I recently heard yet another excuse as to why a buyer didn’t buy. This one was a hoot – seller/buyer misalignment. Seriously? Because the seller didn’t close a sale (That was expected by the seller? In the mythical pipeline?) there was a relationship problem? Because the buyer didn’t buy (according to the expectation of the seller?) there was a bonding problem? No. The problem stems from sellers not understanding what a buyer is. In this case, there was no buyer to be ‘misaligned’ with.
FROM PERSON TO BUYER
A decision not to purchase has very little to do with the seller, the solution, the relationship, or the need. In fact, a purchase is the very last thing a buyer wants. Just because a situation seems like a perfect fit with your solution does not make it a buying/selling opportunity; just because someone really needs your solution does not mean they are ready, willing, or able to buy.
Let me begin by defining ‘Buyer’: a person (or group) who has
- assembled all people, causes, and elements that created their problem AND
- recognized they cannot fix the problem with familiar resources, usual vendors, or workarounds, AND
- gotten buy-in from everyone/everything involved with the changes a fix would affect, AND
- decided that the cost of a fix is lower than maintaining the status quo,
and decides that purchasing an external solution is their best option.
As the thought-leader behind how buyers buy (programs, books, models, steps, terms, since 1985) and the person who coined the terms Buy Cycle, Buying Patterns, Buying Journey, Buying Decision Team, and How Buyers Buy, I’d like to offer some thoughts:
1. A buyer isn’t a buyer unless they’ve bought something. Until then they are people with a problem who may, if all else fails and they can’t resolve the issue themselves, seek an external solution.
2. Solving a problem never begins as a decision to buy anything (unless a small personal item), regardless of ‘need’. They may or may not choose to fix it, depending upon the ‘cost’ to the system. People don’t want to buy anything; they merely want to resolve a problem in the most efficient way. Hence, they won’t respond to your marketing or sales based on ‘need’.
3. People prefer to resolve their own problems. Workarounds are always the first option, a purchase the last.
4. All people (buyers, groups, individuals) live in a unique unconscious, human system (rules, relationships, beliefs, experience, goals, etc.) that created the problem and maintains it as part of their status quo. The system exists AS IS, with problems factored in. If an element is recognized as problematic, the system would need to agree on possible forward routes. Any change (i.e. purchase) would need to end up as an integrated part of the core system.
5. A purchase occurs only when the stakeholder group is ready for something new to replace what’s already there. It’s only when there’s agreement from all elements that created the problem that
- it can’t be fixed with known resources or workarounds,
- the cost in resources/change is lower than the cost of the fallout of bringing in something new,
- a path forward is defined by everyone who will touch the final solution,
that the full scope of a bringing in a new solution (i.e. buy something) is understood. Until then ‘need’ isn’t fully defined and no external solution is required. Here is where sellers often get caught thinking there’s a ‘need’ before the folks with the problem think there is one.
Sellers should stop focusing on need, as ‘need’ is NOT the criteria people use to buy. Until they are convinced they cannot solve their own problem and change without much disruption, they are not buyers and won’t heed pitches or appointment attempts.
6. There is a defined series of 13 (generic) steps that determine if, when, why, how, what to buy. A buying decision is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue. Until the full set of stakeholders have agreed they can’t fix the problem with familiar resources AND have developed a plan for congruent change (step 10) that they all agree to, there is no willingness to seek an external solution. In other words, before people become buyers they’re merely people trying to fix a problem themselves.
7. People don’t need you to sell to them even if they have gone to your site. Until they’ve gotten group buy-in, and understand any downside of implementation, they’re not buyers regardless of their apparent need and the efficacy of a seller’s solution.
8. Making a purchase is a change management issue before it’s a solution choice problem. The first question people consider is how they can achieve Excellence with the least ‘cost’ to the system; the last question they consider is what solution they’d need from ‘outside’. Using the sales model, sellers seek to inspire agreement, admission of need, ‘relationship’ – all with an intent to sell something (i.e. steps 11-13); there is no element of the sales model that facilitates systemic change to enter earlier without a solution-placement bias. In other words, sales overlooks the largest portion of the buyer’s journey – how to manage the change a fix will cost to the system – as they sit and wait for the low hanging fruit to show up once they’ve figured out how to manage change.
9. Until any disruption caused by a purchase (i.e. all purchases are ‘foreign’ to the system) is understood, planned for, and agreed to, no purchase will take place. The existing environment is sacrosanct; keeping it running smoothly is more important to them than fixing a problem that’s already been baked into the system, especially if would cost unwanted internal disruption.
10. Everyone and everything who created the current problem and would potentially touch a new solution must agree to any modification (purchase). Until then, they won’t, they can’t buy and they are not buyers. And this is why pitches, marketing, presentation will only be noticed by those who have completed their decision path.
11. The time it takes people/buyers to discover their own answers and know how to manage change in the least disruptive way, is the length of the sales cycle. It has nothing to do with selling, buying, need, relationship, content, or solutions until the route to congruent change is defined and agreed to. It’s a change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue. And the sales model ignores this, causing 5% close rates instead of 40%.
