The Customer Decision Process

by | Oct 18, 2015 | Sales Strategy

You prepare everything your customer asks for, submit on the stated due date, and then sit and wait. You know the competitors who also submitted. You know their strengths and weaknesses and at this point you feel fairly optimistic that you’re going to win the business.


What signals do you have from the customer that gives you that good feeling? Did they thank you for submitting on time, wink at you, or say the usual “we really appreciate the work you’ve done and will get back with you shortly.”

But do you wonder if they said that to your competitors too?

I love the book, Hope Is Not a Strategy by Rick Page because it brings us back to reality.

In it, Page refers to the customer’s perspective as “Stakeholder Analysis”. He says that the decision-making process is made up of events and people. A complex sale is one where there are multiple decision makers with different needs and objectives that all adhere to a certain timeline of events that happen during the sales cycle, or in reality, the buyer cycle.

Sales people who believe they’re in control of the sales cycle are a bit off the mark. As long as the customer is the one making the decision, the salesperson is never in control. The proof? Just look at your monthly forecast reports – are your projections realized 100% of the time for 100% of the money you thought?

So what do you need to know about the customer’s buying process?

Page shares four key components in his Stakeholder Analysis. They are:

  • Pain- what problem is the customer trying to resolve? Sometimes this might be gain. What are they trying to accomplish to achieve greater results, whether it’s increased revenue, more market share or higher productivity? Your solutions should always help the customer alleviate their pain.
  • Preference- what is the customer’s preference for you and your company? Do you have a long term relationship where you have successfully delivered multiple projects and you are their preferred partner of choice? Or is this the first opportunity you’ve had to submit a proposal? If so, where do you stand compared to the competition? Why should they do business with you?
  • Power- when you meet with one of the decision makers, what is their power in the organization. How much weight does their vote on the solution have? And do you understand who holds the power and how they feel about your solution.
  • Part/Process- in the decision-making process, what role will they play? Are they the ultimate decision maker or just an influencer in the process? What is the process to award the business to you or your competitor?

And, according to Page, having a coach in the organization does not always guarantee success, because a coach is an indicator of preference and not necessarily power. Sometimes the coach might have a preference for you, but they are disliked internally, reducing their power and influence, and you might not know it.

Understanding pain/preference/power/process can help you develop the right sales strategy that positions your solution as the best alternative.

I’ve seen it happen many times where the best solution was not selected because the right people with the right power weren’t engaged in your solution.

The more true decision makers you know, the better your chances are. When you understand the pain or gain they want to alleviate or achieve, their view of your company, the way they make decisions and the influence they have in that decision, you will offer them a more compelling and agreeable solution.

Good selling!