5 Common Mistakes Sales Teams Make in the Early Stages of the Buying Journey

The early stages of the buying journey are vital to sales success. Read on to learn some common mistakes sales teams make at this stage and how you can avoid them.

In our last article, we gave you an overview of the buying journey, the process by which organizations and decision-makers within them come to the decision to buy a certain product. Understanding how buyers move through the buying journey is key to getting sales and raising revenue. In today’s market, buyers have more power than ever, and we need to empower salespeople to keep up with this shifting dynamic.

We’ll begin by looking at the early stages of the buying journey and how salespeople can more seamlessly help buyers along the path to a sale. The early stages of the journey are now the most important and therefore require more attention, especially from sales managers and coaches, than ever. Why are these stages the most important? Because it is here where sales teams have the most ability to influence the trajectory of a sale.

In the past, salespeople had more of a chance to engage with buyers first and to influence their thinking. Now buyers can complete much of the work in the early stages on their own, and based on new research from Gartner, they prefer it this way. So, knowing this, how can we ensure that we are equipped to get the best sales results in the face of this new reality? Read on to find out.

Common Early-Stage Mistakes

1. Not Understanding Buyer Needs

In the early stages of the buying process, buyers don’t know the total extent of their problems yet. They may have an idea that something’s wrong or that something needs to change, but they are not quite sure what. So, it is the salesperson’s job to help them identify their needs and to establish their buying criteria. In order to do this, you need to have a deeper understanding of their needs than they do. Otherwise, you’re being redundant, and buyers hate redundancies.

In the past, salespeople had much more information available to them than customers did. Now the playing field is level, leading customers to believe they don’t need salespeople at all. And in many cases, they don’t. Businesses have become more efficient at streamlining their processes and making it easier for customers to buy. But where salespeople still add value is in expediting the process. If we can be better researched and more well-versed than our customers in the industries they’re in, we can approach sales opportunities with a sense of authority.

If you’re still approaching those opportunities without first understanding your buyer, then your confidence is misguided. Do your research first so you can help them see or better understand their potential pain points and how to fix them.

2. Not Revealing the Cost of Inaction

One way a salesperson can subvert a buyer’s slow, intentional crawl through the sales process is to reveal the cost of their inaction. We need to create urgency by showing this cost, in real dollars if possible, but also in the loss of competitive advantage, leadership, or authority. When we fail to do this, buyers spend too much time deliberating.

Salespeople may fear coming off as pushy, and indeed buyers may view it this way, but if you’re bringing tangible evidence to the table, they can’t delay moving forward for much longer. Compare your role here to that of a doctor. People don’t like going to the doctor, and indeed most of what a doctor will tell us is what we already know. But they can present the facts in such a way, and with such authority, that we feel compelled to act. They remind us just what’s at stake if we don’t change our habits. Doctors aren’t afraid to be pushy because they’re dealing in matters of life and death, but remember, you’re dealing in matters of dollars and cents, which to a business is life and death.

3. Making a Proposal Too Soon

As we said, it’s up to you to unveil your client’s needs if they haven’t done so already. However, many salespeople get ahead of themselves. They confuse showing their solution with revealing the need. To be fair, the confusion is understandable. Let’s say you try to meet with a client to drum up some business, and you do so by showing off your latest offering. You are quite excited about this offering, and the client seems to be as well. So, you offer a proposal or a quote and get turned away in return. This is because all you’ve really done is show the client something new and interesting, without helping them understand why they need it.

This leads us to the next mistake sales teams often make.

4. Not Qualifying Opportunities Thoroughly

As we said in our series on pipelines, an overstuffed pipeline with a ton of sales opportunities, is not as valuable as one that’s streamlined with well qualified opportunities. Plenty of pipelines are stuffed with the aspirational types of deals we just referenced in the last section. These are deals where you think the buyer is ready to buy, but in reality they’re not even off the starting block in their buying journey. They like your cool new solution or product, but they don’t know they even need a solution yet, let alone why they might need your solution.

This is where pipeline coaching could really give your business a boost. Many sales managers use their pipeline data to forecast predicted revenue, but don’t take the time to go over or coach to the specific types of opportunities in the pipeline. If you want more information on how to review and qualify pipeline opportunities, check out our blog series on pipelines here.

5. Not Coaching Early Enough in The Buying Journey

This one’s for the sales managers out there. We know you love to coach your people, but when you coach is just as important as what you coach. Our research shows that most coaching conversations focus on late-stage deals because coaches feel like their efforts can help get the deal over the finish line. But we’ve also found that when managers coach opportunities that are in the early stages, both sales and average sales price increase. This is because your coaching can have a greater effect on the scope and trajectory of a deal if you start to help shape it from the outset.

Final Points

Remember, more than ever, buyers are dictating the pace and conditions of the sales process. They are better educated and equipped than they’ve ever been. So, we need to empower salespeople to meet buyers where they are, rather than trying to force them to follow a one-size-fits-all approach.

Stay tuned for our final blog in this series on the buying journey, where we’ll examine common mistakes sales teams make in the later stages of the buying journey.

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