What is Guided Selling?
Guided selling is a sales technique where businesses use automated technology to lead customers through the buying process in a personalized and interactive way. Guided selling software uses question-answer workflows, customer data, and AI to give customers tailored information and product recommendations along their journey.
Examples of guided selling tools include:
- Interactive product selectors
- Virtual shopping assistants
- Product configurators
- Web-based customer self-service portals
In B2C sales (namely, retail and ecommerce), guided selling helps customers understand a company’s full range of products and services and make the best decision for their needs. This is especially helpful when customers are overwhelmed by choices or lack product knowledge.
For the B2B sales process (e.g., SaaS), guided selling in CPQ gives sales reps a step-by-step sales workflow that helps them identify customer needs and recommend the most relevant products, services, and pricing options.
- Guided selling in CPQ
- Sales workflow automation
How Does Guided Selling Work?
Guided selling works off customer and sales data, which makes it similar to solution selling and other customer-centric approaches. It’s about getting to know your customers, understanding their needs and pain points, and helping them find the best solution for their specific situation.
It’s also similar to sales enablement in the sense that it’s less about specific tools or underlying technologies and more about a systematic approach to sales productivity. You might think of guided selling as one type of product. But it’s really a system for using data, automation, and conversations to sell more efficiently.
The difference between guided selling and traditional sales strategies is the former requires a sales rep to lead the conversation, while the latter uses technology to automate this process.
How exactly guided selling works depends on whether you’re applying it in a B2B or B2C scenario.
B2B Guided Selling
If you’re selling software, contracted professional services, engineer-to-order products, wholesale products, or distribution services to other businesses, you need a way to articulate what you offer, what it does for your customers, and how they’ll benefit.
B2B guided selling can take place on either the buyer’s side or the seller’s side.
- On the buyer’s side, your customer’s team members can use your website’s product configurator to visualize and analyze different options and assemble a tailored product setup. It gets your configuration and availability data from your ERP system via an API or native integration.
- On the seller’s side, sales representatives use configure, price, quote (CPQ) software to guide their conversations with buyers, run sales playbooks, and automatically respond to messages and send quotes. Sellers use guided selling input to deliver interactive product demos while giving the customer control over customizations and pricing options.
B2B transactions (especially on a larger scale) almost always involve direct communication with an account manager or sales rep. So, most B2B guided selling strategies focus on equipping salespeople with the right tools and resources to create an efficient and personalized buying experience.
Today, when we refer to ‘guided selling,’ we’re almost always talking about B2B solutions. B2C guided selling workflows are more commonly associated with marketing automation, customer service tools, and customer data platforms (CDPs).
B2C Guided Selling
B2C guided selling is essentially the modern ecommerce experience: the software (or combination of tools) guides the user toward their purchase.
In B2C transactions, it’s less about face-to-face conversations and more about using technology to create an interactive and personalized shopping experience. Think of ecommerce recommendation engines like Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” feature or Spotify’s personalized music suggestions. These are examples of B2C guided selling in action.
Customers can use guided selling tools like product selectors and virtual shopping assistants to browse your website without seeing the things they don’t need. Ultimately, this helps them make more informed buying decisions. And, more than likely, they’ll buy more from you.
The Guided Selling Process
Whether a customer has direct interaction with your business or not, the basic process for guided selling is similar:
- Understand customer needs and requirements. This usually starts with an assessment or questionnaire that helps you gather information and data about your customer. Chatbots and online forms take care of this, while your website and marketing automation tools record and analyze user behavior and interests.
- Endorse specific products and content. With the collected data, you’ll know where your customer is in the purchase funnel, how much info they already have, and where you can upsell them. Guided selling can recommend product comparison documents, complimentary products, or just about anything else you could think of.
- Help customers make a decision. Guided selling makes it easier for customers to complete their purchases by giving them the right information and resources to make a decision. This includes pricing, product details, warranty and return policies, and shipping options.
The best AI-guided selling platforms use machine learning algorithms to turn raw data into actionable insights. They use a combination of chatbots, predictive analytics, and sales automation to gather data on customer demographics, behaviors, and preferences and execute on them in real time.
Each guided selling tool is different, but they’re all functionally similar to the recommendation engines you’ll find on Amazon or Netflix. They use historical data, demographic/firmographic info, user behaviors, and other insights to deliver personalized recommendations for products or content.
The Purpose of Guided Selling
Guided selling makes the selling process more efficient for both customers and businesses by reducing decision time, minimizing confusion, and optimizing sales potential.
