Something has happened between most companies and their customers--and it has led to a lot of lost sales. "Buyers are completely over sellers," declares Kristin Zhivago, revenue coach and author of Roadmap to Revenue. "They want to be educated and assisted, not sold. But sellers are still trying to sell the same old way."

If you don't understand this dynamic, chances are you're creating barriers that actually discourage customers from buying. Think this couldn't apply to you? Consider the following questions:

1. How many clicks does it take for a customer to reach a purchase page on your website?

"In most cases, there are too many steps to get to the information you need," Zhivago says. "There should be two clicks to the payoff--see it, click it, and then buy it. Most websites fail that miserably [because] they're designed to serve the seller's needs, not the buyer's." It may seem like a good idea to make the customer create an account, collect social media information, or ask questions about what led the customer to the site. But every additional step makes it more likely that he or she will abandon the purchase.

"Another thing companies are choosing to ignore is the importance of reviews," Zhivago adds. Prominent customer reviews are a big factor in the success of Amazon, not to mention the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. "You have to get out of the way and let customers sell each other," Zhivago says. "Not enough companies do that."

2. How aggressive are your salespeople?

You may think hiring the most energetic go-getters is the best way to generate sales, Zhivago says. Not so. "I recently had that experience with some market automation software," she says. "I thought this software might be very useful for both me and my clients so I asked for a demo, and they sent their super-salesperson to do it." That salesperson was so rushed and took such an of-course-you-want-to-buy-this attitude that Zhivago was completely put off and decided not to buy after all.


3. Can a customer who contacts you get detailed answers to questions right away?

"These days, by the time customers talk to salespeople, they've already answered 80 percent of the questions they had by doing online research or talking to their friends about the product," Zhivago says. When they pick up the phone to talk to a live representative, their questions are likely to be very specific and detailed. And the person on the other end probably won't be able to answer them. "They'll either say, 'I don't know,' which is likely to annoy the customer, or 'I'll have to get back to you,' which is also annoying," Zhivago says.

What's the solution? "Some companies are now shifting their salesforce to bring people up from the technical areas or from customer service," Zhivago says. Another approach is to carefully document the questions customers ask and make sure your salespeople can answer them next time.

4. Do you believe you know what your customers are thinking?

You don't. In thousands of customer interviews, Zhivago has learned that what companies think they know about customers' top priorities is inevitably wrong.

Part of the problem is the companies think they know who those customers are. "If someone came to you and assumed they knew all about you based on the earrings you wear, you'd be insulted," she says. "Yet people make those types of assumptions all the time, discussing customers in conference rooms where no customer is represented."

To illustrate the danger of those assumptions, Zhivago describes an event where the audience was told to close their eyes and envision a possible customer, a single mother in her 30s raising two boys on her own.

Then they were told to open their eyes. They were looking at a photo of Princess Di.