Prospects Aren’t Always Prospects


As sellers, we’ve been taught that someone with a need for our solution is a prospect. But that’s not true or we’d be closing a lot more business and wasting a lot less time following prospects who will never buy. Just because we see a need does not mean they

  • want it resolved,
  • want it resolved now,
  • have the buy-in to bring in an external solution rather than using their own internal fix or beloved vendor,
  • are ready to give up the work-around they have in place that resolves the problem well-enough.

Not to mention we use our biased questions and listen through biased ears and ‘hear’ what’s being said as a ‘need’. In fact, given our predisposed assumptions and restricted inquiries, we have no way of knowing when, or how, or if the people we speak with are willing to bring in an outside solution regardless of a possible match or need.

A decision to make a purchase is based on dozens of factors that go far beyond need. So rule number #1: need does not a prospect make.

Unfortunately, the sales model has no capability to go behind-the-scenes to facilitate buy-in from the buy side, from folks within the buyer’s environment who

  • don’t yet see a need,
  • don’t want to share budget,
  • want to address the problem in-house,
  • have their own agendas.

And the sales model, used to attempt to place solutions, doesn’t have the tool set to enable prospective prospects to manage all their internal, systemic, and hidden issues that are beyond the purview of buying anything. Here’s rule #2: until everyone and everything that will touch the new solution buys-in to bringing it on board, there will be no purchase, regardless of a need.


People don’t want to buy anything, they merely want to reach excellence at the least ‘cost’ to the system (their culture, their environment). It’s only when it becomes clear that they cannot resolve a problem internally, and they’ve determined that the ‘cost’ of bringing something in is equal to or less than their status quo, that they’re willing to purchase anything, regardless of need or the efficacy of your solution.

That doesn’t mean they’re not buyers. It just means they’re not buyers yet. And because they’re change focused to start with, they can’t hear, or notice, the content we introduce them to that would lead to a sale.

Buyers have change management problems well before they have solution choice issues. A purchase is merely the last element in a chain of events that must take place, most of which are outside of a seller’s purview.

Of course once the person/group becomes a buyer, they will need the questions and pitches offered by the sales model. But not until then. You see, people take some time to become buyers even when their problem ‘needs’ our solution. Unfortunately, they won’t read our marketing content or take calls, or even buy, until then.

One of the biggest fallacies of sales is that someone is identified as a buyer when it seems they have a need. Because people merely want to resolve a problem, they must explore all avenues of an internal fix, and then get buy-in for change, before recognizing a purchase is their only alternative. And the sales model does nothing to facilitate this.

Indeed, until they figure out if a fix will ‘cost’ less than the status quo, people aren’t even buyers. Remember: they were doing ‘good enough’ until now, and if a new solution causes more disruption than the cost of staying the same, they aren’t buyers. Rule #3: the status quo is sacrosanct, regardless of the need or the efficacy of your solution.


Here are two situations in which I failed miserably (and lost quite a bit of money), prior to understanding that buyers (in companies and individuals) must know how to manage internal change before they can buy. I’ve since figured out how I could have first facilitated these issues, but at the time, I was a victim to their decisions.

  1. I did a pilot for the sales group in an iconic multinational. Using Buying Facilitation® the group had a 400% increase in sales over the control group (And we shortened the sales cycle from 7 months to 4 weeks). Yet they chose not to roll out my program because cash flow issues from the short sales cycles caused by Buying Facilitation®, shifts in the manufacturing schedules, etc., would cost many millions to resolve. They preferred to maintain their status quo rather than increase sales, regardless of the relatively short time frame to recoup the costs (2 years).
  2. I trained Buying Facilitation® to a large insurance group who got a 600% increase in sales over the control group (They went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales). After the test month, the trained team handed in their resignations because they’d been hired as ‘field sales’ reps and would rather quit than be ‘inside sales’ reps, regardless of how much money they made. They liked handing out donuts and schmoozing. True story.

