Can you think of any business paradigms that have stayed the same over the past 100 years? These days we run our businesses differently, with new models of hiring, training, leading, and executing; we have the use of unimaginable amounts of information and search capability to connect with new people and ideas. We now care more about diversity, gender and racial bias, and collaboration. We are far more visible, know our competition better, have greater reach, and possess an astounding capability to develop new solutions from any materials, from anywhere in the world that our imaginations can envision.
For centuries, sales has focused on placing solutions by seeking buyers with needs. Yet the environment buyers buy in has changed. Even with our new technology that finds, targets, and pursues a higher level of probable buyers, we’re closing less due to both the complexity of business environments and the stakeholder involvement in buying decisions. No more single decision makers; stakeholders have a say in all decisions; the buyer’s system – the rules, criteria, history, relationships and politics – is complex and must be taken into account before anything is purchased. As a result, since the 1980s when I began training sales people, closing ratios have gone from 8% to 5%.
YOU’RE FINDING THE BUYERS YOU SEEK
Believe it or not, you’re losing sales as a direct response to the way you’re selling. Your focus on finding ‘needs’ and placing solutions is limiting your audience to those who have already become ‘buyers’, which doesn’t occur until people are three quarters of the way through their buying decision path – a fraction of those who can/will buy.
And yes, once people become buyers, they will respond to your needs focus. But by then, you’re fighting the competition for a small number of people who eventually show up; instead you could be facilitating people through their change/decision path, and be by their side as they show up as buyers.
Since its inception, sales has maintained the same focus – entirely appropriate until the days of global connections – and overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers. And for some reason, even with the obvious decline in numbers (and increase in effort), we haven’t changed. Indeed sellers keep finding new ways to push every which way, becoming so desperate to close that you’re willing to lie, or hire 9x more sales staff, or wait months or years to finally close a sale that could be closed in a fraction of the time.
Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem? Would you go to a doctor with a 5% cure rate? Or fly a plane with a 5% safety rate? Why should sales be any different?
Indeed, even though your solution/product is most likely terrific, it gets lost in the inefficiency of the sales model: people who need your information aren’t reading it; people who would be helped if they purchased your solution aren’t buying. The problem is not the buyers or your content or your solution. The problem is the sales model itself; it’s so critically outdated and so mistakenly focused that you can’t ever get appreciably more closed sales.
To close more sales, to find the largest community of potential buyers, to support people as they become buyers, and to represent your company as a true leader and consultant, you must add some facilitation skills to the sales skills you now use, and look at the buyer/seller connection differently. Rather than find buyers, you’re going to facilitate people through their Pre Sales, systemic change path, to the point where they understand exactly what they want/need and how/when they will buy – and THEN sell. Right now:
- You’re aiming at the wrong goal (Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Two different activities.), using
- the wrong criteria for discovering a buyer (First criteria is ability to change; people aren’t buyers for first ¾ of the buying decision path.),
- the wrong reason to approach/find someone (Seeking someone with a ‘need’ means you’ve got to be RIGHT THERE the very moment they become buyers, severely limiting the scope of possibility and ignoring those en route to buying who aren’t ready to read your messages.),
- using the wrong skill sets (Questions and data gathering based on trying to sell or find a ‘need’ biases the process to those who are ready NOW, and ignores the Pre Sales stages of buying or promoting Buyer Readiness.),
- with the wrong people (You’re connecting with a fraction of the stakeholder team involved in buying in to a purchase.)
- and making the wrong assumptions about needing to build relationship (Really? Because you and everyone else tries to ‘make nice’ and attempt a fake ‘relationship’ they’ll buy? How’s that working for you?) .
In a nutshell, you’re entering with the wrong focus, at the wrong time, with the wrong criteria and faulty tools, connecting with the wrong people, and closing a fraction of what you could be closing. It’s really easy to add some new skills to what you’re doing and change the equation. You could be closing 40% of the lists you’re now using, but not by using the sales model alone.
NEED IS THE WRONG FOCUS
The way you’re selling, regardless of the new tools for targeting and visibility, guarantees you can’t close all the sales you deserve to close because your focus restricts your buying audience to those ready, willing, and able to buy and are seeking the information you offer. And that’s fine – if you are happy with a 5% close rate (which means you’re wasting 95% of your time). But you can be closing 8x more. In pilot studies, folks who added my Buying Facilitation® model to the front end of their sales process closed 40% using the exact same list and product as the control group.
