How do we sell if we don’t understand needs?

I will call you backWhen people first hear about Buying Facilitation™, they ask: ‘But if we can’t ask about needs and discuss our solution, how do we sell?’

The short answer is, you don’t. At least not when you are accustomed to. Because that’s not the first thing buyers need from you. The buyer first needs assistance navigating around their off-line decision issues. See, we actually enter our buyer’s sphere far too early in their decision cycle. And we end up attempting to gather needs, understand, and place product before a buyer really knows how to have this conversation with you.

The first thing buyers do – well  before they are ready to choose a vendor or a solution  – is to figure out what needs to happen internally for them to be assured that they can achieve excellence AND keep their organization in tact.  THEN they are ready for you to understand their need and place your solution. The sales model does not help the buyer at this initial part of their decision cycle because it’s private, unconscious, idiosyncratic, and for insiders only. But they must do it – and we needlessly wait as they do. It would like finding the house or car of your dreams before you discussed a move or a purchase with your spouse or bank.


Where do buyers go when they say, “I’ll call you back?” They go internal, to make sure the department heads are in agreement, that the status quo can allow change without creating a mess, that the historic fight between rival teams is cleaned up, that the new software will work with the old. Until or unless they manage the interal stuff of relationships,  initiatives, rules, etc., they will not be in a position to buy anything. Regardless of their ‘need’ or ‘pain.’

Think of moving. You and your spouse find the perfect house. Are you going to buy it? Well, that depends on if you can get a loan, or if the school district is viable, or if your spouse really wants that separation, or … And these things are private and off-line and have absolutely nothing to do with the house or the realtor.

It’s possible to add a front end to what you’re already doing successfully and use a different skill set to help buyers maneuver through their internal pitfalls. But it’s not sales. And it has absolutely, absolutely nothing to do with understanding: as an outsider you’ll never understand. Can I understand if, in the example above, your spouse is thinking of separation? Or how to handle the bank if you were overdrawn for 3 months last year?

Once a buyer manages the internal issues sellers can use rapport and sales and understanding skills to make sure the solution is superb. But trying to understand the personal stuff is impossible.


Sales is faulty (see my new book on this: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it) and only manages needs assessment and solution placement where it is imperative that you understand. I’m suggesting you acquire an add-on skill set to merely act as a GPS system that says left/right/left, through the maze of the types of decisions buyers must make as they consider their internal, systemic issues that hold their status quo in place. Until they do this, they can’t buy from you anyway. But when you use Buying Facilitation™ first with them and do some neutral navigation that is system- and change-based, you will be placed on their Buying Decision Team.

I recently spoke with a potential vendor who I was referred to. She automatically assumed I was ready to buy because of the referral (I certainly was not), and she went ahead gathering data (that I found myself very reluctant to give since I didn’t know her or trust her yet) and trying to sell her services. When I told her that until I knew how I would have a good chance of getting the results I wanted I wouldn’t be able to buy, she was quite adamant: “You’ll know when I give you results.” Well, in my mind that’s kinda foolish. That means I have to buy her services, pay her a lot of money, go through internal disruption, and I won’t know until AFTER all that whether I’m going to be successful or not??? Before I’d be able to choose her, I’d need to figure out the criteria I’d use to know if her suggestions, her personality, my needs, my market, my folks who would be working with her, my company, would act together in a way that would bring me the change I’m seeking. And if it would be worth the money and disruption. She’d have been far better off to have used a Facilitative Question:

How would you know before we begin that you would have a good chance of reaching your goals? What would need to happen within your organization to make sure they are ready for the type of change you are requiring?

It’s not about my need or her solution. It’s about the issues I need to manage internally in order to allow change to take place in a way that minimizes disruption.

Until you realize there are actually two different types of decisions buyers must make – the vendor/solution decision that you handle, and the behind-the-scenes issues that they must handle first – you will be trying to understand too early and not be present to help them with the main decisions they must make first.

You can add a new set of skills to what you’re doing already, and actually become a part of your buyer’s buying decisions. And, when it’s time for you to understand, you will be there with just the skills you need to do it. But first, let’s help manage the private process that you’ve left unattended until now.


Dirty Little SecretsTo learn how to do this, consider buying my new book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it

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