Mike Bosworth is the founder of Mike Bosworth Leadership, a firm that teaches sales teams how to establish trust using the power of story. We asked Mike for his take on how sales people interact with the buyer’s journey. Here’s what he had to say.
Kuno: What’s important about the buyer’s journey?
Mike: The way people enter a buy cycle is the real key for both marketing and sales to understand. As human beings, we can only process about seven pressing issues at a time. So, if the problem your product solves isn’t in one of those seven slots in the buyer’s brain, he isn’t in the buy cycle. In order to trigger a buy cycle proactively, we have to take what we call a “latent need” and move it around into one of those slots.
Kuno: How would you initiate that buy cycle?
Mike: The example we used to use in our workshops for consumer products would be Michelin tires. They used to have a magazine ad where there was a tire with a baby in it. Let’s say I’m a young father with a wife at home and two or three kids, but I’m working 50 hours a week, and I’m busy. I decide to grab a sandwich at my desk for lunch and open up a magazine to see that picture of the baby in the tire. I go “Oh my God, I forgot. I’m supposed to get new tires for my wife’s Volvo.” I only have seven slots in my brain! That ad took a latent need from the back of my brain and brought it to my attention. It’s not humanly possible for me to think about all my needs at once. So as soon as I see that, I automatically know the solution: Pick up the phone and call the Michelin store.
Kuno: How would you initiate a buy cycle for a more complicated product that a lot of people may not understand?
Mike: When you’re selling something that’s disruptive and no one really understands, you have to create hope. Hope that now there’s a solution for a very complex problem we never realized there was a solution for. If the solution is simple and easy like the tires, you take control of one of the foreground slots and buyers know the solution. But if they don’t know the solution, you have to say “For the first time, there is now a solution.” Create hope. The initial step is curiosity.
Kuno: What’s the biggest hurdle to helping buyers advance through the buy cycle?
Mike: The big conflict between marketing and sales in most of the companies I’ve worked with is “What’s the definition of a lead?” Marketing tells me they create these great leads that go to sales and fall into a black hole. Then I talk to the people in sales, and they tell me the leads from marketing are valueless. We’ve found the initiation of a curious buyer is the touch point between marketing and sales. So, if marketing can deliver a lead that’s a certain person with a certain job title in a certain vertical market that’s been predetermined – a buyer persona, if you will - the sales people should be all over that.
Kuno: It’s almost like you’re using buyer personas as a way to smooth over the hand-off between marketing and sales.
Mike: Yes! Exactly. For instance, when I was selling first generation MRP systems back in the 70s, the buyer persona I’d have in mind would be a 40-year-old engineering-trained materials manager who’s tearing his hair out because he has piles of obsolete inventory all over his plant floor, and his production keeps grinding to a halt because he has shortages. That’s his life, so that’s a persona.
Kuno: How would you approach that particular persona?
Mike: We would go in and tell these people that now, for the first time, Xerox can give materials managers a way to handle these last minute cancellations from vendors. As soon as we put hope out there that we could solve those big problems, that would initiate a buy cycle.
Kuno: Can sales pick it up at that point? Or should marketing keep it longer?
Mike: It depends on the complexity. To me, the longer marketing can keep it, the better. Sales people are expensive.
Kuno: It seems sales is getting into the buy cycle later nowadays. Why do you think that is?
Mike: Well, back when I was selling in the 70s, the only way a materials manager working in a manufacturing plant could learn about new information technology was to see sales people. Today, he can just go online and research all the venders and all the potential solutions. He meets sales people much later in the buy cycle.
Kuno: What’s the biggest problem sales people still have?
Mike: It’s almost like the smarter they get, the worse their selling skills become. When you first go in to sales, you’re learning, too. You’re learning about the world of the personas you’re selling to. After you’ve been out there selling to those personas after a certain period of time, you meet someone and, before they can get four words out of their mouth about their problem, what happens? The sales person tells them what they need. People don’t like being told what they need. Even though the sales person is an expert, and it only took him four seconds to recognize he has the perfect solution for the buyer, it doesn’t work with the buying process.
Kuno: So how would you handle that scenario differently?
Mike: You have to reprogram their behavior at that point in time. Instead of telling buyers what they need, you offer them a story about a similar persona. People rarely turn down a relevant story.
We're glad we got the chance to chat with Mike and encourage you to visit his website for information about his work. Don't forget to check back for future interviews in this series, including Q&As with Adele Revella and Mark Gibson!
Stephanie Kapera is a special projects coordinator for Kuno Creative and the co-founder of Up All Night Creative, a Raleigh-based content marketing agency that helps B2B and B2C companies develop magazine-quality web content. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter!
Photo credit: Mike Bosworth