Sales Is The Problem: What Is The Solution?

Over the past year or so, it has become apparent that we are not getting the sales results we’re used to getting:

  • it’s taking 30% longer to close a sale than it used to;
  • additional decision makers seemingly appear from nowhere;
  • internal decision makers whom the prospects seek to include in their purchasing decision are either unfamiliar to the sales team or seemingly not relevant to the identified problem;
  • goals aren’t being achieved and targeted prospects are not responding appropriately to our efforts;
  • we’re losing business to unknown competitors.

As a result, many of us are rethinking all or some of our normal sales practices:

  1. Because of the lengthened close cycle, we’ve been firing perfectly good sales people, and replacing them with clones, hoping that we’ll have better results with different sales people.
  2. We’ve stopped doing face-to-face sales training, replacing it with e-learning, thinking that maybe the training process might be the problem.
  3. We’re spending a fortune on refining our demographics, to ensure we target the most relevant prospects.
  4. We are trying blog’s, brand differentiation, different forms of marketing done through behavioral scientists, psychologists who tell us how our buyer-base makes decisions – believing that if we know this we can find a way to trigger our prospects into buying.


Sales is geared toward helping place product – either through different pitch mechanisms (such as presentations, ads, marketing, direct mail), different sales styles (SPIN, Sandler, High Probability, Solution Selling, Integrity Selling, and Dale Carnegie to name a few), and different forms of relationship management (Trusted Advisor, Relationship Selling, etc.).

When I remind sellers that their efforts are directed at placing product, some get blustery, saying things like: ‘Well! We will ONLY sell to clients that are appropriate.’ ‘We REALLY care that our product gets placed with people who really need it.’ ‘We are TRUE consultants and spend X time up front making sure our product would be appropriate.’ Call it what you will; everything I just mentioned here has one – and only one – focus: to place product.

I once had a discussion with Philip Kotler, author of Marketing Management, and marketing guru from the Kellogg School, about the inefficiency of the sales model, such as inappropriately long closing cycles, differentiation problems, objection-handling, gatekeepers, etc. “But those are all problems inherent in the model itself. Sellers have had to manage those problems through time.” Precisely.

In other words, the skills inherent in the sales model creates the very problems it works to overcome:

  1. objections get created by the sales process itself as sellers attempt to push, offer, and introduce solutions to a buyer who hasn’t fully discerned the full range of their unique buying criteria. Push back results, often around price;
  2. closing takes longer than necessary as buyers embark on the confusing task of managing their policy and people issues that are indirectly related to the identified problem. Product information does NOT teach buyers how to make their criteria-based, unique decisions across management lines;
  3. gatekeepers reject sellers whom they believe will abuse their boss’s time, and let in the only the ones they know will support the decision process.

Through time, we’ve accepted these inherent problems and built them in to our sales model as ‘givens’. Indeed, we automatically assume that these obstacles are a normal part of handling the sales cycle.

Isn’t there something wrong when we end up having the exact same problems over time? We’ve dealt with closing problems, gatekeepers, and objections throughout the history of sales and nothing has changed; … and no course, no article, no software, no consultant, can manage these problems


Through the years, we have actually devised work-‘rounds:

  • make-nice skills to convince prospects we care;
  • proclaim our individuality through ads, branding, or promotions;
  • get in front of prospects looking/acting/sounding ‘professional’;
  • send gifts;
  • get GOOD referrals from “people who know people”;
  • get to the “C” level people so a directive comes from top down;
  • make sure we sound credible, trustworthy, and differentiated;
  • spend gobs on money on websites and web portals to create a ‘great’ customer experience that proclaims WE CARE, WE CARE.

We seem to be placing blame on everything other than the originating problem: the sales model itself. For some reason, we have the belief that the sales model is, well, the sales model – comprised of a specific, rather standardized, set of skills that we must perform in order to sell product. Why have we not realized that the inherent problems could be prevented with a different model?

In my humble opinion, the sales model is obsolete.

What needs to happen for us to realize that without a buyer managing their full set of systemic decision factors, our product placement activity is moot?

That the goal of placing product is not a good use of a seller’s time?

And, the ultimate question: when will we realize that no matter what type of selling we’re doing, what approach we’re using, what demographics we are targeting, and how great our sales people/product/brand is, we continue to close basically the same number of sales (from first prospecting call to close) that we’ve always closed (7% from first prospecting call to close). Just slower.


