In this new series of articles, we begin to cover crucial facets of sales while providing practical examples from our own company.
We’re going to start with the aspect of understanding buyer preferences. How are preferences precisely established, and why are they so vitally important?
To orient the reader, I always like to point out that much of the theory we discuss comes from the Austrian School of Economics, which forms our foundation.
The Austrian School teaches us that the world is rapidly changing—we don’t have to be incredibly observant to realize that. But the interesting thing is that only a few ever predicted most of these changes, and most never saw them coming. They’ll look back and wonder, “Why didn’t we see that?”
One reason for the escalation of such changes is the exponential increase in world population. Last year the world population crossed 8 billion. When I was born in 1961, the world population was only 3 billion—an incredible increase in a relatively short time. Knowledge and many other factors have grown along with the population increase, too. As I said, many didn’t see the major changes coming as they did—otherwise, they would have taken action.
Importance of Entrepreneurs
As these changes take place, the importance of entrepreneurs is ever-increasing. While everyone has some entrepreneurial qualities, some truly demonstrate them. Salespeople are certainly among these, which is why I’ve always referred to salespeople as “entrepreneurs in the enterprise”—or, as a word I coined, “salespreneurs.”
Entrepreneurs are people who can see subtle indications and opportunities that others often miss. These are people who create new solutions and new companies—a remarkable example from over 100 years ago is Nikola Tesla, who invented the form of electric power we use today. Such entrepreneurs are not always successful business people (as Tesla himself wasn’t) but are the innovators creating the future.
Austrian School economic theorist Israel Kirzner pointed out that such people are gifted with an ability called alertness. And here we can make our first comparison to Pipeliner CRM, for Pipeliner helps provide this alertness to salespeople and businesspeople.
Someone with this ability often creates a company, but the company doesn’t succeed. The idea itself might be good, but there is a marked difference between innovating a solution and running a business, and the business doesn’t make it.
Normally companies like this would just go under and disappear, but frequently today this doesn’t happen. There is so much cheap money available that these dead companies—I call them zombies—are kept afloat by investors who feverishly believe that “someday it will all work out.” They don’t, however.
We can turn to our own CRM industry as an example, as we have many zombie companies. There are some 800 CRM systems available, and many are just barely surviving.
Additionally, if you examine them through one of the comparison websites such as g2.com (formerly G2 Crowd) you’ll see that many of these don’t compare to Pipeliner. It’s similar to motor vehicles—there are many types of vehicles such as convertibles, SUVs, trucks, buses and others, but these could not all be classed as “cars.” The CRM category has become very broad and includes solutions that really aren’t CRM, such as support ticketing systems. These certainly aren’t true CRM systems, but they’re lumped in under one category. These can confuse companies searching for a CRM as many won’t fit their needs.
Decisions and Preferences
Anyone shopping for a CRM—or any other kind of solution—is making some decision. This is always true in sales, especially at the beginning of the year. Buyers are making important decisions. What is not always fully recognized is that such decisions rely heavily on preferences.
There are two types of preferences—spoken and demonstrated. A salesperson will often hear, from a prospect, “Yeah, I’m interested! I want to buy that!” But that spoken preference has not been actually demonstrated. If a seller is not well-enough trained and experienced, they can be misled by such a statement. They become immediately excited, especially toward the end of a sales period when they have a quota to fulfill.
A salesperson must differentiate between a spoken and a demonstrated preference. Only that demonstrated preference—one indicated by action—shows an actual intention to purchase. Salespeople are often discouraged or frustrated because they are not interpreting preferences correctly. As I always say, words can be empty unless actions underscore them.
At the end of the day, a decision is always for something. At the same time, though, it could also be against something. What is the decision process?
The Causal Link
This brings us to another principle from the Austrian School of Economics: A good (a product or service) is considered action-relevant—meaning valuable—to a person or company if the person or company can form a causal link to achieve their subjective goals.
Many on the sales side, but sometimes on the buyer side also, don’t understand what I’ve just communicated, so let’s break it down a little bit.
A buyer’s goal is always subjective, from their own point of view. It’s never objective. If a salesperson doesn’t understand a buyer’s goals, that salesperson has misread the buyer. Turning once more back to my field, if a CRM prospect has a subjective goal of integrating CRM with ERP or other systems, that tells me that we can’t implement CRM within two weeks. It’s too complex and involves too many people.
Let’s say it’s mid-November, and the seller is super excited because they’ve had a great meeting with an excellent presentation. The buyer tells the salesperson, “Yes, I like your solution. I think yours would be the best for us.” But the buyer needs to go deeper to learn what the buyer really wants to achieve. The seller has only heard that one statement from the buyer, and thinks the deal could be closed before the end of the year.
But if the salesperson knew that the buyer’s subjective goal was to achieve integration with many of the company’s own systems, and that there were other team members involved with the implementation, they would realistically see that this sale and implementation will take three to four months. They couldn’t possibly make it by the end of the year.
