Let’s start with the customer perspective. Decision making generally covers six major stages:
Plan and prioritize. This involves determining the organizational goals and objectives and outlining the actions needed to achieve them. During this process, customers will uncover barriers, issues, and challenges that must be addressed in order to succeed.
Identify options. At this point, the question becomes: “What are my options to overcome this challenge?” During this phase of the process, customers are concerned with make/ buy decisions and identifying supplier candidates.
Evaluate options. This stage involves narrowing the supplier universe down to a select few, often using formal criteria.
Select the best option. At this point, possibilities are further narrowed down to one alternative.
Contract. Here the parties agree on how to work together (often includes negotiations around terms and conditions, such as price, durations, and service level requirements).
Build and track. This level involves the ongoing implementation, use, and maintenance of the solution.
Customers may find value in having salespeople participate in all of these phases or they may find value in only limited participation. For example, if a customer is already in the “evaluate options” stage, then a lower-ladder or transactional approach may be most appropriate. On the other hand, if the client is open to salesperson involvement throughout a broader portion of the process, then a more consultative approach may be appropriate. For example, a customer may value the efforts of a Needs Satisfaction Seller to assist in drilling down into problems and identifying options to address those problems. When a customer values involvement in all stages of the process, from business planning to post-sales use, it becomes possible for a salesperson to achieve Trusted Advisor status. Figure 5.2 shows how different rungs of the ladder align with a customer’s decision making process.
Figure 5.2: How Sales Impact Ladder Aligns with Customer Decision-Making Process