Did you ever wonder what happens behind the scenes with prospects after you’ve made a connection, given a great pitch, or delivered an engaging presentation? Why they don’t return your calls or call with an order?
The silence has nothing to do with your solution.
Indeed, after you’ve pitched, the prospects return to the team to share your ideas. Some might like it, some don’t. Some want a different solution, some discuss a new workaround to try. Some might think it’s not time. Most likely, they do nothing because the risk of disturbing what’s working is too great.
You’ve engaged with them to place your solution. They’ve engaged with you to discover if there’s a way they can resolve their problem with minimal disruption. Yet few on the Buying Decision Team are in agreement as to how to move forward.
Selling and buying are two different things. The sales model too often introduces solutions before the prospect has gotten buy-in for change and they’re just not ready to buy.
THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE
Unfortunately for sellers, using the sales model alone provides no control over what buyers are doing: before making any kind of a decision, they must first get all the right stakeholders involved, try workarounds to attempt to resolve the issue on their own, and ultimately must understand the ‘cost’ of doing something different – the risk that your solution might cause unintended disruption.
In other words, there are several steps they must take on route to a buying decision that are idiosyncratic and beyond the scope of sales.
Until now, the change management portion of the Buying Decision Path hasn’t been a focus of sales. But by putting a Facilitation hat on, by adding Buying Facilitation® to the front end of selling, it’s not only possible to find high-probability prospects on the first call, but facilitate would-be prospects through their change decisions and quickly become trusted advisors.
When sellers start off with a goal to sell a solution (and ‘gathering information’ poses biased questions that give merely you a platform to pitch, not help people navigate their change decisions), it’s a solution looking for a problem. Those who haven’t yet gotten a full understanding of their problem, not finished seeking a workaround, or haven’t yet understood the risk of change – but who actually need your solution and will become buyers – won’t be ready to hear about your solution.
In other words, only folks who have done all their change work will have interest in what you’re selling, narrowing the buyer pool to only those who seek THAT solution at THAT moment, those who have already
- understood exactly what something New should do that they can’t do for themselves;
- assembled the full set of stakeholders who have already agreed and bought-into what something New should look and act like and their roles in managing implementation;
- tried several workarounds that don’t work out and an external solution is the only option;
- recognized the ‘cost’ of bringing in something New and know how to manage it;
- have figured out how to manage the change with the least disruption.
Buying occurs only after a prospect has managed change. And unfortunately, selling doesn’t cause buying.
BUYING IS SYSTEMIC
Let’s look at this another way. Since every environment is a system and includes the history, rules, goals, norms, relationships and Beliefs held within that culture, bringing in anything New must match or the system will be compromised.
To relate this to sales, nothing, nothing is ever purchased in isolation and a solution to an existing problem must match the norms of the system. If the system isn’t set up for change, it will ignore, procrastinate, deny, defend, and resist if something New is pushed too early.
If you think you want a new car, getting a pitch about a Tesla will only be welcome if you’ve decided on an electric car in a specific price range. Rejecting a Tesla pitch isn’t a testament to the car, merely a commentary on the buying (or buy-in) decision criteria.
Since sales overlooks taking an active role in facilitating buying it doesn’t find or help people on route to self-identifying as buyers. Doing so would halve the sales cycle (people must do their change work anyway before becoming buyers!), shed those who will never buy immediately, and become true Relationship Managers in the process. Waiting until they show up as the low-hanging fruit costs time, resource and competition.
BUYERS BUY IF THE ‘COST’ OF CHANGE IS LESS THAN MAINTAINING THE STATUS QUO
Let’s think more about the Buy Side. People don’t want to buy anything, merely solve a problem with the least ‘cost’ to their system. Sometimes they sound like they have a need but are merely in their research phase; sometimes they are seeking workarounds when they connect with you and are comparing alternatives; sometimes they take an appointment to learn more from you so they can develop their own solution; sometimes they want to bring back new ideas to the team.
When you’re speaking with someone who seems like a ‘prospect’, they might have a need. But until they understand and address the full set of internal issues – the system – involved with solving their problem, they can’t fully define the best route to a fix.
Until or unless people know the ‘cost’ of making a change, they don’t self-identify as buyers. Indeed, the potential disruption of bringing in an outside solution may be too high and the status quo has been good-enough. One more thing. Before people are buyers, they must be absolutely certain they can’t fix the problem themselves.
