Want to Understand Your Customer’s Buying Cycle – Just Ask Them

Hank Barnes

Research Vice President, Tech Go-to-Market and Sales Strategies


A fundamental aspect of successful selling (and marketing) today is to sell they way your customer’s want to buy.  Aligning your efforts to the things that buyers need to do to gain approval for a purchase is a great strategy–it helps you reduce time you might waste on things that aren’t relevant to the buyer and helps the buyer maximize the efficiency of their purchase efforts.

So, how do you do this?  Its actually pretty easy—Just ask them.

I first saw this many years ago when I was in product marketing for an Employee Self-Service startup.  One of our sales reps, Dave Wischerath, did this very well.   Our solutions, which saved companies millions of dollars in HR administration costs, were not inexpensive.  Early in sales efforts, Dave would say something like this:

“Selling is my job.  I enjoy it, but I don’t do this for fun.  And evaluating options is part of your job, clearly, or you would not be here.  What I would like to propose, so I don’t waste your time, and frankly, so you don’t waste mine, is this.  Let’s map out the things that need to occur in order for you to choose our solution.  Take me through all of the steps that need to happen.   I will then confirm which of the things that you need from us that we can do and identify ways I can help you with your internal efforts.  At any point, if either of us are not getting what we need, then lets discuss it.  And, if we can’t resolve it, it is best for both of us to move on.”

Now some might find this a bit upfront, and presumptuous, for a sales rep.  But he’s right.  It is a job.  If a buyer won’t share with you what needs to occur for them to make a purchase, your efforts to help them are frankly guess work.

We recently tested this with a question that we asked Gartner clients who are members of our research circle (a group of clients who we regularly survey on various topics).  Specifically, we asked:

Q:   When buying IT products or services, would you be willing to share details of your organization’s buying process with a trusted sales representative so they may tailor their sales activities to the way you buy? (By trusted sales representative we mean someone you have developed confidence in their credibility based on previous interactions.)

The answer mix was revealing:

  • 25.7% said they view that information as confidential and not something they share with sellers
  • 48.6% said they would share information at a high level, defining only the major gates that have to be addressed to move to a decision
  • 11.4% said they would share granular details, but would not provide information on the specific person/people that own each decision point
  • 14.3% said they would share granular details, including who owns each decision point

So, almost 75% of organizations are willing to share these details.  In my personal opinion, the 25.7% that won’t are doing themselves, and their providers a disservice, creating obstacles that make it harder for them to buy.  If you encounter an organization of this type, you might want to think hard before you invest a lot of time and sales energy.   Make sure you are not just “column fodder”.  Look for signals that the buyer is willing to collaborate with you.  If you aren’t getting positive signals, try a statement like Dave’s.  If it doesn’t work, walk—it is not worth your time to continue a pursuit that is likely to end us as a loss for you, or, just as likely, a very long cycle that may result in a no decision.

But, let’s look at the positive side of things.  What can you do when a buyer will share information on their buying process?  A lot–and it can have a huge impact on you and your organization.  Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Evaluate your content, marketing activities, and sales approach –  making adjustments (adding, removing, changing) based on the value they provide to the buying process
  • Develop a collective view across many customers to have a good composite picture of the buying process—and use this with customers that aren’t as forthcoming about their company’s approach
  • Encourage more collaboration across your sales organization, encouraging reps to share their approach to learn the buying approach of their customers

I recently published another note related to this topic.  The note is called “Tech Go-to-Market: Create Activity Paths Through the Tech Buying Cycle for More-Effective Selling” (subscription required).  It is part of the latest wave of research on the Future of IT Sales, an ongoing Gartner special report covering the dramatic changes in sales and marketing for technology companies.   The note is focused on using knowledge of the customer buying cycle to align all of your marketing and sales efforts to make it easy for customers to buy, guiding them along their purchase journey with a mix of content, programs, and interactions.  It provides a five step process to improve both sales and marketing effectiveness with this approach:



 What do you think?  Do you ask your customers what their buying process is?  Will you start now?

Jul 12, 2015