Equipping Sellers to do an Information Audit for Situational Awareness  

Information Audits: The Way to Achieve Situational Awareness 

Customer understanding used to be the key to sales effectiveness. But in today’s world, the old way of understanding the customer is not enough. Static maps of customer journeys do not reflect the modern sales environment where journeys are becoming increasingly unique to each customer. So how do sellers still offer value at a time when customers are becoming more independent, sellers are getting shut out of customer conversations, and our old understanding of the buying process is being outpaced by change? Not the way we used to. Old-school tactics like customer journey maps and playbooks fail because customer behavior is constantly shifting across the buying journey. It’s fine to have sales plays but these need to be understood within the context of the buying situation. If they are disconnected from reality, then when the sales situation changes, the play that worked the last time will no longer be effective. 

Instead, sellers need to exhibit situational awareness, and the empathy and insights needed to act on that awareness. According to Gartner, “situational awareness is the understanding of a customer’s perspective, accepting that every buying situation is unique, but with patterns that repeat across organizations” (2022). In order to achieve this situational awareness, sellers should do an information audit to align themselves with stakeholder needs. 

An information audit involves understanding the buying job/tasks a buyer is undertaking, the emotions a buyer is experiencing, the dynamics between multiple stakeholders, and the particular place the buyer is in their information journey. This should a continual practice, done throughout the sales process because these considerations are constantly evolving. In other words, sellers must continually be seeking information and orient themselves to the particular direction the buyer is facing. Let’s look at the individual components of the information audit a little closer. 

Buying Tasks: Familiar Situations in Unfamiliar Places 

Sales leaders should map the common buying tasks as well as familiar challenges faced as they complete these buying tasks. Sellers must be able to develop new maps based on the situation they are faced with. But remember, these maps shouldn’t be static. They should be constantly reevaluated and updated based on a change in the situation. This is situational tuning. It’s an idea we’ll come back to, but essentially it means implementing and reevaluating the information you’ve gathered in your audit. 

Back to buying tasks. Below are common tasks customers will be working on throughout their buying journey and questions you can ask to figure out where you can be a facilitator in their process. 

  • Problem identification 
  • Do they fully understand their business’s problem? 
  • Do they have the size and scope of the problem narrowed down? 
  • Solution exploration 
  • What competitors’ solutions are they exploring? 
  • Are there any solutions they are considering that definitely won’t work for them? 
  • Requirements building 
  • How can you simplify their solution requirements? 
  • How can you set yourself apart from competitors in this aspect? 
  • Supplier selection 
  • Can you help them consider trade-offs or the cost of one decision vs another? 
  • Validation 
  • Can you help confirm what they’ve already learned? 
  • Consensus Creation 
  • Can you build a shared understanding of a solution within the stakeholder group? 

These tasks should be familiar already, but the key here is that they are no longer being followed through in a static process like in the past. Instead, they are being done interchangeably and by more stakeholders in the process. This leads to the next area of focus for your information audit. 

Stakeholder Dynamics: Getting Everyone on the Same Page 

Leaders should identify situations where certain stakeholders become involved as well as larger organizational motives for purchasing. These groups are becoming more diverse, with stakeholders that tag in and out of the process. Some important keys to audit for are: 

  • Priorities 
  • Level of seniority/role 
  • Buying task(s) 
  • Information consumption 
  • Likely objections/uncertainties 

Once you’ve established these you should then move to understand how they intersect and converge among stakeholders. How do they share or not share an understanding of their core problem? In what ways are they exploring potential solutions together or separately? Do they have differing requirements for a purchase? Here your role is to be a facilitator. Prompt stakeholder exploration and manage the discussion flow to help achieve buying group consensus. Obviously, when dealing with so many stakeholders, emotions are ever present, so let’s examine possibly the most important piece in your information audit. 

Emotions: Hard to Predict, but Critically Important. 

Here is where the human element of sales still adds the most value. Machine learning and data are growing increasingly important, but they still cannot understand the human side of the buying journey. Standardization of sales processes has dehumanized the field. To stand out in today’s environment, we need to consider the frustration, confusion, excitement, and egos that come along with the buying process.  

Sellers need to be empathetic sense makers who can help facilitate the customers buying journey depending on the specific stage they find themselves in. In today’s evolving sales world, these buying situations intermingle and interchange. Empathy will be your strongest tool, doubling down on the insight you’ve gained about buyers from tech tools, like our Agile Edge machine learning diagnostic. So, since you’ve already ascertained what buying situation you’re facing, ask yourself what emotion this situation is likely to elicit. How does this emotion influence the buying task? And how do you know? Be alert for cues that indicate the presence of certain emotions.  

Situational Tuning and Sense Making: How to Respond to Unique Buying Situations 

After your information audit, you now need to connect customers to well-curated, helpful information, clarify and simplify to make applications practical. Your interventions have to be contextual and engage with the specific questions that are arising as a result. Remember, modern customers want to remain independent, but your interventions are still the difference that helps customers make informed buying decisions that they are happy with long after the purchase. By helping them sort through the information landscape, and self-guided or even competitor-provided research, you’re adding value. According to Gartner, today’s top sellers “only provide new information when they can confirm that the customer is not already overwhelmed by the potentially conflicting, cascading, and undifferentiated information amassed.” Sellers need to be sense makers. Connect buyers to relevant resources, clarify information complexity, and collaborate on customer learning and you’ll be on your way to better results. 

If you want to be more effective at your situational audits and make sense of your own customers, VantagePoint can help.