But it goes further. Per the principle we quoted above, the buyer only decides to make a purchase if it is action-relevant, meaning it’s valuable to the buyer and their company. It will be valuable to the degree it assists in achieving the buyer’s subjective goals. But how does the buyer know that the seller’s product will provide such assistance? This will only happen if the seller can show the buyer that there is a causal link between the seller’s product and the buyer’s subjective goals.
There will be factors in the company that will act against the purchase—such as people who don’t fully agree with it, or issues that the seller’s product doesn’t totally solve. The seller must show that the causal link between the product and the buyer’s subjective goals can totally deal with any objections to the purchase.
I can provide a practical example from Los Angeles, where we have been getting a record amount of heavy rainfall. If someone comes into a tire store to buy tires for their vehicle in Los Angeles right now, the salesperson that will make the sale will have to show the causal link between buying tires and driving on wet streets. The tires will have to have an excellent grip on wet roads.
Many salespeople don’t take the time to go through this process. They don’t fully grasp the buyer’s subjective goals, and therefore cannot form that all-important causal link between the product or service and the company’s subjective goals so that the buyer can close all possible doors on any barriers to the sale from within their own company.
An Example from Pipeliner
At Pipeliner, when we walk into a potential sale, we look at possible buyer preferences and have some of these worked out in advance.
There are one of two basic preferences, both dealing with time. The ancient Greeks tell us that there are two different types of time. The first is called Chronos, which indicates a period of time or range of time. It could mean the next couple of months, or a particular season. The other type of time is called Kairos, which means an exactly specified time. For example, New Year’s day.
Let’s say that our buyer has specified a Kairos type of time—they want to purchase and implement a CRM in the new year. That means our salesperson sold them the product last year, and we’re assisting the buyer to achieve their subjective goals in the new year.
They might have some objections or concerns that need to be overcome. One might be that they need references—what are Pipeliner customers saying about the product and company? That’s no problem—part of our causal link is to provide references.
Another worry a CRM prospect might have is security, which is a valid concern. How secure will their data be? Another part of our causal link is that we have all necessary security qualifications, such as IS0 27001, GDPR, disaster recovery and much more (click here to learn all about Pipeliner CRM security).
A concern that many buyers have when subscribing to an SaaS solution is the stability of the vendor. Will they be around next year? Given that there are some 800 CRM vendors, they might worry that we won’t survive. This is handled by showing them our track record—we’ve been in the CRM market for 14 years. Programming-wise, we have a rich history in CRM and, previously, banking compliance. We have many satisfied customers and, indeed, long-term customers. This puts prospect company buyers’ minds at ease.
What about new features? We talked in the beginning of this article about constant changes in today’s world. To keep up with them, Pipeliner has a monthly new functionality release for the product.
How about support? Pipeliner offers many different kinds of support, including inline help, a substantial knowledge base, and direct help when you need it.
We don’t know the details of all preferences, but our target group is very well-defined. We do know our ideal buyer, and therefore understand their goals more and more. We don’t know them in detail, however—they’re different for every company. Once we have communicated with the buyer and learned their preferences in full, we then have their value expectations and can tailor our value proposition to them.
All of the above points serve to build trust—which, in the end, creates value. Trust means that the prospect considering us as a solution can take action.
We need to fully understand the prospect’s preferences. What are they? Are they ready for the product now—is it a Kairos situation? Or is it Chronos, in some other time frame? We need to be able to read the person’s actions, so we have a clear indication of their real preferences.
Some CRM vendors assert that there is some kind of optimal preference that can be tapped into for all buyers. This is never going to be the case.
Preferences, of course, can change. This is obvious, for example, with age. It’s rare that someone who is 80 years old will buy a new car or a house. As people age, their expectations become shorter. A younger person, building their life, has longer expectations.
Preferences aren’t always predictable. But finding them is what I would say the sales magic sauce is when speaking to the buyer. Who is your buyer? Who are you really talking to? Before you bring your proposition to them, what are their expectations? When all of this is understood, you’re on the right track.
Components of Importance
Another critical aspect of learning a buyer’s preferences is understanding their priorities. While you understand their goals, you must also understand the order in which the buyer wants to achieve them. If you’re new to their game, your offering may not be a top priority. If you’re not top priority, you could be wasting your time chasing that opportunity.
Three components are vital when understanding a buyer’s preferences.
The first is investing, as a seller, only in opportunities where the preferences match up to your offering.
The second is the investment of energy. You can’t invest endless energy in pursuing an opportunity—it’s impossible.
The third brings us back to the Austrian School of Economics, where there is always an emphasis on opportunity cost. You can only spend so much money pursuing an opportunity before it becomes unprofitable. The opportunity must be profitable.
If you fully understand the opportunity cost and at the same time you know it’s action-relevant for the buyer, you know you can significantly assist the buyer in achieving their subjective goals, you can demonstrate all causal links between your offering and their goals, and you’re bringing the customer value, then it’s undoubtedly worthwhile.
Insight With Pipeliner
Pipeliner can help you ensure that all of these components are in line and correct. When used correctly, Pipeliner provides clear insights into all your opportunities—and helps you greatly minimize risk in your sales process.