So What's the difference?

It boils down to a question of who is driving the process – the seller or the buyer.

Why is it important to understand the difference? Well, at its most basic, when you are proactively selling, whatever sales approach you use, you control the whole selling process. When you are ‘bought from’, the customer controls the process. In general, your chances of winning the sale increase dramatically when you drive the process and, typically, your margins will be greater. So, with an increased chance of winning and higher margins, why doesn’t everyone sell ‘proactively’?

The truth?

Many businesses don’t understand the difference and don’t know how to set up and manage an effective sales process. Such companies treat sales as a ‘one-step’ process in which a salesman ‘closes’ a sale and the deal is done. In fact, reality couldn’t be more different. Well informed businesses know that there are many steps involved in the sales process and take great trouble to manage and drive each step toward securing the sale. It doesn’t matter about the type of business or type of customer, from consumer retail to complex, business-to-business selling – the principles are the same.

Get involved as early as possible in the buying cycle.

TV advertisements work this way for the consumer market. Adverts take a vague need or concern and turn it into a desire for a particular product. In fact, sometimes the advertisers even convince viewers they have a need when none exists. The same principle holds true in any sales situation – retail or business to business.

Understand how your customers buy:

  1. The Buying Cycle starts with a vague feeling around an issue or opportunity.
  2. Next, the buyer tries to understand and clarify and define the issue or opportunity.
  3. With a clear picture in mind, the next step is to investigate options and design a solution.
  4. Finally, the potential customer selects best supplier to fulfil the requirements.

When a selling organisation gets involved at an early stage in the buying cycle, it can work with the customer to help define the need and the best solution. On the other hand, when a selling organization appears late in the buying cycle the prospective customer believes he/she understands what’s needed, and then the commercial discussion can only focus on ‘when’ and ‘how much’?

Those business that, in effect, wait for potential customers to come to them – whether opening a shop and hoping that passing footfall leads to customers or larger businesses who wait for tenders to appear in the mail – are being ‘bought from’. In comparison, those retail establishments that make efforts – marketing and advertising – to lure appropriate customer into shops are being proactive and driving sales. The same principle applies for business to business sales. A consultative selling style enables many businesses to engage the buyer at an early stage in his buying cycle and thereby influence the shape of the need and the solution. Businesses that use this sales approach drive the sales process and stand a greater chance of winning good business.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach – but a business should be crystal clear about which selling style it uses. Proactive selling takes management and investment, but the rewards can be greater, in terms of customer relationship, profits, win rate and control of the business.

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