1. Saving customers from “too many choices”
The Paradox of Choice — having too many options impedes our decision-making capacity. Even if customers have a general idea of what they’re looking for, massive product selections or tiered pricing structures make it almost impossible to come to a conclusion on their own.
Guided selling makes it easier for customers to navigate product offerings by providing accurate recommendations based on their preferences and needs.
As an example, suppose you’re shopping for a new laptop. When you navigate to a web store to look for one, a simple questionnaire — including your budget, preferred operating system, and usage requirements — narrows down the selection to only a few models that meet your criteria.
By the time you’re looking at different laptops, you’ll only see ones you’re a good fit for thanks to guided selling.
2. Boosting sales potential through cross-selling & upselling
Once you know all about a customer’s interests and preferences, guided selling tools can recommend other options they might be a good fit for.
On ecommerce sites, this is as simple as “You may also like… ” And for businesses that use guided selling in sales demos, the options could include microservices or higher-tiered plans based on specific features they might be looking for.
Put yourself in the shoes of a B2B SaaS seller. They’re selling a product with three tiers — Basic, Pro, and Enterprise. Besides the core product, there are numerous additional features and add-ons their customers can bundle.
Each time they get on the phone with a new marketing-qualified lead, they’ll run through a basic conversation to uncover their business needs, technical expertise, budget, and motivation for buying.
As they move through the qualification process, the seller can use CPQ to recommend the most suitable product tier. Along the way, CPQ’s guided selling features will also present add-ons that improve the product’s functionality and provide additional value to the customer.
The most advanced guided selling tools take this to the next level by using product usage data to trigger upsell/cross-sell email campaigns and in-app notifications.
3. Uncovering specific customer needs
Customers don’t always know exactly what they want. Their requirements might be misaligned with what they actually need or what’s best for their budget. Or, they just might not know what’s out there.
This is where solution selling comes into play — it’s your job to figure out how to solve their problems.
Let’s say you’re an insurance broker. Your client tells you they want the cheapest plan possible. But during the discovery process, you find they have a pre-existing medical condition and travel frequently for work.
Now, instead of just giving them a quote on the “basic” policy like they asked for, guided selling tools can help you recommend something that meets their specific needs — lower deductibles, better coverage while traveling, etc. This is much more valuable than just selling them the cheapest policy, and it speaks to your trustworthiness and expertise as a seller.
The Benefits of Guided Selling
A stellar customer experience
When it’s based on data they’ve explicitly shared with your company, 69% of customers say they appreciate personalization. And, according to PwC research, 4 out of every 5 value speed, convenience, knowledgeable and friendly employees, and straightforward payment processes.
In other words, employees want guided selling. It makes their lives easier. And, if it’s too hard to buy from you, they won’t.
Increased sales efficiency
Besides offering a better experience for your customers (which should be your #1 priority), there are several tangible benefits guided selling offers your business. Most of them relate to efficiency in the sales cycle.
With guided selling, your sales team can…
- tailor their sales approach to customer inputs in real-time
- present relevant content and offers to customers based on their interests and pain points
- qualify leads faster and with greater accuracy
- speed up the sales process by reducing decision time
Because guided selling workflows suggest products and next-step sales activities, sales teams don’t have to worry about hiccups in the process. When combined with CPQ automation, you can streamline your entire sales process from lead qualification to closing the deal.
More profitable transactions
Personalized recommendations based on customer insights lead to a higher average order value and new cross-selling/upselling opportunities. Since guided selling helps you communicate product benefits to your customers better, it also increases your conversion rate.
When your buyers are sure of their purchase, they won’t experience buyer’s remorse. Since their recommended products are the best fit for them, there’s also a better chance you’ll retain them long-term.
This is especially valuable if you’re selling a subscription or service plan, where customer lifetime value is entirely dependent on your ability to retain customers.
Consistency across buyer touchpoints
All your sales and marketing tools share data. Guided selling uses this data to eliminate conflicting recommendations or disconnects that might hurt the customer experience. This also allows for a more seamless and personalized shopping experience for the customer, increasing their satisfaction and loyalty.
Types of Businesses That Use Guided Selling
Ecommerce businesses were some of the first to adopt guided selling techniques. Let’s take the example of an online clothing retailer. When a customer visits the website, a guided selling tool may prompt questions about the customer’s size, preferred styles, colors, and budget. Using AI and machine learning, the tool then curates a personalized selection of clothing items that match the customer’s responses.
You can also use it to offer proactive assistance during the shopping journey. Let’s say that same customer spends a lot of time browsing winter coats. Then, the tool could proactively suggest matching scarves and gloves, or new items from that product category.
