Do you ever wonder why all those folks who obviously need your solution don’t buy? No, really. Do you? Do you think it’s because they’re, um, stupid? or ill informed? How ‘bout your belief that if you can get a chance to explain it better, or get in front of them, they’ll buy?
Here’s a hint: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your solution. It’s great. And no, buyers aren’t stupid. And no, your information won’t help. And trying to get in front of them to enable your captivating personality woo them, is just wasting time.
Buyers buy exactly what they need, when they need it, and who they want to buy it from – your content is searchable and your site professional and data rich. Buyers are smart. They’re just not listening to you.
SALES IS THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION
The way you’re using the sales model is the problem: everything you do, everything you say, everything you send, has one focus: to sell. Don’t get me wrong. You’re a fine sales professional and your product, your marketing, and your pitches, are great. But you’re using the wrong thinking if you’re using the sales model itself to find actual buyers.
Not only is the sales model a second tier model – great for placing solutions once buyers are ready – but it’s useless as a prospecting and qualifying tool. Used to discover need, persuade and convince, it’s a time and resource waste.
The sales model does nothing to promote buying.The sales model (the baseline being a tool to get solutions placed) is based on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937): find the folks who need what you’re selling, explain it as many ways necessary so they’ll recognize it will resolve their need, and keep following up to remind them that you’re still there and here’s why they should buy your solution.
Believe it or not, and even with the new technology, the baseline thinking of the sales model hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. The sales process:
- analyzes demographics to uncover areas with a higher probability of prospect need;
- maximizes content/information distribution to match those demographics;
- maximizes buyer touch points to develop brand and trust to minimize objections;
- prices the solution competitively;
- connects with buyers personally when possible to create trust and build relationship;
- beat the competition.
Everything is focused on selling a solution. But there’s a problem with that focus: Every penny spent on recognizing buyer personas, or demographics, or buyer personality types, not only assumes that a seller can convert that name to gold, but assumes you’re meeting these prospective buyers at the point they’re ready to buy, which occurs 5% of the time. That success rate (No other industry would call 95% failure success!) alone should be a hint that maybe something’s wrong. There is. And yet it’s always, always considered to be a sales problem, not a change management problem.
Instead of wondering how you can find folks with a need so you can place your solutions, maybe you should start thinking of what comes first: how to facilitate folks through their change management decision process that occurs before they become buyers in the first place. By starting with the sales model and sales thinking, there is no way to address or facilitate the full buying decision process that puts ‘buying’ last.
It’s time to forego the focus on selling and instead concentrate on the process, the steps, people go through as they navigate through their decisions to make a change or bring in a solution. A buying decision is a strategic process, not tactical like sales. And it’s not focused on buying anything.
Why is it assumed that the solution, the purchase, the final act of attempting to resolve a problem, is the focus for how people become buyers or choose a solution? Or the only decision to be made is the product purchase decision? Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They’re two different processes.
Believe it or not, even with all the cool technology and knowledge of demographics, the core sales thinking hasn’t changed. But the environment has. And so has the close rate (It’s going down.). And yet we’re still using the same baseline thinking. Here are the problems with this:
A. Obviously, as per travel in 1937, most of Carnegie’s prospects didn’t live too far away. And he knew most of them personally.
- We don’t personally know our prospects. Oh, sure, we’ve got high tech methods to ‘find’ probable buyers. Yet when I train the model I developed (Buying Facilitation®) to sellers, the control group using the sales model closes 5% and my learners close 40%. That means we’re ignoring 8x more real prospects using the sales model alone. By first helping people traverse through their pre-sales cultural decision issues – stakeholder buy in, trying workarounds, figuring out the how to manage any downside to bringing in something new (all stuff we wait for them to do anyway) it’s possible to find folks who will become buyers on the first call, and shorten the sales cycle dramatically.
- Our push to ‘create trust/relationships’ is silly. Everyone knows it’s not a real relationship, that it’s a ploy to sell. Not to mention trust can’t occur when one person is trying to convince another to make a purchase. And frankly, just because someone likes you doesn’t mean they can convince their team to buy given the complexity and politics of the stakeholder decision process.
B. Carnegie stressed describing details of a new product/solution.
- There was no internet, no regular phone use, no content marketing, no search. Not to mention people looked forward to sitting down with sellers to learn to solve their problem. Now they use Google and don’t need sellers to explain anything. Let me say this again: our prospects do not need us to pitch product content! They do not need us to tell them price, features, functions. They do not need us to ‘gather information’ so WE can find out ‘their needs’. Everyone knows those are all ploys and entries to them pitching them what WE want to tell him. Not to mention as outsiders we can NEVER understand their ‘needs’ as they’re systemic, not tactical.