I’m curious: when was the last time you responded to a pop up, or a spam call? Why are you ignoring them? The products they’re selling are fine – you might even need them. How ‘bout the last time you went onto a gym website and read the content – all the course descriptions, trainer descriptions? Was it prior to your decision to join? Or did you just go on to read the content because you had nothing else do to even though you could lose 10 pounds and might need for a gym? So… given possible needs, you’re not reading the content being sent even though it’s been targeted for you? Hmmmm… maybe a need is not the criteria needed to buy?
One of the causes of lost or inadequate closed sales is your focus on finding buyers with a ‘need’ to sell your solution to. Here’s what’s wrong:
- Finding buyers: People don’t become buyers (step 10 of a 13 step decision process) until they have discovered they cannot fix a problem with known resources, and gotten buy in from stakeholders for change. No, not buy-in to buy your solution. Buy in to change. Because adding something new means the status quo shifts, and people’s jobs and relationships change. The time it takes for every element and person who will be touched by the final solution to buy in to change (i.e. bringing in a new solution) is the length of the sales cycle.
- Need: if the proposed buyer hasn’t yet fixed their problem, it’s because it’s either A. built into, and accepted by, their status quo and the ramifications of change are too considerable; B. being worked on; or C. they haven’t gotten the buy in. Need is never the issue. They only need to find excellence, and if your solution is the best vehicle to get them there with the least disruption, and everyone agrees, they’ll buy. Your solution is merely a means to an end, not the end itself.
- Sell solution: sales is so hell bent and habituated on placing a solution that it’s willing to overlook the crazy of how much failure is involved. Seriously? Hasn’t it become obvious that seeking someone with a need, trying to place a solution, is getting you less and less success?
Over the decades you find better and better ways to sell less, and yet you continue to use the same organizing factors of solution placement based on need. Has it not occurred to you that it’s not working? That just maybe you might try something different like, oh, I don’t know, maybe focus on facilitating the comprehensive buying decision path? Maybe realize that without buyers you can’t sell anything? Because the truth is, selling doesn’t cause buying.
WHY PEOPLE BUY
People buy your solution because they want to effect positive change, and they can’t do it using the resources in front of them. And it’s only once they’ve done the internal, idiosyncratic change work necessary to get the buy in – STRATEGIC – are they willing to bring in an external solution (i.e. buy). And your great solution, your terrific content, your nice personality and fake relationship – your TACTICAL approach – isn’t noticed or welcome if their status quo will be broken beyond repair if they buy, or if the cost of the addition is greater than the cost of the status quo.
In other words, people don’t buy because they have a need. They buy only when they need a different form of excellence that they cannot achieve without something from the outside – so long as whatever it doesn’t cause irreparable disruption (for systems theorists, this is called Systems Congruence).
I have a brief story I often use to explain this. Years ago I was training Buying Facilitation® at IBM. I was asked to speak with a customer who had an old version of a new system they’d just developed and they needed a local beta test site. In exchange for being a beta, the client would get to keep the new hardware for free. And my client knew the old version and model the client had purchased years before couldn’t be working effectively given the way the company had grown.
Two sales folks had already called on this client, and the client said ‘no’ to both. They asked if I could give it a try. Here was my conversation:
SDM: Hi. I’m Sharon-Drew Morgen calling from IBM. I’m wondering how your current system is working.
CLIENT: Well, it’s ok. [Odd. They turned down a free brand new, fast, system and weren’t ecstatically happy with the old one?]
SDM: I’m confused. I heard that we offered you a brand new system that would be much faster than your current one. What stopped you from taking it?
SDM: Excuse me? Dad? Could you explain?
CLIENT: Sure. We’re a Mom & Pop shop, and Dad is Pop. He’s 75 now, and he’ll retire in about 2 years. He handles all of the technology, so I don’t want to confuse him or upset him. He might as well keep doing what makes him comfortable, even if our system is a bit slow.
SDM: So Dad’s comfort is your criteria. From what I know, users find the new system as easy to use as the old one. What would you need to know about the new beta to know if it’s easy enough for Dad to stay comfortable?
CLIENT: Dad would have to try it and be comfortable with it.
SDM: We happen to have another beta site about a mile from you. Would you be willing to have me come by and pick you and Dad up for a trial?
And so we placed the beta. It had nothing to do with need, and everything to do with the system, the change management issues, the buy in issues.
Buyers don’t need your solution. They need excellence. 100 years after Dale Carnegie used ‘need’ as the criteria [and in 1937 it was!], ‘need’ is no longer the reason people buy. In fact 80% of your current prospects will buy your solution within the next 2 years (probably not from you) once they’ve gotten their ducks in a row. Which means they were always buyers, but not ready or able to buy. And instead of facilitating their buying decision (not possible using need or solution placement as a focus), instead of helping them find their own best answers to their route to congruent excellence, you spend your time and focus on need, demographics, and targeted marketing campaigns that won’t convince them.