12. The last thing people want is to buy something. With their criteria of ‘solution placement’, sellers often enter at the wrong time, ask the wrong questions, and offer the wrong data – and end up selling only to the low-hanging fruit (the 5% who have planned their route to change already).
13. Buyers buy using their own buying patterns, not a seller’s selling patterns. Using a specific type of sales effort further restricts the population of those who will buy. We don’t necessarily object to the products Robocalls promote. It’s the invasive selling patterns we object to.
14. There is a difference in goals, capability of changing, and level of buy-in between those who CAN/WILL buy vs those who sellers think SHOULD buy. By entering to facilitate change, we can enter using the person’s buying/change patterns and capture 40% of those set to become buyers.
15. The time it takes people to come up with their complete set of buy-in and change-based answers is the time it takes them to seek an external solution – i.e. become a buyer. Let me say this again: It has nothing whatsoever to do with their need, your solution, or your relationship. And THEN they are ready to discuss the full complement of needs, criteria for buying a solution, and seek a compatible relationship with a seller.
16. People cannot buy anything unless the ‘cost’ of the new is equal to or less than the ‘cost’ of the status quo. If it’s higher, they will continue doing what they’ve been doing. Part of a decision to make a purchase is the determination the entire stakeholder group must make as to the real ‘cost’ of a fix.
By only listening for clues that lead you to assume a ‘need’ for your solution, by entering into ‘relationships’ based on what you’re selling, by only asking questions to ‘prove’ a need/solution match (too often with only one or two members of the full Buying Decision Team), you’re not only biasing the interaction, but limiting your sales to closing those who have gotten to the point when they’re ready, willing, able to change – the low hanging fruit; you’re missing the opportunity to enter earlier, develop a real relationship, and facilitate the path that people who CAN buy must take before they are buyers.
The sales model does not facilitate systemic change issues and merely seeks to place solutions based on what a seller determines sounds like a ‘need’. But as you can see, just because there’s a ‘need’ doesn’t mean they’re buyers. The current sales model ignores the possibility or becoming real relationship managers and true consultants and Servant Leaders.
HOW SALES RESTRICTS POSSIBILITY
Because we’ve restricted selling to placing solutions, people with problems that our solutions really could resolve are left to figure out their own path to change while we sit and wait for those who have completed their process (the low hanging fruit) to show up. Those who need us and aren’t yet ready will not even notice us, and we’re not helping them be ready. Indeed, we are the ones maintaining the over-long sales cycles!
Prospective buyers, facing confusing choices, would be happy to have help navigating through their Pre-Sales systemic decision/change process and adding a true facilitator onto their Buying Decision Team. They would much prefer to fix their problem earlier if they knew how to make a change that wouldn’t be very disruptive. By becoming Buying Facilitators we can differentiate ourselves and make customers for life. Here is where they really need us well before they need our solutions.
Right now, you’re seeking out those people you’ve determined SHOULD buy (and getting ignored, misaligned, dropped, etc.) and ignoring ways to facilitate those who CAN buy but haven’t yet become buyers.
If you enter with a Change Facilitation focus and leave a consideration of ‘need’ until later, it’s possible to find those on the first call who CAN buy, and use your relationship and knowledge to facilitate them through the steps of the change management process first, and THEN be there as they determine the need for your solution.
By adding a Change Facilitation processes to your upfront tools (seller-, marketing-, or software-led) you can enter at any step along the Buying Decision Path and be part of the Buying Decision Team to help them get their ducks in a row. Then you’ve gotten ahead of the competition, reduce your sales cycle by half, only connect with those who WILL buy, close a helluva lot more sales (my clients close 8x more than the control groups using the same lists), and truly serve the people who need you.
Trust me: potential buyers need your help figuring out how to figure it all out much more than they need a product pitch, or more biased questions, that attempt to uncover a ‘need’ they don’t yet know they have.
I’ve developed a model (Buying Facilitation®) that uses wholly unique skills (Listening for Systems, Facilitative Questions, etc.) to facilitate a prospective buyer’s route to Excellence. A generic model used for coaching, management, leadership, healthcare, Buying Facilitation® leads folks who WILL buy down their decision path and turns them into buyers in one-eighth the time it would take them to close. I’ve been quite successful teaching it to global corporations ( i.e. IBM, Kaiser, Wachovia, P&G, KPMG, etc.) to increase their sales. In fact, over 30 decades, my client’s pilot training groups close 8x more sales on average over the control groups, regardless of product or price.
Currently you’re now wasting 95% of your time running after those few who have finally arrived at step 10 – the low hanging fruit – ignoring the much larger pool of those who are on route, and fighting for a competitive advantage.
By adding new functionality to the front end of your sales model, you can enter earlier, be a Servant Leader, and facilitate congruent change and THEN be on board as a provider as they go through their buying decision process.
Buying Facilitation® is NOT sales; it’s NOT selling/purchase-based; it IS change- and decision-based. Right now you’re waiting while buyers do this anyway (or merely running after those you THINK have a need but end up fixing the problem in other ways) because all people must manage their change before they are buyers. Why not add a skill set, stop wasting time/effort, and close more. Then you’ll never be ‘misaligned.’
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.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.