If the customer fills their shopping card and abandons it, your guided selling tool can trigger a follow-up email that offers a friendly, nudge, additional information, or a limited-time discount that encourages the customer to complete their purchase.
A SaaS vendor usually sells complex products with multiple pricing/feature levels, add-ons, and usage-based conditions. So, they need to take a systematic approach to their sales strategy. They’ll use a sales methodology like MEDDIC or SPICED to identify pain points, engage with leads and qualified opportunities, and close deals.
Guided selling technology enables this whole process. When a rep starts the sales qualification process, they’ll get a flow of prompts that encourage them to ask questions and record the results. Using data capture features, the rep can also find upsell/cross-sell opportunities that are relevant for specific customers.
As they move through the deal cycle, guided selling (and other CPQ functions) take them through the whole quote-to-cash process. They’ll use it to generate and collaborate on quotes, proposals, and contracts to align the customer’s needs with their solution.
B2B manufacturing sales is a complex, multi-stage process. Unlike B2C, where the customer knows what they want to buy before they get to the store, B2B customers often don’t know what to purchase until later in the sales cycle. Plus, terms are usually negotiable and there are multiple decision-makers involved.
Sales reps use guided selling to streamline the configuration and quoting process and automate customer responses. Instead of spending days or weeks going back and forth with the customer, they can input data into the system, which then generates an accurate quote within minutes. This reduces errors and provides a more efficient sales process for both parties.
Professional services — such as consulting firms, legal services, marketing agencies, and financial advisors — might not seem like the most obvious fit for guided selling. But they all offer a unique mix of standardized services (e.g., a retainer fee or an annual audit) and custom projects. Like everyone else, they need a sales tool that optimizes their quote-to-cash workflow.
A guided selling solution helps service professionals take a consultative approach to prospect discovery calls and sales conversations. They can use it to ask the right questions, capture customer requirements, and build service packages that help each customer accomplish exactly what they need to.
Technology Trends in Guided Selling
CPQ Guided Selling
Though it’s only one element of the sales cycle, the CPQ process is closely tied to guided selling. At its core, CPQ is quoting software. But none of today’s CPQ tools are solely quoting tools.
They incorporate features for:
- Sales playbooks
- 3D configuration
- Product visualization
- Workflow automation
- Subscription sales
- Real-time and dynamic pricing
- Document management
- Contract creation and storage
Admins integrate CPQ with the company’s ERP system, which creates a consistent flow of product data. And integrating CPQ with CRM makes sure that sales teams have visibility over the entire customer lifecycle. Between its own capabilities and those of its integrators, it everything it needs to enable effective sales execution across the whole team.
AI/ML — Intelligent Guided Selling
Advanced guided selling platforms use AI and machine learning to give sales reps intelligent recommendations based on data and real-time dynamics.
- Lead scoring based on customer info, your product’s capabilities, and projected lifetime value
- Price optimization based on company margins and changing market dynamics
- Recommendations based on distributor/supplier availability
- Cross-selling and upselling for current users based on usage patterns
Guided Selling + Customer Data Platforms
With a CDP comes more opportunities to capture data about what they do before, during, and after buying your product. It uses that info to create guided selling scenarios for each shopper instantaneously.
Let’s say they log onto your website and look at a new product. Even if they don’t buy anything, your CDP will house that information and immediately trigger an experience related to those types of products the next time they click on your website (assuming they’re logged in).
IoT and Guided Selling
Internet of Things product vendors have an opportunity to make their sales process even more personalized. With sensors in your product, you’ll know exactly how each customer uses it and when it needs to be replaced or serviced.
The system shares each customer’s usage data with the company’s sales software. With everything available, the sales team can sell each customer upgrades, renewals, or additional products.
AR/VR — Interactive Guided Selling
AR/VR shopping experiences are still in their infancy, but show lots of promise. Customers want to try before they buy, and AR/VR helps them do that.
Amazon’s AR View feature allows customers to see how furniture, appliances and products look in their own homes before they buy them. Other retailers like Sephora, IKEA and Wayfair are also incorporating AR/VR into their guided selling strategies to provide a more immersive and interactive shopping experience for customers.
In the future, virtual dressing rooms and product demos will increasingly become the norm.
The main difference between B2B and B2C guided selling is the presence of a human sales rep. B2B transactions have multiple decision-makers and require the help of a company’s sales team, while B2C transactions typically happen independently by the customer.
Guided selling streamlines the sales process, reduces errors, and provides a more efficient buying experience for both customers and sales reps. It also allows for a more personalized approach to selling and helps uncover customer needs that may not have been initially clear.