YOU DON’T BUY THE WAY YOU SELL
Take a moment to think how you buy. Do you wake up in the morning after a wild dream and go straight to a Porsche showroom and spend $100,000 on a car that sort of looked like the one in your dream? Of course not. You think about it, discuss it with your spouse, talk to friends, go online, find out how much your car is worth to sell, look at your bank account, consider your timing. If you did take yourself to the dealership the first moment you thought about it odds are you wouldn’t have made a purchase that day until you did all of the other background work.
Same with your workplace. Are there communication problems? Leadership issues? Motivation, diversity, personnel issues?? Why hasn’t someone hired a consultant to help you fix it? You’ve got a need – but someone, something assumes you can either fix it yourself, or there are budgeting issues, or it’s not a big problem, or or or…
Since its inception, sales has overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers – and continues to blame buyers for not knowing they need to buy. Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem?
A buying decision is a process that begins with some sort of stimulus, goes through a few rounds of discussion and examination against the rules, values, and stability of the status quo, some rounds of fixes with workarounds or tech solutions, some understanding of the downsides of change and consideration if the change can be tolerated or managed, and ultimately an agreement and considered preparation among all stakeholders that confirms they’re ready for something new to enter – the 5%, the low hanging fruit that finally, finally have completed their Pre Sales/change management work and become buyers. And yet you continue pushing pushing pushing your solution every which way in the hope that this set of words, this pitch, this website, will influence/inspire/manipulate/persuade people to buy.
Given that a buying decision is a change management problem, unless there buy in by all stakeholders, unless they are certain they cannot fix the problem with a known solution, until they are certain the new solution won’t cause irreparable disruption, people cannot buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution:
- STAKEHOLDERS Along every buying decision path, there is a larger, more diverse stakeholder group than ever before; they all must buy-in to change, new decisions, or new purchases to make sure anything new coming in maintains the integrity of the system it will fit into. Because it’s a change management issue, the sales model is inadequate;
- WORKAROUNDS Options for workarounds, partnering, or technology fixes that didn’t exist before can potentially take care of a prospect’s problems without buying anything. Until they ascertain through trial and error that a workaround doesn’t exist, they’re not buyers. The time it takes them to figure out if buying something external is obligatory AND will comfortably fit within their system is the length of the sales cycle. We can help them reduce this time dramatically, but the sales model doesn’t do this;
- DISRUPTION The last thing – the last last thing – anyone wants is to buy something, as it reconfigures their status quo and causes disruption. Yet we’re not helping them navigate the change issues that come up when bringing in (buying) something new. This causes us to sell to the low hanging fruit – that 5% who have already determine they need to buy. Those en route, or who will become buyers when they figure it out (a whopping 40% of your lists are real buyers that aren’t even aware they might need you and ignore your information because they don’t yet recognize it’s important for them), are ignored because the sales model doesn’t address change facilitation;
- INFORMATION You spend time and a whole bunch of money finding best practices to push information, desperately seeking (and paying for) the ‘right’ words, offered in the ‘right’ way, to the ‘right’ people, attempting to match their unknowable criteria, and being ignored a whopping, whopping percent of the time. In a nutshell, you’re using your own selling patterns and touching only those whose buying patterns match your selling patterns, alienating or entirely missing some who might soon buy;
- CHANGE MANAGEMENT Buying is a change management problem, not a solution choice issue. But the sales model only sells to those who have already mapped out their route through the changes that will occur with a purchase. You are ignoring an entire subset of real buyers you can facilitate through change with a new skill set;
- RELATIONSHIPS You mistakenly believe that a good ‘relationship’ will entice buyers because you seem to show up, I don’t know, more professional? Nicer? How’s that working for you? Everyone tries to be nice!
- STEPS TO CHANGE There are 13 steps in a buying decision and people don’t identify as buyers until step 10. Since there are specific systemic tasks to be accomplished before getting buy in to make a purchase, these folks aren’t buyers yet, and as such, have no interest in your product content. Remember: if they cannot manage the change, they cannot buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. The current sales model disregards the change management portion where 8x more real buyers live. It’s a great opportunity to sell without competition: they’re now doing these tasks without you. Might as well be with you.
- BUYING DECISION TEAM There is always, always, some sort of Buying Decision Team (BDT). Whether a colleague, a friend, a partner or a team, the BDT are those involved with addressing the systemic issues that are quite personal, and outsiders can never understand regardless of need or the efficacy of the solution;
- WRONG FOCUS It’s possible to recognize a buyer on the first call by shifting your focus from ‘need’ and ‘place solution’ to ‘ability to change’. Note: since the first 9 steps have absolutely nothing to do with need, your current strategies can never find these folks.
