Imagine a future client. They are the most successful and satisfied customer in your company’s history. Now, rewind all the way back to your first conversation, when they knew nothing about your product. Press play and pay attention to how and when your prospect learns about the value of your offering.
How did they learn about you? What did you share to help them make their first step? At what point did they speak with an existing client or ask about price? What greased the wheels to have your contract signed? Most importantly, what did they learn in the sales process that guaranteed success as a customer?
Documenting how your prospect acquires knowledge in your sales cycle improves sales conversions, forecasting, and customer success. Yet, it is among the most overlooked elements of a repeatable sales strategy.
What is the knowledge journey?
Your knowledge journey maps the necessary information a prospect needs to purchase your stuff and accomplish their goals. There’s obvious information, like how your product works and how much costs, but also important “sales stuff” shared across demonstrations, emails, and meetings.
Sharing that “sales stuff” is tricky. Offer too little about your products, and you create a barrier to your sale. Share too much, and you seed risks that could hamper the opportunity or overburden your prospect. Give your prospects information out of sequence (for example, pitch a discounted price before establishing their interest) and you waste time and confuse your buyer. Even worse, assume your prospect has any pre-requisite knowledge about your industry, and you’ve dropped an anchor in your deal for months. What we learn, and when we learn about it, can determine the speed and variability of your sales cycle.
Software product managers use the knowledge journey to their advantage. With diminishing attention spans, they obsess over customer onboarding, the first experiences a user has with a product. It’s from the time between signing up to their first successes using the product. To focus your attention, product managers intentionally deliver very little information during your sign-up process. Here, every pixel is dedicated to your knowledge journey. Similarly, Amazon’s checkout page is significantly different than the rest of their site to hone your attention to buy. The information displayed is deliberate to help you act.
Designing your journey
Similarly, sales people can use this “onboarding” technique to direct a prospect’s attention. Here’s a drawing of a sales knowledge journey, and below it is the information I believe is most critical at each stage of the process.
- You exist
- The reason for your outreach, and who most benefits
A satisfied prospect is one who doesn’t know a product exists. At this point, you have not earned the right to the buyer’s attention. Simply introduce yourself and the reason for your outreach to them. That’s it. Nothing about the product, and nothing about the company. At this point, you are your product.
Your reason for connecting needs to be truly relevant. It’s presumptuous to assume that your product matters because of a person’s title or role. Further, you can’t infer that the problem you solve is critical to that person, despite what research organizations or news outlets publish. Offer a legitimate reason to interrupt their lives beyond your quota.
Make sure to define clearly the pertinence of your outreach. It should warrant your proactiveness, such as a regulation change or recent announcement affecting their business. Dig in early and find a connection point that can capture a prospect’s attention.
Most important, let it be hyper-focused on them. You may present the context of your call, but use your time to assess and qualify the opportunity. Even if you are a star, your dialogue should only be the setup, and your prospect should always get the punch line.
Arriving at a “no” is certainly a time saver. If you do receive an immediate “not interested,” challenge your preparation or the way you presented your information. Early diligence should snuff likely disinterested buyers out.
- Understand the personal impact of the problem
- Give them reference points to orient them to your product
- Get deal breakers out of the way
Once you’ve earned a second conversation, work to understand why the follow-up is important to them personally. Your introductory discussion should give you an idea, but don’t assume to have all the information you need. Give your prospect the opportunity to tell you directly so that you’re building your understanding on the same foundation.
Draw connections between your prospects and the experiences similar clients have using your product. Take caution when assuming that, based on their size, geography, or recent announcements, that they are like another client you have. Instead, tease out the tribe they personally follow in your industry. Are they customer-focused? Are they the innovators, or are they revolutionaries? Does your prospect’s tribe align or conflict with organization’s culture? All of this can help your prospect understand where they fit in your world, while also helping them determine how you can fit in theirs.
The biggest mistake made at this stage is avoiding answers to questions. This is a knee-jerk response to pricing questions, in fear that your prospect will run if they see the costs without first falling in love with your product. Never shy away from any question your customer has, even if it completely disrupts the ideal knowledge journey for your product.
- Share a future worth wanting
- Hone your product-speak to the aspects that matter
- Outline the path to getting there
- Treat price for what it is: a part of doing business
You should know enough about your prospect to help them imagine a future using your product. Put your translation skills on display and show how well you listened to their needs by delivering direct solutions. Make it simple and succinct!
Your product should take center stage of the conversation, but only aspects of the product addressing the problems voiced by your prospect. Less is always more. If your product offers ten amazing features, and your customer only cares about 2 of them, why tell them about the other 8? It’s well-intentioned narcissism because you’re speaking only to yourself. They don’t care. Neither should you!
After showing the future that partnering can provide, draw a clear path on how to get there that begins with this conversation. As the expert, offer realistic understanding of the lift involved in meeting their objective(s). Rely on your client experiences, sharing what has worked well for some organizations and where others get hung up. Be open and candid. A prospect must understand the requirements to realize the outcomes desired. Otherwise, they’ll blame you later for misrepresenting the work involved.
Also, here is where you should have a meaningful discussion about price and value. You’ve likely discussed general pricing, but now a customer should be able to understand the future you outlined in outcomes and dollars. Ambiguity always breeds distrust. All products cost money, and most of them cost a lot. Professionals understand this, so don’t avoid it. There is cost in doing business.
Your prospect should have enough information to determine whether there is a mutual opportunity. It is impossible move forward until you have confirmation.
- Outline the knowledge outstanding
- Stop introducing new information to your sale
Now your prospect and you are playing on the same team. Define a checklist of items outstanding needed to close the sale. Start by defining two milestones: (1) the date by which you’d like to complete the sale, and (2) the immediate next step from the call. Game plan together how you’re going to cross the finish line by that time.
You are responsible for producing your prospect’s playbook to complete the deal. This includes the objectives met, the timeline to do so, and the materials (contracts, agreements, etc.) necessary to make that possible. Lose the marketing propaganda about how great your product is. From this point forward, it’s in your interest to never talk about the product again.
Closing a contract should be the easiest part of your sale and the final item in your prospect’s playbook. Revel in satisfaction together for achieving your first milestone as partners!
- Broker an introduction that ensures your customer’s success
Before you begin counting your commissions, properly hand off your customer. A salesperson’s role here is critical. Oversee that the implementation team understands the circumstances which made this relationship possible. Recap the pertinent information about your client, the goals you both defined, dependencies found, or other unique circumstances. Give your prospect plenty of opportunities to share and feel heard and not simply herded to a different department of your company.
Make sure you and your implementation team are on the same page about how to communicate value the customer can and should experience during their tenure. If reasonable expectations are understood in the sales cycle, you’ve already increased your opportunity to renew that client because they feel successful early and know what to look for to find those successes.
Lastly, confirm the knowledge journey your customer just took. Find out what information was helpful when you shared it and what they would have changed about the experience, as well as what information they would have liked to know earlier in your process.
A tip for your journey
Mapping your knowledge journey ensures that your prospect receives the right message at the right time, without distraction. Prospects are dizzy from the radioactive hum of marketing, and separating your signal from the noise of your counterparts depends on how well you construct their experience learning about your product. Outlining a knowledge journey is a powerful construct to learn and build upon the successes you have, increase the power of your messaging, improve reliability into your forecasting, and get out of your way in the sales process. Creating such a map of your customers experience is enlightening, and incorporating it into your sales process is journey worth taking.
What do you think? Do you think there are any other steps in the knowledge journey? Share below!
W. K. Cash Forshee
Co-Founder & SVP, Product Management, Lucro