In both situations it seemed crazy to me to give up vast increases in sales rather than figure out how to manage the change. But this is where I had my ‘aha’ moment, where I realized the difference between what I had to sell, their ‘need’, and how they bought: People need to maintain the equilibrium of their status quo at all costs – at all costs – regardless of the benefits of our solutions.

If they have to fire a team to bring in new software, they have a decision: software or people. Do they need the software? Sure. But maintaining the system might have a higher value. Indeed, sellers can’t know the internal criteria – the history, the relationships, the future plans – of prospective buyers, especially with a sales hat on.

By starting first with a solution placement goal, and with ‘need’ as the criteria, sales will only ever succeed with the low hanging fruit – once folks have done their change work and show up as ready. All those who still have to manage change and address their internal issues aren’t buyers yet, regardless of need.

But wearing a different hat, it’s easy to find the ones who are on route to becoming buyers and facilitate them through their change – and be there with them as a real trusted advisor as they become buyers. We wait while they do it anyway. Might as well help and become part of their Buying Decision Team in the process.


I’m going to tell a story I’ve told dozens of times. For those who have read it in other articles or my books, I apologize. But it’s a terrific story.

Years ago, while running a Buying Facilitation® program at IBM, they asked me to speak to folks at a ‘Mom and Pop’ store nearby who they wanted as a Beta test site. These folks would be getting a free computer for their efforts, yet three sales folks had been unable to get a Yes from them even though their old computer was far too slow for their growing company.

A man answered when I called. Here was the conversation:

SD: Hello. My name is Sharon-Drew Morgen. I’m calling from IBM. I’m a consultant for them and was reading the files they have on you here when they offered you a free Beta. Can I ask how your current computer is working?

B: Hi. Um, it’s ok.

SD: What’s stopping it from being better than OK?

B: Dad.

SD: Dad? I don’t understand.

B: This is a Mom and Pop shop. I’m the son. The owner is my Dad. He started the company 40 years ago, is now in his 70s, and has been handling all tech issues [Note: those were the early days of the net when there was so much confusion]. He’s retiring next year.

SD: Ah. So you can’t consider bringing in anything new that he might be uncomfortable with and will wait until he leaves to look into it?

B: Right. I would love to do your Beta as our system is so slow. I’ve just got to take care of Dad.

SD: I wonder if you and Dad would be willing to travel about 5 miles to X company on Y street. They are using it right now and are one of our Betas. Maybe you and Dad could go play with it a bit, ask them some questions, and see if Dad is comfortable?

B: Good idea.

They went, and a week later took the Beta. They had a need, but weren’t buyers until they figured out how to resolve the change management issues that were keeping them in place.

No matter how much you think your solution matches with a ‘need’, your goal, your questions, your inquiries, are all based on what you’re selling and you’re not facilitating them in the first steps they must take before they become buyers, steps based on systemic change, not need or solutions.

By this fact alone, you will only ever close those folks who need what you’re selling, the way you’re selling it, at the moment you show up, and you’re only closing the low hanging fruit. My clients find those who WILL buy on the first call, facilitate them through the change process, and close 40% of their list against the control group’s 5.4%. And it actually takes less time (and less wasted resource! And less sales folks!) to close.

Using the sales model you cannot influence what’s going on behind the scenes – the personalities, the history, the internal politics, and the ‘givens’ that an outsider can never understand. And they will never buy until it’s done – regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.


Philosophically the sales model is necessary and important: as sellers we clearly see needs that our solutions will resolve. But we don’t have a prospect until or unless their Buying Decision Team – everyone who will touch the final solution – is ready, willing, and able to

  • manage any changes that our solution causes to their people, rules, relationships, or job descriptions,
  • ensure the disruption won’t cost more than the problem it’s resolving,

or they cannot buy. Indeed: a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy. And ‘need’ has nothing to do with it. In other words, sales is a second tier effort – first facilitate the buying decision/change management process, then when they’re buyers, sell.

