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How to Align With Today's Expert Buyer in 9 Steps Do your homework, ask questions and establish sincerity and competence.

By John Holland Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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As described in Rethinking the Sales Cycle, the internet and social media have empowered buyers to progress much further into buying cycles before interacting with salespeople. By the time they make contact, most buyers have already determined their requirements and may even have drafted a short list of vendors that they are going to consider. Buyers prefer evaluating offerings and determining requirements absent any influence by salespeople -- no one wants to be oversold.

During calls with knowledgeable people who have done their homework, buyers will feel that selling begins when a salesperson makes an attempt to modify their requirements. For complex offerings, it is almost certain that the buyer's list of features or capabilities will be incomplete. There will be instances in which some of the requirements may not provide the best fit for the buyer's needs. One of the strengths of superior salespeople is that they are patient. Patience is critical when talking with a buyer who has done their homework.

Premature seller efforts to alter requirements will be viewed as an attempt to convince or persuade. This is an old-school approach that buyers will tend to resist. If done before establishing sincerity, competence and an understanding of what the buyer thinks they need, the conversation is unlikely to foster a positive buying experience. To avoid acting like a salesperson, there are several steps you should take before trying to alter the requirements list.

In today's selling world, there is often no "Column A" vendor because the requirements have been determined by leveraging the internet and social media. This change in buying has caused us to develop an interest qualification (IQ) approach to better align with buyers. Here are the steps involved:

1. Establish sincerity by asking questions. Your goals should be to understand how the buyer came to contact you, what research has already been done and what the person's title and function are.

2. Ask what, if any, requirements have already been established. Respect their research.

3. Ask about the business outcomes or goals the buyer or organization is hoping to accomplish with the offering being discussed.

4. If the buyer doesn't share a goal, ask three to four environmental questions. The best ones begin with the words, "How do you...?" These questions should get buyers talking, establish competence and allow sellers to learn about how buyers operate without the offering being discussed.

5. If, after asking the environmental questions, the buyer hasn't shared a goal, offer the buyer a menu of goals that may be achieved through the use of your offering. They can be either title-specific if the buyer is a potential key player or organizational goals if the buyer is not a key player.

6. After the buyer shares a goal, do the following: Determine what capabilities the buyer needs to achieve the stated goal and, rather than pose new capabilities, begin a diagnosis by asking how they operate today without the desired capabilities.

7. Do a thorough diagnosis of their current situation. Based on the answers you receive, you can identify potential new capabilities the buyer is likely to want.

8. Ask yes/no questions. Determine what new capabilities the buyer agrees are needed.

9. Summarize the previously stated capabilities with the new ones. Ask whether the buyer could achieve the desired outcome with them.

This approach offers several advantages: The seller gets to ask (twice) what requirements the buyer has already established; the seller uses a questions-based approach to uncover potential new requirements; and the new requirements the buyer is likely to want are offered much later in the call, ideally after the seller has established sincerity and competence.

The need to reengineer buyer visions started in the mid-'90s. Over the last few years, the number of buyers that do research before contacting sellers has grown exponentially. This is known as the interest qualification approach, and it allows sellers to better align with expert buyers, fosters a superior buying experience and influences buyer requirements much later in the call.

Sellers that can execute these steps stand a good chance of becoming "Column A" sellers.

John Holland

Chief Content Officer of CustomerCentric Systems

John Holland is co-founder and chief content officer of CustomerCentric Systems in Sutton, Mass. His company provides sales process consulting and training.

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