In other words, people don’t self-identify as buyers, regardless of need or the relevance of your solution, unless they’ve all understood the cost of change and agree they can handle it. This explains issues explain why you’re closing only 5% – the low hanging fruit actually ready, willing, and able to buy.
SELLING IS TACTICAL, BUYING IS STRATEGIC
A purchase is systemic and strategic – a change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue. Sales is tactical, solution-placement driven, and doesn’t address the complexities and criteria of the hidden buying environment or their specific buying patterns.
I got a cold call once in which the salesman began by telling me he had a great way for me to save money on a phone provider.
SD: But saving money isn’t one of my buying criteria!
Rep: Well, it should be. [Wait, he’s telling me I should buy using his selling criteria?]
SD: Great. Then you buy it.
Until people (would-be buyers, but not yet self-identified) know the rules, roles, and relationships they must maintain, the specifics of your solution are moot. When you’re pitching before people have all their ducks in row, they can’t even hear the details you proudly offer.
You’ve got nothing to sell if they have nothing to buy, regardless of the need or the efficacy of your solution. And unfortunately, because their internal considerations are so idiosyncratic, you can’t ever understand them. But you can know the areas they must handle so you can facilitate them through their uncertainty.
WHAT BUYERS MUST KNOW
Here is a list of what folks must figure out before they can buy anything. And the time it takes them to do this is the length of the sales cycle. Indeed, they can’t define what they need until this is completed:
- Stakeholders: Have all stakeholders who have been part of maintaining the status quo been assembled? Have those who will be part of the solution been included and driving the initiative? Have they reached agreement on the specific modifications needed? Do they know, and have agreed to, their roles within the processes of the New? Are they aware how their responsibilities will change? Is there supervision or leadership in place to facilitate them through change? Do they all – all – believe the New will maintain the team’s values and goals and offer more efficiency? Have the stakeholders had a say in any transition and had their voices and ideas added?
- Workarounds: Have all possible workarounds been tried so it’s obvious to everyone something New is necessary?
- Users: Have the users asked for this and have a say in the specifics they need? If not, how will management help them buy-in to using something they didn’t ask for or won’t do what they want it to do? Will they need training for the New? Will their habituated use behaviors need to change? How will the adoption of the New affect their workload or jobs? Have they agreed to a learning curve and to less-than-optimal output when they won’t be so efficient?
- Old vs New: How will something New fit with the old? Must the old be removed or is a ‘both/and’ possible? Must the old be retrofitted to work with the New? How? Who will do this?How many of the old practices are needed to maintain work flow? What’s a plausible time frame on this?
- Implementation: Does everyone understand the downsides – the labor, costs, time, output issues – of the New and how to mitigate them? Are all – all – on board with New procedures and willing to take on the new activities without resistance? Who is responsible for managing the overall implementation and downsides?
- Creativity: Does the team have the opportunity to add ideas? Will they be able to add what they need so they’re part of the solution and won’t resist?
- Brand: Will the New change the brand and require different kinds of marketing? Will the new potentially change the finances? The audience? Is it worth it? How will they know before they try?
No one buys anything unless workarounds have been tried, research has been done, possibilities are discussed, options are considered, and stakeholders have bought into, and added to, the process of change. In other words, before they become buyers, people must go through a change management process and are able to manage the cost of change.
Because sales focuses on ‘need’ and placing solutions, it only closes those at the tail end of their change management process and expends far too much resource trying to drive a decision with folks who aren’t yet real buyers.
Why not begin selling by seeking those going through the change process at that moment and help them facilitate the change first then leading them through their systemic decisions and selling to those who are ready? It will take far less time, and if you’re like the large numbers of sales reps I’ve trained globally, you’ll close 40% instead of 5%.
DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?
Selling and buying are two different activities. Start on the buy side, discover those who WILL be buyers and then facilitate buying. Then you can sell because they’re ready to buy. By then you’re on the Buying Decision Team, can target your pitches and presentations, be a real trusted advisor, and your price discussions will be minimal. You will also have saved a lot of time, closed a lot more sales, and have real relationships.
For those of you wanting to learn how to do this, I invented a model called Buying Facilitation® that uses the 13 steps all people go through on route to buying. It involves a wholly different facilitation skill set: Facilitative Questions, Presumptive Summaries, and Systems Listening. I suggest you visit www.sharon-drew.com and read the articles I put up on change, buying, and decision making. And if you’re committed to helping buyers buy, read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Or just contact me and we can chat. www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.