AIDA - remember that acronym from 1992’s movie Glengarry Glen Ross? Alec Baldwin addresses the underperforming sales team.
AIDA - Attention, Interest, Decision, Action.
That acronym? It was born in 1898, when Elias St. Elmo Lewis theorized AIDA (where the D = DESIRE versus Baldwin's DECISION) simply to explain the sequence a buyer goes through to make a purchase. They form a linear hierarchy - is the client interested enough to pay attention, and do they have desire enough to act.
It became the framework for how every sales organization though about sales - and their sales process.
For example, in the 1924 book Salesmanship by Elmer Elsworth Ferris, he not only has AIDA is the core chart of explaining the sale process, he goes on to state that,
“ALL writers on salesmanship concede that in every sale the mind of the customer will pass through four different stages; attention, interest, desire, and action”.
Every single book I own from that era that discusses the sales process takes buyers through something very similar.
(books including Norval Hawkins in 1920 with, The Selling Process, Arthur Dunn in his 1919 book, Scientific Selling & Advertising and Norris Brisco in his 1916 book, Fundamentals of Salesmanship)
The late 1800’s & early 1900’s were the dawn of B2B sales. It was the progressive era of the Industrial Revolution, where companies directly hired sales professionals to represent them as employees. Prior to that era, companies typically hired manufacturers reps, who represented multiple product lines for multiple companies, traveling the country selling, while slapping-backs, drinking and telling jokes...referred to as Drummers or Bagmen.
During the dawn of professional sales, as Ferris states above, everyone knows how buyers will behave, and it’s our job to drive them through that journey.
The point? Arthur Sheldon sums it up in his 1911 book, The Art of Selling:
“Those people who make the largest fortunes in trade are the people who give most thought to the needs of the public and to the best means of serving them.”
“True salesmanship is the science of service.”
Sheldon goes on to say:
“Now the buyer has a viewpoint, too, and we ought to look at a sales transaction through his eyes. However keen the sellers of to-day are on making money, the buyer himself is keen on dealing only with those who serve him best.”
Scroll your LinkedIn timeline today, and post-after-post speak of the need to be buyer-centric.
Yet, compare that to every sales process you are probably aware of today. What does it sound like? What does it look like? Is it the process of recognizing buyer behavior, and matching up our activities against it? Or, is it like a conveyor belt of sales activities.
Qualification --> Discovery --> Demo --> Proposal --> Close?
All things YOU Are doing or required to do as the salesperson?
We say it! We need to be buyer centric. But what do we measure? What do we reinforce? Seller activities!
Think about that from a salesperson's perspective.
What is being measured? Seller activities, right?
While we speak of being an aid to the buyer, we measure what the seller needs to be doing, and as a result, it becomes the focus of the seller's brain!
It doesn't stop there. Think about traditional "qualification constructs", like BANT, ChAMP, NEAT, MEDDIC, ANUM, FAINT, NOTE and probably many, many more I can't remember. Sellers are taught and asked to check the boxes - in many cases quite literally in the CRM - to have answers to the questions of whether (in the BANT example) a prospect has BUDGET, whether you are engaged with AUTHORITY within the prospect's organization, whether they have a clear NEED, and whether there's a confirmed TIMELINE.
Yes - I understand that they are meant to be seller-facing structures to consider when deciding whether an opportunity is qualified - worth you and your organization’s time and resource investment.
But, this internal checklist is what your sellers are using as a measuring stick. Leaders driving sales representatives...or even Account Executives' expectations from their BDRs (Business Development Representatives).
Seller focused. Seller-centric. Selfish.
And your customers can feel it. As a buyer, you know when you’re being checklisted. You can feel a discomfort when you sense a need to prove to a salesperson that you’re worth spending time with.
A Mindset Shift - Back To Old-Old-School
If we’re attempting to drive a “buyer” focused selling environment, where our role is to aid a buyer through their journey, to address an unsustainable status quo with either our solution or another, and helping them to reach that decision as quickly as possible, shouldn’t the qualification construct and sales stages be buyer-focused instead of seller focused? Shouldn’t those elements reinforce for each seller the need to focus on the buyer, not on their own activities?
When you consider your own sales process, realize the customer goes through a form of AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) even today.
Those three questions?
- Why Change? Does the buyer recognize the need to do something different tomorrow than they are doing today? Does the buyer recognize that their status quo isn't necessarily sustainable?
- Why Us? Once a buyer has recognized a need to change, does our solution represent that change? Have they selected us to be that "something different tomorrow"?
- Why Now? From a forecasting perspective, once you've been selected, the attention shifts towards the timing of when...even to the point of a mutual close plan.
A foundation based on recognizing where the buyer is in their journey of recognizing the need to change. Recognizing the path to change. And recognizing when to change.
Qualification, therefore, becomes a different acronym, which I call taking the customer’s TEMP - T-E-M-P. However, I've recently realized that it may need to be TEMPT - an added T. Maybe I should refer to it as qualifying whether a prospected is appropriately TEMPTed? 😄
- Trigger: Does the buyer see that their status quo is no longer sustainable? Do we believe it to be the case?
- Engagement: An engaged buyer is evidenced in their willingness to put you on their calendar.
- Mobilizer: This concept comes from The Challenger Sale guys, but are we attached to someone who is capable of mobilizing change within their organization.
- Plan: An engaged buyer is also willing to chart a path. Are they willing to take a journey with us, and discuss/collaborate on what that journey will look like?
- Transparency: Are they ok with what we don’t do? Have we addressed the elephant in the room? WILL THE TRUTH SELL IT?
The combination of which,
- a sales process focused on recognizing where the buyer is in their journey, with sales activities aligned around those stages.
- a qualification construct focused on recognizing whether a buyer is aligned with what will be required to make a change,...
...results in an environment where sellers should, almost subconsciously, become much more buyer-focused. And, in the end, they'll also either win fast...but more importantly, lose fast (when losing could be predicted).
Regardless, any way you slice it, to be buyer centric, what we measure must become buyer centric, right?
Going back to old-old-school - where from 1900 to 1925, the dawn of "modern" B2B sales, was foundationally built on buyer centrism.
Am I wrong? What do you think?
My email address is email@example.com. Hit me directly. Or connect on LinkedIn. Comment below. Send a smoke signal. I'll take it!
In my upcoming book scheduled for a late winter release (Feb 2022), I'll be taking you through what a buyer-focused forecast approach looks like - the stages, the seller-activities that align with them, and how to run the calculation. You can pre-buy now, if you're so inclined...
As always, if you're organization is struggling with qualification, losing to the status quo, extended sales cycles, flimsy pricing negotiations or unpredictable deals, reach out. Keynotes & workshops are my jam, and if I can't help, I'm lucky to have surrounded myself with so many practitioners that I can refer you to...