who your target clientele is and stick to it. If you’re targeting clients with simple financial issues that can probably be solved with DIY or even automated advice, perhaps it’s time to evolve your business model anyway.
- Be vigilant about pre-vetting. Many advisers worry that pre-vetting clients is “unfair”, or will offend. It’s not about that. Pre-vetting is about making sure nobody’s time is wasted. Having a quick conversation ahead of a meeting is important in making sure that both parties don’t have conflicting intentions (as per the webinar example). It’s about recognising that sometimes setting up a meeting with you might not be the next logical step.
- Provide avenues prospects can do down to gather information without having to meet with you. This is where automation can really work for advice firms. Information Centres, such as the outsourced solution provided by firms like Innergi, or self-managed Members plugins for your WordPress site like Wishlist, are ways of creating a trusted source of good content. Webinars and seminars are also a good way of scaling in this way. It’s a route we’ve also explored at Audere with this blog, our Fee Modeler tool and SHIP Analysis Business Diagnostic. The idea here is to add value in the Research stage without forcing someone to commit face time when they’re not ready to buy.
- Stay out of solution mode. If you do end up meeting with someone who is still in the Research phase, avoid simply providing yet more information. Approach the meeting with the intent of helping the client work through their thinking. Make the client realise the gaps in their own knowledge, and potentially how costly it might be to try and replicate your experience with the aid of nothing more than opinion blogs and generic case studies. This approach will create far more value anyway, and give you a much better chance of flipping them into Buy mode.
That’s just four examples of a number of techniques that can be applied to reach the ideal nirvana that when a prospect sits in your office, they’re ready to Buy.
Efficiency is high on the agenda of so many firms right now. Add in the challenges of being an expert in an information-rich world, it’s understandable the focus falls on process efficiency as the only way to get more productive time from the day.
Providing the support clients need at their own buying stage, rather than driving them through your sales process, can be just as effective. It’s one of a number of ways to help make sure that when you are face-to-face, you’re both getting exactly what you want from the experience.
If you’re interested in more info about the pre-vetting element, we have a whitepaper which provides full scripting and suggested questions to use. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it through.