A participant at one of my onsite Buying Facilitation® trainings took me to his desk where he scrolled through pages of names of one-contact prospects who’d ignored his follow up attempts. “What do I do with all of these names? They’re buyers. How can I get them to take my call?”
I scrolled through the hundreds of names, noticed the many dates of attempted follow up after each name, and told him to give me his finger. “My finger?” “Yes”, I said. “Use it to press the delete key. You’re wasting your time.”
NEED DOES NOT EQUAL SALE
Doing what sales professionals are supposed to do, this salesman sought out potential prospects with a ‘need’ his solution could resolve, assuming need = prospect. With pages of names and untold wasted hours calling, calling, calling them back (time he could have used to find real buyers), valiantly seeking a sale among those he assumed most likely, there was something he wasn’t understanding: just because it seemed to him there was a fit, didn’t mean these people were buyers.
Walk this back with me: Sales professionals have been taught that a prospect is someone with a ‘need’ that matches the benefits of their solution – someone who SHOULD buy, or likely to be a candidate to buy – and with the ‘right’ course of action, they can convert this prospect to a buyer. But after years of coming up with ‘new’ sales methods, closing techniques, e-tools, etc. etc. that employ the ‘right’ approach to target prospects, introduce the content in the ‘best’ way with the most efficient messaging, and finding hundreds, thousands, with a supposed need who don’t buy, we know ‘need’ does not equal Sale.
The mystery to me is why we keep doing it and telling ourselves that, even with a 5% close rate, what we’re doing is working. Has it never occurred that just maybe we’re doing something wrong? The truth is, selling doesn’t cause buying. Yet we keep doing the same thing and accept as normal the low close rates and silence from those we deem buyers. Nothing in this process works efficiently. We
- obviously can’t recognize a real buyer;
- don’t know if we’re reading the situation accurately and maybe this person isn’t, and will never be, a buyer;
- assume that we position our pitch/presentation/marketing using the ‘right’ approach;
- have little indication if our skills cause a sale to close – or even who might be the most effective recipients to target;
- sit and wait and hope for call backs, continually moving the dates on our pipeline forward;
- don’t know who will finally show up and buy.
Sellers can’t even identify prospects who will buy from their pipeline. After asking hundreds of sellers who among their current prospects will definitely buy, no one, in my entire 35 years of sales training and consulting, ever has more than a guess. But that’s because it’s not possible to know who will be a buyer on the first call using the current sales focus of seeking people with ‘need’.
And herein lies the problem: by entering prospecting calls with goals, expectations, and listening patterns that assume we can recognize a real buyer, or when we find someone with a ‘need’ we’ve got a prospect, or by sending out content marketing cleverly introducing features and functions, we not only chase those who may never buy (the majority), but overlook an entirely different set of criteria for finding those who CAN buy: people who are willing and able to change. That’s right: the criteria for finding someone who will/can buy is wholly dependent on whether they are willing and able to change. For those of you who find this concept unusual, I’ll lead you through this.
CHANGE IS THE CRITERIA, NOT NEED
Did you buy a gym membership (or get coaching, or lose weight, or…) when you first recognized a ‘need’ or when you were (finally) ready to make a change? How long did you have the ‘need’ before you actually did something about it? When you finally took action, it had nothing to do with the gym membership or the coach; you were ready and willing to change, to take action now (yes, now), find the time, develop new habits, make it a priority over something else you were doing with that time, have the funds, etc. ‘Need’ may inspire a consideration to do something different, but does not constitute the action to do it.
When we enter a conversation believing that someone with a ‘need’ is a buyer, we ignore
- how our biased questions (based on discovering ‘need’) cause responses that may seem to imply a need, or
- how our biased listening assures we can confirm we found someone who SHOULD buy, very often missing the full range of meaning, overlooking those who CAN/WILL buy but aren’t quite ready yet, or
- the vast difference between ‘need’ and ability/willingness to undertake the change process inherent in a purchase.
Think about it: why would anyone spend time listening to a stranger (yes, you’re a stranger) or reading content, unless they want something? Here’s the rule: if someone is in the early stages of scoping stuff out and hasn’t yet realized they might need to buy something, or haven’t yet adjusted for how making a purchase would affect their status quo, they have no reason to spend time with you, regardless need, or the efficacy of your solution. Therefore, with our solution placement outreach methods we merely attract:
- people doing research for solutions to create themselves or give to their current vendors;
- folks examining differences between features of your solution vs how they’re handling the problem internally;
- people with the same buying patterns as your selling patterns (those willing to read an article, or speak to a stranger, or go to an intro meeting, for example);
- those with a real need who will be buyers once they have all their ducks in a row.
Even if we’re connecting in response to a request for more information or a referral, we’re entering as a solution seeking a problem without considering the range of activities (the internal change management elements) necessary before someone can buy. We forget that between recognizing a problem and taking actions to resolve it (adopt something new), essential steps must occur (I wrote a book on this. Take a look: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com
- determine that, indeed a change is necessary (or retain the status quo if change isn’t feasible);
- to get agreement that the problem can’t be resolved with familiar solutions and needs an external fix;
- to know how to manage the disruption that will ensue (any additions or subtractions to the status quo causes disruption);
- to facilitate the buy in of everyone involved.
