How To Listen To A Buyer

listeningUntil or unless buyers know how to manage the tangles of people and policies that hold their Identified Problem in place, they will not make a purchase no matter how urgent their need or how appropriate your solution.

Because sales unwittingly focuses on the very last stages of the buyer’s buying decision, sellers are trained to listen carefully for all of the details around ‘need.’ Once sellers understand how their solution would fit into the ‘need’ or the ‘pain’, they work hard to advantageously place their product/service information so buyers will know how to buy. Which they do, around 7% of the time.

Of course, the need-based, info gathering questions that sellers ask are eventually a vital part of the sales model. But they don’t help the buyer understand how to address the internal stuff we’re not privvy to, and that they need to manage on their own, prior to any sort of solution choice.

Our questions, ultimately, don’t help the buyer make a buying decision. And we’re asking them at the wrong time.

By now we all know that there is a huge area of off-line issues that buyers must manage before they are ready to buy. Not to mention that once they go through this behind-the-scenes process of finding the right folks to put onto the Buying Decision Team, clearing time and initiatives to make room for bringing something new aboard, or resolving old vendor issues,  for example, their needs get redefined one way or another.

So the details we’ll hear about their ‘need’ from the buyer at the beginning of the info gathering process is not the same as what we’ll hear later on. No one’s fault – just the fallout of the sales process being focused on the wrong thing at the wrong time.


There is another form of listening necessary to actually help buyers address their off-line conversations so they can actually have help garnering buy-in to make a purchase. Note that this Buying Facilitation™ part of  a seller’s job is NOT SALES, but a different activity that needs to be added to the front end of the sales process as if it were a different language.

It’s a very different listening: You’re listening to serve as a guide and to facilitate the route without traveling it yourself. You are actually leading them through change. They can’t buy anything until they line up these internal issues anyway – it might as well be with you on their Team. Just remember that this guidance is not about their need!

So before listening for the DETAILS of need, sellers must listen for the SYSTEM that buyers live in to help them manage the behind-the-scenes elements that must agree to add a new solution.  I write about this entire process in my new book coming out 15 October, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it. In this blog I’ll just mention a few elements.

Has your prospect figured out the right members that need to be on the Buying Decision Team? Asking them who will be on the Team is useless: at the beginning of the change process, prospects really don’t know all of the people that must  be involved… and of course, we can’t help them, because we’re not there with them.

Does your prospect know, and know how to manage why, the problem has existed so long? Who/what has kept it in place? What is the work-around that maintains it daily and how will it be addressed if change is occuring?

Since our prospects have to go off-line to manage change before they can buy, we can either wait til after they’ve figured it all out and they come back (as we do now), or learn a new skill set: facilitate buyers through all of the elements they need to address. We will do this as decision facilitators or change managers – NOT sellers. And, because so much of it has little to do with their need or our solution, we really, really have to add a new skill set to the one we’ve been using for so long.

We’re not taught to listen this way in sales. Confusing? Only if you have a seller’s hat on. Think about it. It’s a way to manage the 93% of the buying decision that has alluded us until now.


Hear Sharon-Drew live on Unity Radio: August 24 at 4:00 CT on, Sharon-Drew will be interviewed by Charlotte Shelton, the education director of Unity Church.

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