And unfortunately, as outsiders, we can’t ever really know what’s going on within their decuiosn process. But sometimes, they don’t either. And we can use our knowledge of our industries to really help them in this area before we start selling. After all, we wait while they do it anyway. Might as well be competitive and help them with an add-on skill set.

I developed Buying Facilitation® in 1983 to manage the issues my own sales team faced in my tech startup. The model is an add-on tool for sellers to first facilitate people through their Pre-Sales change management issues before they sell.

As a sales professional, I never understood why ‘prospects’ weren’t buying as often as was logical. When I became an entrepreneur, I realized the problem people have when deciding to either fix their own problems or make a purchase, when I had needs myself.

When potential vendors came in to pitch new solutions to me, they ignored the change management issues I had to deal with as part of my buying decision process. Everything these folks discussed, every question asked, was focused on selling me something.

It never occurred to anyone that just maybe I wasn’t ready to be a buyer yet, that just maybe they had nothing to sell until I could clearly see my way through to a path to buy, to manage any changes that a solution would entail, even though I certainly needed their products. And it never occurred to them they actually could have really helped me make the decisions I needed to make that would have led me to buying.

Our time together should have been used to facilitate my change management issues. And then not only would I have been a prospect, but I would have been a buyer in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to figure it out on my own.

So I developed my Buying Facilitation® model to add to sales to begin prospecting by

  1. first facilitating people who might have a need to recognize and organize the full Buying Decision Team,
  2. helping them try to find an internal workaround that would maintain their stability,
  3. facilitating them through to buy-in and change management when it became clear they needed to go external for a solution (i.e. when they became buyers), [Note: people need to do this anyway, and we wait in limbo while they do it. Might as well add a new skill set to have the tools to help them through their steps to becoming buyers.]

and then selling.

After training this material for decades, I’ve found the most difficult part of Buying Facilitation® is the difficulty sales folks have in remembering to first put aside the ‘need’ or ‘sale’ and instead truly serve others in discovering their most efficient path to their own best solutions. People want excellence. The last thing they want is to buy anything. The last thing.

And you’re pushing the last thing far too soon, certainly depriving yourself of a real possibility of becoming a servant leader, a relationship manager, and a true professional and acting competitively as a true facilitator to enable the change management process that comes before the buying process.

I’m not suggesting you not sell. I’m suggesting you don’t begin by attempting to assess ‘need’ or ‘value’ when there’s no way for them to know the full extent of their need until they’ve gone through their change management and buy-in issues. Indeed, once they’ve got the entire fact pattern, they may indeed need to buy more from you. Using Buying Facilitation® enables you to become more competitive.

One more thing: once you enter a call with the goal of facilitating change rather than trying to sell, you’ll know who will be a likely buyer on your first call: It’s those who seek change, and have been flummoxed by being able to resolve the problem your solution can resolve.

Stop seeking those with ‘need’ and seek those who want to change. And then facilitate them through their process. When it’s time to buy, they’ll be ready, won’t worry much about price, and you’ll barely have to pitch. By that time you’ll be on their team, be a truly trusted provider, be ahead of the competitors, and there won’t be a price issue.

Also remember: Prospects don’t need your help to buy. All of your content is on your website. What they need help with is managing their change decisions – that’s the length of the sales cycle and what takes so long. It’s your competitive advantage.

Help prospective buyers determine how to change, how to get buy-in, how to bring in your solution. And then you can sell. Buying Facilitation® first, then sales. You need both. Then you can help buyers decide to be prospects – and they will buy.


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. She can be reached at

6 thoughts on “Prospects Aren’t Always Prospects”

  1. Great POV, I agree that a need is not enough of a reason to consider someone as a prospect and that a common thing that a lot miss, they end up following the wrong prospect instead of searching for a more qualified prospect. Keep it up, Sharon! Great post!

    Brooke Harper

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