This is the fourth article in our 12-part subscription sales series, designed to help you understand and prepare for the evolving sales landscape. This article details why you should adopt a customer-centric sales approach to guide your customers through the sales journey. Don’t forget to read the previous three articles in this series; a new sales strategy, customer segmentation and understanding your customer market.
Reimagining your sales approach
Traditionally, businesses have relied on linear sales processes that guide customers through each stage. However, there have been recent shifts which are impacting the way businesses sell. This is due to customers dramatically changing their expectations of their purchasing experience. It is also a result of traditional sales methods and strategies no longer fitting a subscription business model. This context requires businesses to reimagine their sales approach to better support customers, and avoid falling behind competitors who have already evolved their sales process.
There are two distinct styles of sales approach: sales-centric and customer-centric. In a sales-centric approach, sales is a streamlined, linear process where customers can easily be tracked through their purchase journey. In stark contrast is the customer-centric approach, where sales is designed to support customers as they make a purchase decision.
Below is a comparative overview of these two sales approaches:
- Sales defined stages – Customers are led through a predetermined sales process that is designed by the business.
- Static data – The sales pipeline is measured weekly or monthly based on static metrics such as the number of deals, deal size, close ratio etc.
- Linear path – The sales team always knows what stage of the journey the customer is at and leads the customer through the sales process.
- Synchronous process – Sales are in lockstep with the customer; they are at the same stage, at the same time as the customer, moving at the same pace.
- Key skill: Controlling the process – The best sales representatives are skilled at directing customers through the funnel at their chosen tempo by controlling the information, price, proposal, etc.
- Sales goal – The ultimate objective of the process is to get the customer to purchase the offering. Sales are not involved after the purchase.
- Customer defined stages – Customers create their own journey, moving through stages to find the right solution.
- Real-time data – A range of data is measured in real time, allowing sales to make informed decisions and take immediate action in response to customer behaviour and trends.
- Non-linear path – Customers move through different stages at their own pace at random and can travel back and forth several times.
- Asynchronous experiences – Customers find information online and do not need to engage with or wait for sales representatives. This makes it difficult to know where customers are at in their sales journey.
- Sales skill: Share insights – Sales focuses on customer education, sharing best practices and assisting customers in an online environment.
- Customer goal – The ultimate objective is providing a solution that solves the customer’s problem. Sales representatives are engaged long after the purchase is complete.
Evolving the sales approach with customer needs
While they seem like choices, these two sales approaches can be used to represent different levels of sales maturity. Organisations that continue to adopt a sales-centric approach are not evolving their business in line with customer expectations, and are at risk of losing customers to competitors who deliver a better customer experience.
Customers’ expectations for the purchase experience have evolved significantly in the past few years. Customers want to receive support through any channel, they are able to source information independently and may never engage with a salesperson prior to making a purchase.
The subscription business model is a key driver in influencing the need for businesses to evolve. Successful subscription businesses rely on retention and scale – both of which require engagement long after the initial transaction. This is a significant shift from sales-centric approaches where the sales team were only engaged up until the point of sale.
Adopting a customer-centric sales approach is not achieved overnight. Businesses need to invest time and money to continuously track and analyse customer behaviours to understand their journey and design a sales approach that supports this experience.