Why You Should Cultivate Buyer Empathy

After two years of pitching and selling, I found myself on the other side: as a buyer of a similarly complex, expensive, and strategic service — needing to make an immensely important purchasing decision.

I recently embarked on a Buyer’s Journey to find a marketing agency to help grow our company, Retriever.

This experience has helped me build empathy for “the buyer”: what goes through their heads as they do their diligence to survey the market of outsourced sales development services, to find the one that’s best for their business. Being the buyer is hard!

I wanted to share this insight with other sales leaders, so that you too can empathize with your buyer — better understand their psychology, and win more deals.

Here’s our Buyer Journey, and principles of effective sales tactics that I learned along the way.

Stage 1. Problem/Need Recognition

For us, the first step of the Buyer Journey was realizing that we had a need. We wanted to generate an inbound pipeline of marketing leads to supplement our sales efforts.

Since Retriever’s inception, we’ve grown by “dogfooding”: i.e. using our own service: outbound sales via LinkedIn.

And in less than a year, we’ve grown with outbound from a team of 3 to 20. 100% bootstrapped. I’m quite proud of what we’ve built with zero outside funding.

But as I began planning strategic initiatives for Retriever in 2020, I wanted to diversify our go-to-market — to generate inbound leads through paid ads and content. That was the first step in our buyer journey.

Stage 2. Consideration

Now that we knew we wanted to scale our marketing, we needed to answer two questions:

1. what marketing agencies are out there?

2. which agency would be the best fit for Retriever?

To answer the first question, one of our teammates researched and reached out to about 10 marketing agencies, scheduling calls with them to learn more about them.

Those calls offered amazing insight into how I can improve my pitch.

Here are some principles that I noticed:

Buyer Empathy Insight #1: Be clear and articulate

When people sound like they have their pitch nailed down, I feel like they’ve done it before, they’re professionals — veterans. “They know what they’re doing.”

Inarticulate explanations, bumbling, and rambling, sapped my confidence in them. One vendor said “page on time” referring to “time on page”, making me wonder, “is this person not used to discussing these metrics? I should hope not!”.

When the lead asks a question, answer first, then give context!

e.g.) cost? => not having a clear answer makes me think either 1. they don’t know (they’ve never sold this before!?) or 2. they’re being unnecessarily obscure (which breeds distrust)

Buyer Empathy Insight #2 Dig deep to understand your prospect

I felt more confidence in the vendors who asked detailed questions to understand my business model, my goals for growth, and other relevant constraints: my budget, my timeline, other go-to-market initiatives, specifics on our target customers, etc.

Shallow questions made me feel like they’re inattentive, not customized to our particular needs and constraints, and made me worry that they wouldn’t understand the business well enough to run marketing for us.

Further, I wanted a detailed proposal from these vendors. Working backwards, then, they needed to ask detailed questions about us, so that they could personalize their proposal for us.

Buyer Empathy Insight #3 Qualification is about the lead — not about you

One vendor spent most of his call with us figuring out whether we had authority and budget, and not asking specific questions to determine what we needed.

In BANT* speak, it was all “Budget” and “Authority” and no “Need” and “Timing”.

[*BANT = qualifying leads by determining their Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing.]

BANT is fine as a qualification framework. But it should startwith the Need. Understand why this person is on the phone with you? What pain are they feeling?

From the “Buyer Journey” perspective, what was the “Problem” or “Need” that they recognized? Dig into that before trying to tick every checkbox on your qualification list.

Buyer Empathy Insight #4 Be an Expert: Recommend a Specific Strategy

After asking specific questions: put your expert hat on.

I spend a bulk of my day leading people: leading my team in meetings, leading my prospects. As a buyer, I want to be led!

I want the vendor to expertly guide me through the process. Once they’ve asked all the questions that they need to create a strategy — a prescription, tailored to the prospect’s needs — I want it laid out perfectly for me.

High level: Help the prospect understand the lay of the land. Explain the universe of possible solutions, and what factors determine which is the best fit. This is sort of like a high-dimensional Gartner Magic Quadrant.

Low level: Zoom in on particulars of the strategy that you recommend. Draw upon your experience implementing that strategy.

What does the first week look like? The first month? What’s the time to ROI? Flesh out a picture of what this looks like, that the prospect can easily imagine for themselves.

Stage 3. Decision

By this point, your prospect likely has all the information that they need to make a decision.

They’ve solicited proposals from multiple vendors. They’ve gotten an understanding of the competitive landscape, their budget and expected ROI, and are deciding i) Which strategy to implement, ii) Which vendor is the best fit to implement that strategy.

By this point, there’s little you can do to further influence the decision.

So as a vendor, the best thing you can do is work backwards to win in the decision stage. In the consideration stage, you’ll need to make the best case that you can for (i) and (ii) above.

First: convince them that your proposed strategy is the best one (i).

Second: convince them that your company is the best fit to implement that strategy (ii).

If you do both of those things, you’ll maximize the probability of winning the deal in the Decision Stage.


Would love to hear your thoughts / feedback on this.

And if you want to talk more about sales, drop me a line: stedman at retriever dot co.

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