I have a business owner client who is great at connecting with his ideal customers but was doing poorly at getting a follow up call or meeting. When I asked him to tell me his sales process, he said that he didn’t have one. It was clear to me that his prospective customers were not calling him back because they saw no future in their business relationship.
There are two types of product or service sales: 1) transactional; and 2) solution-based. A transactional sale is you deciding you want to buy a Big Mac; and driving through a McDonalds to make your $10 purchase. In a solution-based sale, most of your customers don’t know what they want. These customers rarely know they have a problem; or to what degree you can help them solve the problem they think they have. They will certainly not pay an unknown problem-solver a large sum of money to help them solve a problem they don’t know they have. Therefore solution-based companies must create a “customer journey”.
Energy Savings Performance Contracting - Customer Journey
The best way for me to convey this idea of a “customer journey” is to use a business that is selling a solution. I’ll pick the Energy Services Company or ESCo model. Regardless of your solution-based business, you can create your own customer journey.
ESCo’s provide Performance Contracts to their clients. A Performance Contract is an agreement to provide energy-saving capital equipment to a building owner and guarantee that energy savings associated with that new equipment will pay the capital, principal, and service cost of that equipment. At first, you may say, “that’s a no-brainer, who wouldn’t do this? It’s a no cost decision.” If only it were that simple.
The true value of a Performance Contract is not the energy savings. Yes, that’s a component. However, building owners have many more problems that become higher priorities. Most ESCo’s know this and so they create a customer journey for their clients.
Here’s a typical sales process for an ESCo.
First Call: The first call is an opportunity to introduce the concept of performance contracting to a customer. In this step, a sales executive will often describe a performance contract as simply as I described it in my description above. The main addition is that they will also present the customer journey so that a prospective customer understands that they are not buying a product, but rather a journey.
Feasibility Study: The feasibility study is often a low-cost or free audit of the customer’s facilities to better understand what challenges the building owner faces. Because this is a low-cost step, a customer is often quite eager to engage in this investigation process.
Preliminary Proposal: In the preliminary proposal, a customer is shown a big picture of their facility challenges and what it will take to solve those challenges. This is often where the “rubber meets the road” in a performance contracting sales process. The customer who thought they may have $500,000 in building projects realizes that they have $5,000,000 in building projects. They are more educated on the needs in their buildings. They are also educated on the sources of funds they can use to pay for the $5,000,000 in building needs.
Letter of Intent: A letter of intent is executed by the customer that states to the ESCo that they will sign a performance contract that will accomplish everything they were promised in the Preliminary Proposal. If the ESCo cannot produce a final contract that matches the preliminary proposal, the customer has no obligation to continue.
Detailed Study: The ESCo completes final designs, bids subcontracted work, and obtains whatever financing is necessary for the final performance contract.
Final Proposal: The ESCo presents a final construction and financing contract to the customer for their approval.
Performance Contract: The customer signs the performance contract and the financing agreement.
I have just described a very simplified sales process for a performance contract. This is NOT the “customer journey”. Yes, the sales process is an important element in the customer journey, but it is hardly the entire journey. Most customers are not excited about following a process that gives you more money and makes them less wealthy. Most customers will be excited about a process that makes them better off than they were before they met you.
In the case of our example of a performance contract, let’s look at the rest of this customer journey.
In most cases a performance contract will make a dramatic improvement in the building owner’s facilities. The benefits vary, but they are substantial. Most customers do not believe their buildings are in need of anything and so they balk at paying $5M to fix their buildings.
A typical ESCo salesperson will claim they can provide the benefits (end of the customer journey). When a prospective customer says, “I don’t believe it!”, the ESCo salesperson responds with the customer journey.
The reality is that an ESCo may not be able to help their prospective customer. They truly don’t know if a project exists. The customer journey is a process that allows the customer to see the future goal, and only take the next step. In the case of a Performance Contract, the next step is the “Feasibility Study”.
You may ask, “Why should I present an entire customer journey? That will be confusing. Why not just present the next step?”
This is the trap that most business owners and salespeople fall into. Let’s go back to our ESCo example. If you’re a prospective customer, why would you agree to have strangers walking through your building, disrupting your occupants, gathering all sorts of utility bill data, and investing the time of your staff to show these folks around your buildings? There is literally no value in a “feasibility study”. There is great value in starting on a journey that will lead to better and more cost-efficient buildings.
A Few More Examples
I have focused on an industry for which I’m very familiar, but you may not be. This customer journey works for all sorts of industries. Here are a few more…
The buying realtor is selling benefits of home ownership; but must demonstrate a customer journey that helps their client see how they start with a wish list and end up in a home.
A business coach is promising personal freedom while their clients increase profitability and grow their business. This customer journey starts with a Non-Disclosure Agreement so that paranoid business owns feel free to share highly sensitive information to this business coach.
A wellness practitioner is selling all the benefits that come with improved health. They will not lead with, “hire me to make you eat food you don’t want to eat and exercise until you have a heart attack.” Their start is usually a free introduction webinar with a free appointment to sell the benefits; and then explain the journey to gain those benefits.
Why a Customer Journey?
I hope that you understand the need for a customer journey in your approach to gaining new customers. Here are a few imperative points to remember when taking your customers on their customer journey.
A prospective customer doesn’t want to embark on any first step until they know where you’re taking them.
Most journey’s start with a low-threshold offer that is valuable, but only a first step.
At any point, your customer wants to quit the journey, they can.
Benefits of completing the journey as well as costs to complete the journey are known as soon as you know them.
Most unknown problems must include a discovery or investigation process before a proposal is made.
Always communicate the final benefits, not the first step in selling your product or service to your prospective customer.
Always communicate the customer journey to confirm that you have a path for your customer to achieve the benefits that you promise.
Good luck taking your customers on their wonderful customer journey with your business. If you need help putting a customer journey together, you can contact me for a discovery session at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About me. I have been actively engaged in the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation industry all my professional career from 1987 until now. I was a licensed Professional Engineering in six states and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM). I worked as a sales executive, energy engineer, sales manager, and entrepreneur. I started, grew, and sold an Energy Service Company (ESCo) called Ennovate Corporation (1997 to 2013). I now coach business owners, engineers, and business development executives in the energy efficiency industry.