Part 1 of a 2 part series on understanding a buyer’s needs.
Do you know the difference between how you sell and how buyers buy-and why the difference? After a conversation with my colleague Erik Luhrs I’d like to expand the definition of ‘buying’. But first, a question.
Would you like to enter, influence, or understand your buyer’s buying process earlier in their process?
To do so it will be helpful to better understand the differences between how you sell, and how buyers buy.
SELLING VS BUYING
Let me start with a made-up story:
Background: Pretend you’re a sales person selling smartphones in a big box store. You know your product well and are great at selling it. When buyers come in you carefully pose questions to understand their problem and need, and then position your answers accordingly to help them choose their solution.
A buyer comes in. She has performed some or all of these by the time she meets you:
- She thought long and hard about replacing a phone she loved, and somewhat reluctantly decided it might be time to buy a new one; she had been resisting due to her comfort with the (limited) functionality she enjoyed.
- She called friends to find out the upsides and downsides of what they liked about their phones and providers, to add to her list of considerations and comparisons.
- She went online to gather data from what she learned from friends and ads she’d seen.
- From her thinking and online research, she put together her list of buying criteria she’d need to have before being fully comfortable with any change: the pluses and minuses of changing phones, functionality, models, and/or providers; the ease of learning a new phone. Also, she included the trust factors she’d need to consider for new providers.
- As per friends’ advice she contacted her current provider to learn of any deals for the models she was considering; she looked up prices on Amazon, Best Buy, etc. to compare prices and functionality. She weighed all of her criteria and made a decision.
- Choice/decision made, she went to the store to purchase the phone with the help of the seller.
Until Step 5 this buyer had not fully defined her problem or her complete set of needs (some of which having nothing to do with a specific solution). Understanding the specifics of her problem or one phone over another was only a portion of her many decision criteria.
Until Step 5, her activities were idiosyncratic, criteria-driven, not fully formed, and independent of a specific solution, and included other ‘decision makers/influencers’ (her friends).
If a seller had entered before Steps 5, asking about needs would ignore some of her most important decision factors and not address her ability to define her personal criteria, not factor in her friends’ recommendations, or her ease and resistance to anything new as per her current phone.
To summarize, by the time this customer shows up to buy, she has
- gone through an idiosyncratic, personal discovery process
- to understand and get comfortable with the range of criteria she wants to meet
- to decide whether or not to buy a new phone and
- researched and considered all angles of all types of solutions and providers
- before finally deciding to buy.
To clarify jobs and roles:
Seller: meticulously understands the product he is selling; differentiates his solution and brand from the competition; works with buyers to gather data, understand needs and underlying problem, place the appropriate solution. THIS CONSTITUTES SALES.
Buyer: figures out her emotional- and values-based criteria for buying something and for making a change; figures out what, when, if to buy; gets references from friends on several possibilities; does research; contacts current vendors; compares prices and solutions. THIS CONSTITUTES BUYING.
THE BUYING DECISION PROCESS IS ONLY PARTIALLY SOLUTION-DRIVEN
You do some of the same things during your buying decision process. We all do. Our prospects and clients do also. No one begins at the end – the point of choosing a solution. No one (especially the more complex B2B sales) begins by knowing their full landscape of considerations. Usually others are involved with defining the full range of unique criteria. Always, there are hidden aspects of historic considerations that come into play. And all this must happen well before defining solutions. That means buyers cannot know the full complexity of the problem or need at the point sellers usually attempt to gather information.
I would hereby like to (re)define the term Buying Decision (a term I coined in 1985) to mean: The process a buyer goes through to get their ducks in a row to manage all of the factors involved prior to, and including, making a purchase.
Is there a case to be made for assuming all buyers – regardless of the solution they seek – go through some form of ‘Pre-Sales’ decisions? That Steps 1-6 (there are 13 steps in B2B sales) are part of the Buying Decision Path – and not just step 6 in which the sales person and specific solution are involved?
Is there something to be gained by entering and influencing the Buying Decision Path before buyers have clearly defined their problem? If so, the sales process is not the best way to begin: it limits sales people to finding those buyers who have gone through their pre-sales processes already.
Part 2 explains what happens when we sell too early, and introduces a way to facilitate each stage of the pre-sales, criteria-based buying decision path. Right now, sellers close approximately 5% of their prospects (starting with first call) because the sales approach is directed toward understanding problems and placing solutions before they have been fully formed. But we can get much better results by entering earlier. We just can’t do it with the sales model alone.
See my new Entrepreneur Programs: Getting Funded; Creating a Selling Machine; Marketing to Buying Decisions
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a Change Facilitator, specializing in buy-in and change management. She is well known for her original thinking in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and listening (www.didihearyou.com). She currently designs scripts, programs, and materials, and coaches teams, for several industries to enable true buy-in and collaboration. Sharon-Drew is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets – why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon-Drew has worked with dozens of global corporations as a consultant, trainer, coach, and speaker. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.