- DISRUPTION People aren’t buyers if any disruption from adding your solution costs more than buying anything; it’s possible to add a few skills and help them figure out how to manage any potential disruption en route to become buyers. You’re waiting and pushing and waiting and pushing, only to waste 90% of your time. You might as well try something different.
- CURRENT SKILLS Because sales focuses on placing solutions, it doesn’t employ change facilitation skills that lead people who WILL become buyer through the steps of change. Again: they must do this anyway, with you or without you. Sales uses the wrong questions (biased by your need to sell), the wrong listening (listening through filters biased by what you want to hear), the wrong assumptions (that need=buyer), the wrong focus (place solutions) and the wrong outcomes (5% close, and lots of annoyed people who might have bought). More on this below.
- OUTSIDER STATUS You can never understand the specific politics or relationships going on in buyer’s environment because you don’t live there. Once they become buyers, of course you can understand how your solution matches their need. Before then, you can never know their historic relationships, problems, experience, or politics. Even if you attempt to query these you can’t ever have the same reference points to ask from, nor the appropriate unbiased listening filters to listen through. At the change management end, your current skill sets are useless.
- BUYING PATTERNS VS SELLING PATTERNS Buyer use their own buying patterns; sellers use their own selling patterns (email/content marketing, websites that only offer fill-in boxes rather than phone numbers, pitches, information-push). People buy using their own buying patterns, not your selling patterns.
Here’s a wrap up of why your selling doesn’t cause buying: Besides narrowly listening for an inkling of ‘need’ (I wrote What? Did you really say what I think I heard? to teach you how to listen without bias), you’re overlooking the systems elements that must be managed before anyone can buy anything. You’re an outsider, using biased languaging, questions, and assumptions; your pitch merely represents what YOU think will inspire them to buy. But all that does is find those who 1. Have already done their Pre Sales change work, and 2. Seek exactly what you’re selling; it overlooks those who will shortly become buyers once they’ve traversed their route to congruent change. And once they’ve gathered up all of the stakeholders, gotten buy in, and know their route to congruent change, they’ll know exactly,exactly what they need and are ready to buy. Got it?
ADD BUYING FACILITATION® TO YOUR SALES PROCESS
I invented Buying Facilitation® and successfully trained it to over 100,000 people in global corporations with consistent results. It is not sales. It focuses on facilitating those people who WILL become buyers down their decision steps so they can do what they need to do to be ready and able to buy. Using Buying Facilitation®, Kaiser Permanente went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales. You choose which is more effective.
As part of Buying Facilitation®, I developed a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that eschews information gathering or the Asker’s curiosity and instead uses brain science in conjunction with the steps of decision making to lead people through to congruent change. I also developed a new way to listen (see my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) that avoids bias and listens for systems. And I shifted the opening focus from ‘need’ to finding those who are willing and able to change – in the sphere I’m selling in, of course. I’m facilitating those who can/will buy to Pre Sales Buyer Readiness.
Buying Facilitation® works with marketing as well.By understanding all elements necessary in the buying environment of your industry, you can write articles that move prospective buyers through their decision path using the steps of change, not with product content, but with change thinking. To find an audience for my listening book, I wrote an article on meetings, for example, because I know the steps of groups needing communication tools. I got dozens of Thank You notes from team leaders who shared the article to hundreds of employees, giving me a 54% conversion rate. And I did not discuss my book or even mention it until the footer.
As long as your sales model is focused on placing solutions and searching and listening for need, you will only close the low hanging fruit – those who have done their change management work, know a new solution won’t change their status quo beyond repair, and have gotten the buy in to proceed. By then they will now exactly what they need, and they’re ready to buy. It’s time to add Buying Facilitation® to the front end of sales, sell 8x more, and really help buyers buy.
For those of you who want to read more about this, here are some articles I’ve written:
If you’d like to discuss this with me directly, call or email: 512 771 1117; email@example.com.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales thought leader, and NYTimes Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, a skill set that facilitates decision making along each stage of the Pre Sales buyer’s decision path, and assembling all decision makers and addressing all elements subject to change, pre purchase. Sharon-Drew has trained global corporations, using pilot studies that consistently prove that adding BF to sales is 8x more effective at closing sales. Sharon-Drew is also the thought leader behind the game changing book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon-Drew speaks, trains, and consults in Communication, Sales, Listening, Buy-In. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.