Let’s go back a bit and look at the facts. Historically, sellers were needed to give buyers data that they couldn’t otherwise get. When our modern sales approach was designed – I believe Dale Carnegie to be the founder of our current model…… even consultative sales is a derivative of Carnegie’s basic model – there was no internet, few magazines, and efficient travel was embryonic.

Without sellers offering ‘features, functions, and benefits’, buyers had no way of fully understanding a product offering. So the main job of the seller became (in addition to finding an appropriate buyer) ensuring that the buyer had all of the information they needed to make an informed decision.

But that has changed. We no longer need to offer data about our product that the internet can ably do for us; we have new forms of competition; we have global partners and prospects; and the internal variables that create our customer’s decisions are hidden from us.

We’ve basically not changed our sales model through time. It’s time to make the sales function do more than sell product; we must start using sales as a vehicle to support the full range of our prospect’s buying decisions – not to place product, but to help them recognize, manage, and align all of the unique systems variables that need to be addressed before they can decide to go through the internal change process necessary for a purchase to happen.


I have developed a collaborative decision facilitation model (Buying Facilitation) that supports the discovery and management of the buying decision and addresses all of the elements that buyers need to manage before they decide. Buying Facilitation has very different results from sales, with none of the problems: no objections, sales cycles up to 90% shorter than any sales method, few gatekeeper problems, and targeted decision support etc.

The model doesn’t place product: it teaches buyers how to buy, using their own unique, hidden, historic, systems criteria to support their decision. After all, if they don’t know how to decide to buy you, it doesn’t matter how or what you’re selling.

Here are a few actual case histories using The Buying Facilitation Method® following difficulties with conventional sales:

1. I was working with a tax recovery company who got paid solely from recovered funds. They had a one-two year sales cycle.

SALES PROCESS: contacted prospect. Introduced themselves as the pre-eminent tax recovery company, with the best consultants (true!). Mentioned the percentage possibility of recovering funds and discussed fee structure (only paid when money found, i.e. no direct cost to company). Asked for appointment to discuss possibilities of recovering money in their state and to gather data etc. Got appointments 5% of the time. Visited several times and closed 10% within 24 months – usually 10-12 months.

BUYING FACILITATION PROCESS: contacted prospect and briefly introduced themselves. Asked prospect how they were currently recovering any funds due them and how they would manage relationships with tax folks if they decided to re-open the books. Inappropriate prospects said they would never annoy tax preparers and ended the call kindly. Appropriate prospects said they wanted to find money where possible. No – or maximum one – visit(s). One month close. No follow-up with inappropriate prospects.

2. A major internationally branded consulting firm had a 2 year delay in an agree-upon 8 figure technology solution for a major bank.

SALES PROCESS: Get an introduction to the CTO to get agreement for a meeting to discuss needs. This took several months, but was possible because of the well-known brand. Developed a business case for a software solution. Proposal developed and accepted. Work order delayed because of internal issues. Consulting firm managed to do small jobs, but after two years and budding friendships with the CFO, CTO, and COO, the delay continued. Cost to bank for NOT implementing new software: One Billion Dollars.

BUYING FACILITATION: the technology company had me contact the CFO of the company to help move them forward. It became clear, within 20 minutes of using Buying Facilitation that there was a long-standing unresolved Union problem that no one considered when discussing the technology solution. We resolved it in a few meetings. It could have been resolved years before. The bank was then free to start the software solution.

3. One of my own new sales people was having difficulty ‘getting past’ the gatekeeper.

SALES PROCESS: Mary was making cold calls to find speaking engagements for me. I listened while she was put into voice mail, given the run-around, and in general had great difficulty getting through to the correct person.

BUYING FACILITATION: I made cold calls to exhibit how to work with the gatekeeper. Mary dialed 7 numbers that were mysterious to me (truly cold). The first one I blew – the gatekeeper hung up on me mid question. The other 6 I was given straight to the correct decision maker or his/her assistant, who then gave me an appointment for the next day. I had collaborated with the decision maker (the gatekeeper) to help her decide to make me a part of the solution.

In reality, Buying Facilitation is a wholly different model with a different premise, different skills, and a different outcome. It’s not about selling, it’s about supporting the buyer in recognizing and managing all of the hidden elements that need to be addressed before they can make a buying decision. They need to do this anyway – with you, or without you. And the time it takes them to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle.

The question is, are we ready to change our sales model, and disrupt our status quo, for the possibility of getting the results we seek?

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy?

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  1. Pingback: Sales As A Spiritual Practice | Sharon-Drew Morgen

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