C. Buying decisions involved the seller, the problem, the product, and the buyer.
- There are layers of stakeholders and decision makers now; buyers live in complicated systems of norms, rules, history, group/individual needs – all of which must be addressed before a buying decision takes place. Pushing solution content before these issues have been addressed does nothing to facilitate group buy-in; it merely causes distrust.
D. A purchase was tactical.
- Now, unless it’s a small personal item, most purchases are strategic and involve a range of conscious and unconscious issues that must be managed first before folks even become buyers. With all the demographics in the world, with even the knowledge that this person will buy eventually, an outsider using the sales model cannot, cannot facilitate people through the steps they MUST take before deciding to buy. The sales model just does NOT facilitate the strategic elements of enabling buy-in for change. And that’s 3/4 of what people do before they become buyers. And we’re ignoring this vast pre-sales capability.
Here’s what Carnegie didn’t know:
- People don’t want to buy anything. They just want to resolve a problem at the lowest ‘cost’ to their culture and become buyers only when they recognize they cannot resolve the problem internally and everyone understands the ‘cost’ of bringing in something new.
- Until people have determined they’re buyers, they have no inclination to read or hear a pitch because they haven’t yet determined the need or know if it can be resolved internally. They won’t read our information because they’re not aware they need it yet, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. Not to mention, pitching too early creates objections.
- Need doesn’t determine who buys. Just because there’s a real need doesn’t mean it’s the right time, there’s the proper buy in, and the calculation of cost to the system: the cost of bringing in a new solution must be less than the cost of maintaining the problem. Not to mention it’s quite difficult for sellers to recognize real ‘need’ when they pose biased questions to obtain cues that obviate a pitch or follow up.
- There’s no way a seller can know the unique, idiosyncratic issues going on within a buyer’s environment that dictate how their decisions get met. And until whoever will touch the final solution buys in to something new, a purchase will not be made. Hint: assuming we have a prospect because we interpret what we hear as a ‘need’ doesn’t make someone a prospect.
NEW RULES FOR NEW TIMES
The crucial missing pieces are systemic and have nothing to do with a purchase:
1. Buying an external solution has a cost beyond money. It’s much ‘cheaper’ and far less disruptive to fix the problem with known resources if they can. Until they figure this out if a workaround is viable, they will not buy regardless of need.
Rule #1: Prospects aren’t always prospects.
2. Buying is systemic. People won’t become buyers until they have: the full set of facts that caused the problem and maintain it (or they can’t know the extent of the problem); a fair exploration of workarounds or internal fixes to try first to resolve the problem themselves; an understanding of the downside of bringing in something new that must be implemented, learned, accepted, used. Until then they’re just people with a problem they want to resolve. Themselves.
Rule #2: Need has little to do with who is a buyer and it’s the wrong metric to use to help buyers buy.
3. People with a problem won’t be researching our information unless it’s to learn from as they attempt their own fix – not to buy. While they will certainly seek out information once they become buyers, we’ve got that market covered with our sites and marketing. That’s the low hanging fruit – your 5% close.
Rule #3: Our content, marketing, emails, and requests for appointments won’t be noticed nor needed until folks consider themselves buyers.
4. Until or unless the entire stakeholder group is on board and buys in to any change that will occur once they implement the new purchase, they will never buy.
Rule #4: Buying is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue.
5. 40% of the folks we’re prospecting will buy our solution (maybe from a different provider) within about two years: the time it takes them to figure out how to figure it out is the length of the sales cycle.
Rule #5: Sales concentrates on placing solutions to the exclusion – to the exclusion – of facilitating the buying decision process which is change based, not solution choice based. The change process can be accelerated, but not with sales.
6. People aren’t seeking to buy anything, they just want to resolve a problem. They only become buyers if they cannot resolve the problem with internal workarounds. If the only way they can resolve the problem is to make a purchase, the ‘cost’ of the solution must be less than the cost of maintaining the status quo.
Rule #6: People won’t notice details, pitches, content marketing about our solution until they consider themselves buyers and know how to manage the cost of implementing it – regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.
Net net: Seeking need isn’t working or we’d close more. Creating a trusting relationship isn’t working or we’d close more. Generating terrific content isn’t working or we’d close more. Finding the right demographic isn’t working or we’d close more.
All of those tools will uncover those who are specifically seeking your solution at this precise moment. That’s it. They will not expand our audience. And those who are ready are a small percent of folks who need our solution but can’t buy until they’re ready (5% vs 40%).