In other words, sales shares data prematurely, before people even know what to listen for; listens for ‘buying signals’ that don’t exist; overlooks those who WILL become buyers but don’t yet understand they need us. Our prospects are restricted to the low hanging fruit who already know they need us, ensuring we play a numbers game as everyone fights to close the same pool of ready buyers. If they were fully cognizant of what they needed AND had the internal buy-in to make a purchase AND knew how much discombobulation they’d face, they would have gone online and contacted us already. To find real buyers on the first call, we need a different listening bias and goal to recognize those who are willing to change.
THE SALES MODEL RESTRICTS DISCOVERY
I’ve been told the ‘million dollar question’ is knowing who is a buyer on the first call. And yet, it’s simple. Here are two examples of me making a cold call to a Sales Director. I entered both conversations with the same Facilitative Question (FQ – a new form of question I developed that facilitates discovery without biasing choice or attempting to gather data): How are you currently adding new sales skills to the ones your folks now use for those times you seek to augment specific outcomes? Just from the responses to my opening question, it’s easy to recognize which person is a buyer.
Responder A: Every year I read 6 sales books. I then buy copies of my favorite one for each sales person, and ask them to meet once a month to discuss how to incorporate the ideas into their selling.
Responder B: Good question. I’ve certainly tried, but I haven’t been successful. I keep training my folks with the newest sales methods, and it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. Not sure if I’m using the right training methods, or I just need to fire all of my sales folks and start all over. Or maybe something we’re doing internally that’s causing the results. I sure wish I knew the answer.
Which one is the prospect? B, of course. Do they both have a need? Probably. But it’s clear who’d be willing to change. Notice I entered the conversation to help the prospect start thinking about change, not to try to find a match between my solution and a need, or find someone (um, the ‘decision maker?’) who would listen to a pitch (why do we assume that our glorious pitch and content will rule the day, after thousands of people ignore us?). Different from conventional sales approaches that enter to discover a ‘need’ or attempt to ‘gather information’, my opening FQ used vocabulary that restricted the conversation to where change would occur, while providing me information on their willingness to change.
And it’s quite important to understand that by entering the conversation with an entirely different focus, the rest of the conversation and the resultant human connection, the ability to find a real buyer and make a sale, is quite different from a seller entering to sell their solution.
The problem has never been our solution or their need. The part we’ve left out of sales is change. Every purchase, every add-on involves shifting the status quo in some way – assuredly causing some form of disruption; unless a prospect knows how change with minimal disruption they can’t buy anything regardless of their need or my solution. I ask you: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two distinctly different activities. And we’re only focused on the selling – all the while ignoring real buying opportunities that require some change facilitation rather than solution placement bias.
RECOGNIZING AND FACILITATING CHANGE BEFORE SELLING
Do you know what an exchange sounds like with a real buyer? Training Buying Facilitation® to small business bankers at Wachovia, we opened with a Facilitative Question that produced great results:“How are you currently adding new banking resources for those times you need additional support?” This question
- focused on having clients consider their status quo.
- assumed they had some sort of banking relationship (which all small businesses have).
- offered add on support (so much less disruption to ‘add’ rather than ‘change’).
- got them to begin thinking if change were a viable activity.
Of course the discussion involved further facilitation, but this FQ opened the dialogue and, importantly, positioned the seller as a facilitator enabling Excellence rather than a sales person pushing solutions. Using this process, the results were profound: the control group, asking for appointments to present their new small business banking services, got 10 appointments out of 100, closing 2 in 11 months. Using Buying Facilitation® and starting with the above Facilitative Question (and no pitch!), my group got 39 appointments; they closed half in the first 2 months, then half of the remainder in the next month. So in 3 months, they closed approximately 30 prospects. Same list, same product. But by starting from a change consideration, we found – and then efficiently facilitated – real buyers. The other group merely uncovered those who recognized a willingness to seek a new banker but still weren’t in a position to change (i.e. notice the difference in closing times). The most interesting thing was how little time it took to close those willing to change once the seller facilitated the prospect through their change and buy-in determinants.
A buying decision is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue. Making a purchase or choosing a vendor is the last thing – the last thing – a prospect will do. If we eschew a ‘selling’ focus as an entry, and instead focus on change, we can find those willing and able to consider change and facilitate them through their steps of change – enlist buy-in; design a way to maintain what’s working while adding new solutions to ensure continuity; manage people issues and internal politics – changing with minimal disruption. But it demands an entirely different skill set and entry point.
My Buying Facilitation® model has coded every step buyers must go through to discover how, when, and if, to make a change and leads them through the non-buying, systems-focused steps necessary without the bias of sales; different from sales, and used as the first step before a solution is actually introduced (although the questions are posed around the area my solution can resolve) it operates as a change facilitation approach that consists of different skills from sales – Facilitative Questions, Listening for Systems, and Presumptive Summaries to facilitate discovery and manage change.
Buying Facilitation® can be employed in a fraction of the time it takes to pitch to a stranger; it reduces the failed follow up attempts to ensure we’re only following up with those who WILL buy, and teach them how they CAN buy. And then, employ our brilliant sales approach to the right buyers. It’s win win. What would you need to know about the learning process to understand how Buying Facilitation® would enable you to close more, waste less time, and serve more clients efficiently? Call me. I’ll teach you how to do it.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, the generic Change Facilitation model that offers influencer the tools to enable Others to make congruent changes to find their own excellence, without fallout. She has trained this in sales, coaching, leadership, and management to Fortune 500 companies globally since 1985. Sharon-Drew is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? which explores the gap in understanding between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon-Drew lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.