The Buyer’s Voice and the Art of Listening
Salespeople, this first question goes out to you: if I were to ask you how often you listen to your buyers, I suspect most-if-not-all of you would say “always.” In fact, I bet most of you would say something more elaborate, something like “at Company X, we’re always eager to hear from our customers; their feedback helps us grow!” It’s a good sentiment - but how often is it really true? When you ask your buyers for their feedback, do you really listen to what they’re saying, or are you just trying to set up your next sales pitch?
In collaboration with our friends at Costanoa Ventures in Palo Alto, we recently gave a webinar about our time working with Gainsight, and how they reached their leadership position in the market. We’d like to go into a little more detail here about what we discussed: the art of listening, getting the right feedback, and why win/loss can be such a useful tool for understanding not just yourself but also your buyers. There’s a lot to unpack here - more than will fit into one article - so let’s get started.
The dynamics of a buyer/seller relationships are fraught with hidden meaning: what you say to your buyers and what they actually hear are rarely the same thing. A salesperson asking for feedback likely has the best intentions in the world – but, for a buyer, even the most benign question is perceived as a strategic move. In a floundering or failed sale, a buyer hears a request for feedback as an attempt to restart negotiations. A buyer knows how hard a seller wills for a sale - so when you ask for feedback on a loss, no matter how genuine you are, a buyer will hear your questions as, “How can we fix the sale? Give us your objections so we can overcome them.”
This ‘differing narrative’ between what the seller asks and what the buyer hears holds true for wins too. When you ask the buyer for feedback in a won deal, it’s the same thing; but this time they hear, “Give me a good soundbite. Give me your success stories so I can sell easier to others.” In other words, they can’t separate you from the context of the sales cycle* - win or lose, they’re not able to see you as anything other than a salesperson.
With either wins or losses, therefore, it’s obvious that the feedback relayed to Sales from buyers is incomplete. It’s not useless, but it’s not going to give you the full picture either. So what will?
If you’re like most companies, in addition to sales feedback, you’re also keeping tabs on what your competitors are doing, taking a two-pronged approach to competitive intelligence. Those are both solid sources of feedback, but as we’ve seen, relying only on sales’ perspective means you’re still not learning what the buyer’s really thinking. The Voice of the Buyer is out there, but you’re not listening for it. This is where Gainsight poses as an excellent example. These days, Gainsight is known as a leader in customer success, with 357% growth since 2013, but it took buyer insights to help get them there. In its startup days (when the conference room was little more than a ping-pong table), Gainsight was struggling to find the right product/market fit for their sales solutions. They knew they needed a better understanding of their potential buyers - in other words, they needed that third line of feedback: buyer insights. Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta looked to us to provide third-party Voice of the Buyer interviews. As Sales VP Ryan Whitney shared in our recent webinar, every Thursday or Friday Gainsight would order lunch, sit around their ping-pong table, and listen to buyer interviews. Initially the lunch invitees were the sales and presales teams, but before long they realized that, “The information we were gleaning from these interviews was so powerful for our organization we turned that [meeting] into a cross-function group.” It wasn’t just the sales team that was learning from these interviews, but the implementation services team, the product team, and so on. Everyone involved in the growth of Gainsight’s product found something worthwhile they could take away from real buyer feedback. The insights transformed not only how the product got to market, but how it was implemented and refined to fit its intended buyers.
To get the insights your company deserves, you need a full 360° of win/loss analysis: incorporating market, seller, and buyer intelligence. We’ll break down a more comprehensive model of that 360° in a later article; for now, our focus is on the importance of honest feedback and listening to the right voices. If you start to incorporate the Voice of the Buyer into your intelligence solutions, you’ll be in a stronger position than you were before.
Don’t let the buyer/seller relationship keep clouding the feedback you’re getting. Get out of the sales cycle for a better view of the full picture.
Look out for our article on ‘Removing the Pressure’ (coming soon) for more insight on finding communication solutions in failing sales scenarios.