TIPS TO HELPING BUYERS BUY
Let’s take the inherent problems with sales and the extremely low close rate, and shift to a new way of thinking about this. Here are some tips to truly serve folks exactly where they need you (Remember: they don’t need us to pitch or inform.) during their change facilitation process, and steps to actually help those who WILL become buyers to buy:
1. Before selling, help folks do what they need to do to become buyers – facilitate them through their change management (their Buying Decision Path). They have to do it anyway, with us or without us. So let’s go a bit outside the sales/solution placement model, and just help them with the change management first.
Change the goal of prospecting calls. Stop trying to find someone with a need. Find folks considering change in the area you support. These folks are easy to find if we stop trying to push our products or ask biased questions. The time it takes them to figure this out is the length of the sales cycle. So help them figure it out. Then we’re already there when they become buyers. NOTE: the initial effort must be on facilitating change – not selling.
2. Facilitate potential buyers through the steps to change they they must go through (I’ve coded 13 steps involved in the Buying Decision Journey) before they become buyers.
- recognize the full extent of the problem, possible by assembling the complete set of stakeholders (which sellers can never know) to share information;
- attempt to fix the problem internally (which sellers can never do as outsiders);
- manage any disruption an outside fix would entail (which we can’t do for them).
I can’t say this enough times: a purchase is NOT about ‘need’; and no purchase will be made if the cost of the solution is higher than the cost of maintaining status quo regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. And an outsider, a seller, can never, never make any of those determinations.
3. Stop posing biased questions. I invented Facilitative Questions which do NOT gather information, but point the client in the direction they need to consider on route to change. Many folks in the sales field misuse my term Facilitative Questions (which I invented in 1993). Let me be clear: If you haven’t studied with me and try to formulate these questions, you’re using ‘Susan’s questions’, or ‘Joe’s questions’, not Facilitative Questions.
Facilitative Questions take some training. They use brain function to lead people down their path to change and decision making. They do NOT attempt to gather information! And they use brain science: They contain very specific words in a very specific order, often with a time element involved, and always pulling data points in a very specific sequence from one memory channel to the next. If you want to discuss, email me: email@example.com. If you want to learn, take a look at this learning accelerator.
The problem with using conventional questions, regardless of your intent, is that
- They’re biased by your need to know and most likely overlook vast bits of knowledge;
- They are restricted in scope by your outcome and languaging;
- They cannot be heard as intended due to the bias that your communication partner (all people!) listens through;
- There’s a high probability that the real answer to what you want to know either doesn’t exist, or isn’t fully formed yet.
So don’t use conventional questions based on your needs to inform and discuss your solution until these folks are at the end of the change steps and have real answers. And please operate from a different focus: learn Facilitative Questions to help them manage the change necessary so they can become buyers. Facilitative Questions address change. Conventional questions try to gather data – unnecessary until folks are already buyers and need specifics that can be elicited through normal questions.
4. Stop trying to make an appointment. All you’re getting are folks who are either using your content to craft their own pitch to their team, or to compare against their internal, or historic, vendor. People who will become buyers generally do their research and call to ask for a sales person. I’m not saying don’t visit. But only visit those who are real buyers, and the whole Buying Decision Team is present. That’s a great use of sales.
The sales model is great for people who have become buyers – the low hanging fruit. Unfortunately, it does nothing at all to engage or facilitate folks still in the process of trying to resolve a problem themselves and who have a good shot at becoming buyers when they’re done. By prospecting from the knowledge you first seek those seeking to change, you can find very highly qualified folks who WILL become buyers, and using Buying Facilitation® you can reduce the sales cycle by 3/4.
With a Change hat on, it’s easy to find those in the process of becoming buyers and facilitate them through their Buying Decision Journey. You’re already spending time following up vast numbers of people who will never buy; why not find those who WILL become buyers (possible on the first call) and speed up their change process.
In summary, if you facilitate folks through their Buying Decision Path, you can lead them through their discovery of the full set of stakeholders (which you would never have known or discovered); their search for an internal solution (They would have had one already if it were available – but if they discover one, they wouldn’t have been buyers anyway!); managing the change. Then, when they’re buyers, they will invite YOU to visit and ALL of the stakeholders will be there ready to buy. Then you can sell! Not to mention the facilitation process takes a lot less time than pitching, trying to get an appointment, and following up.
Sales is a necessary model to introduce solutions beyond what’s possible on the internet. It’s just illogical to use as a prospecting or qualifying tool. With 8x more real buyers on your lists, stop wasting time on those who will never buy, find the ones who will once they figure it all out, and help them figure it out. Then sell.
I’m not taking away the sales model, only the frustration, expenditure of resource – not to mention it’s far easier to sell when you have buyers. One more thing: for those interested in truly serving your customers, facilitate them through their confusing decision making. Then you’ll have a customer for life.
For those interested in learning about my Buying Facilitation® model, here’s a link to some articles. I’ve also got gobs more on Sharondrewmorgen.com.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. 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.