CEOs and revenue leaders often ask me “What is the most important thing I can do to drive sales revenue more consistently?” My response is always the same: train your sales team to start and end every sales conversation on buyer goals and payoffs. If you stop leading with your product and build an authentic experience anchored on what buyers value most, you will win the hearts and minds of your buyers.
One team that did an exceptional job of shifting from a product-led selling approach to an authentic buyer journey early in its growth trajectory is AdmitHub. I recently had a chance to talk with co-founder Kirk Daulerio about this evolution.
Shifting from Product Selling to an Authentic Buyer Journey Ignites Growth
“We thought we were changing the world by harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize the college enrollment process,” Kirk told me. “As a first-generation college student myself and a former college admissions leader, I was excited to share our conversational AI product with college leadership and thought they would be very excited to learn about it. The reality, however, was that AdmitHub did not really take off and start changing the world until we stopped talking about our product and focused first on the problem each of our buyers was trying to solve.”
AdmitHub’s platform uses conversational AI to enable two-way texting conversations with thousands of students at one time in a way that would never be possible with human advisors alone. The company’s college and university clients use AdmitHub to boost enrollment by increasing the number of accepted students who enroll and by retaining more enrolled first-year students into the second year of college and beyond.
Kirk knew AdmitHub had a powerful solution but he credits the company’s enviable growth trajectory to its shift in sales strategy. When the team at AdmitHub realized that their product-selling approach wasn’t working, they re-evaluated their approach and shifted from a focus on selling the product to a focus on the buyer’s needs and challenges, in the process creating an authentic buyer journey anchored on what each buyer values most. Over the next two years, AdmitHub grew at more than 250% per year and went from being a promising start-up to a market-leading premier provider of conversational AI to colleges and universities.
How Did AdmitHub Make the Shift? Starting with Deep Discovery
“There were four key changes,” Kirk explained, “First, we got really focused on good buyer discovery and had the team move from talking about our product first to engaging buyers on their goals.”
An authentic buyer journey starts with strong questioning. For Kirk and his early team leading sales at AdmitHub the shift to an authentic buyer journey meant, most importantly, starting each buyer conversation focused on their prospect’s enrollment goals.
“The team got a lot better at asking targeted questions, Kirk continued. “We began to start each meeting learning about the institution’s goals for yielding more of their admitted applicants, reducing the number of enrolled students that did not show up in the fall – what enrollment leaders call ‘summer melt’ – as well as increasing first year retention.”
For Kirk and early team leading sales at AdmitHub the shift to an authentic buyer journey meant most importantly starting each buyer conversation focused on their enrollment goals.
“We started to think about how good our discovery was in each buyer call,” says Kirk. “We would review call videos and ask ourselves: Did we continue our questioning until we got to a specific enrollment goal and target improvement? Did we find more than one goal that might motivate a purchase? Did we respond too quickly to their first question by starting to pitch our product?”
The Touchdown Dance: Anchoring on a Buyer Gain
“The second big change is that we started to focus on this idea of a buyer’s ‘touchdown dance’,” Kirk told me. “We would ask the buyer to tell us after six months or twelve months of working with AdmitHub what enrollment outcome would get them excited enough to be figuratively dancing in the end zone with their colleagues. I remember our CEO would always say ‘If the buyer can give us a specific improvement that gets them excited, they are a lot more likely to buy from us and will be happier customers.’ It was important for our entire team to adopt this mindset.”
The AdmitHub team understood that the purpose of good discovery goes beyond getting a buyer to talk about a general goal or priority. The purpose is to get to a specific, actionable goal with a targeted improvement that might motivate a buyer to start a new partnership and make a new investment.
“The focus on the ‘touchdown dance’ changed all of our sales interactions,” Kirk continued. “We had always written follow-up emails, but now we tried to start each email with a one or two sentence summary of the specific goal for considering a partnership with AdmitHub. We would also start each call with a group of decision-makers by discussing those specific goals that had been shared to see if all the decision-makers were aligned or if there were different sets of priorities in the group.”
Connecting Across the Buyer Journey
“The third big change is that we started to connect the focus on buyer goal achievement across Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success,” said Kirk. “We started to organize our outbound prospecting and content marketing around the impact we were having on enrollment goals, admitted-student yield and retention. Leading with these buyer goals rather our product helped us get to a higher level of decision-maker more consistently and also led buyers to show up to the calls in a better position to start talking about specific goals.
The AdmitHub team understood that good value discovery on specific buyer goals needs to be connected across Marketing and Sales. Marketing typically leads on developing the content assets and campaign messaging that educate a buyer on a company’s value proposition, but Sales needs to quickly bring this value proposition alive in an initial sales conversation. This transition is much more effective if the same, clearly defined buyer goals are used by all go-to-market teams.
Continuing the Authentic Buyer Journey Through to Future Buyer Goals
“Finally, we also developed a Sales-to-Customer Success hand-off document and created the expectation that our sales team capture all goals discussed in a buyer conversation, not just the purchasing goal,” Kirk said. “Customer Success has always been a great strength and differentiator for AdmitHub. By expecting that our sales team members would capture all goals discovered in the sales process in their notes, we could not only get the university or college partner off to a better start but also use Customer Success as a growth driver. A deeper understanding of all goals allows Customer Success to focus on deepening the relationship to connect to the next goal area and the next expansion sale.”
How to Shift from Product-Led Selling to an Authentic Buyer Journey
The AdmitHub example shows several key tactics that revenue leaders can use to shift their teams from product-led selling to leading sales conversations around buyer goals and buyer value including:
- Starting each conversation with good discovery on buyer value before introducing or discussing product capabilities
- Focusing discovery on a specific goal with a targeted improvement
- Ensuring that follow up emails and sales decks lead with a recap of goals and targeted improvements specific to the buyer
- Connecting buyer goals across prospecting, sales, and customer success interactions
If you start and end each new buyer conversation with a focus on the things that buyers value most, you have a much higher likelihood of success in winning both new and expansion deals.