How do systems determine buying decisions?

Because sales operates in needs assessment/solution placement terms, and not on the buying decision paths, we don’t consider that there is an actual system to how buyers buy. But there is. And it’s scalable.


We live in systems (My book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it explains a systems and how change and decisions take place.).

A system is a bunch of things that have agreed to operate together, using rules they all agree to. And systems don’t recognize one thing as ‘bad/needs help’ and one thing ‘good/leave alone.’ It’s all just stuff that keeps recreating itself daily – like our weight, or our relationships, or the way our teams/families function.

When a problem occurs within a system the system quickly creates a work-around so it can continue on it’s normal route. It doesn’t say, “OH. We need to make a purchase and get rid of the thing that’s problematic!’ It just does a fix and keeps going. It’s not until several parts of a system are ready to create a change and manage any resistance, that a change (or purchase) will take place).

One of the problems with the sales model is that it assumes when sellers ‘understand need’ and move to introduce a ‘fix’, that the buying journey can be influenced. This is far, far from true (or we’d close a lot more sales). Until the system is ready to change without resistance, it will do nothing.

Here are the major systems issues that must be resolved before a purchase will be made, regardless of the type of size of the solution or the costs of the underlying need.

  1. The Buying Decision Team must be formed – an interesting process in an of itself and takes quite a while.
  2. The political infighting must be minimized. But oh, what a painful, personal process!
  3. The familiar vendor must be checked out.
  4. The recommended vendors must be checked out.
  5. Everyone who will touch the solution must agree to change. This is a long, hard process.
  6. The implementation/change management issues must be in place.
  7. The management must be bought-in and know how to manage the change.
  8. People have to be hired/fired/outsourced, or calendars scheduled to take care of the appropriate staffing.

Because we are not part of the system that buyers make decisions in – their relationships and their policies are idiosyncratic and not open to outsiders – using the sales model merely  manages the last stage of the buying decision, but offers little to manage the back-end systems piece and decision paths.


When sellers notice a problem – and let’s face it: we’re hypervigilant around problems we can solve with our solution – we hone in on it as if it were an isolated event. And try to prove to the system that it’s wrong, and can only be ‘righted’ if it purchases OUR solution.

But that’s lunacy. Many years ago I was working with IBM. They were running Betas on a new system – AS 400 to replace the slower System 36 – and needed one particular small company to take the Beta as it fit the criteria for testing perfectly. They had 3 sales people attempt to offer the company the new hardware for free, and it was declined each time. They asked me to see if I could have better results. Here is how the conversation went:

SDM: Hi. I’m Sharon-Drew Morgen with IBM. This is a sales call. Is this a good time to speak?

Owner: Sure. What are you selling?

SDM: Actually, I’m trying to give you a free computer cuz we’re doing a Beta test and want to include you. How is your computer working for you?

Owner: Um. It’s OK. Fine, I guess.

SDM: What’s stopping you from getting a computer that’s better than OK??

Owner: Dad.

SDM: DAD? What does that mean?

Owner: This is a Mom & Pop shop. Dad is the owner. He’s been around over 40 years, and he’s retiring in 2 years. He’s in charge of all technology, and I don’t want him to stress over trying to learn something new that will probably be beyond him.

And there you have it. The problem was not a problem at all, as a very slow computer was worth the systemic issues that held it in place. I must admit that I figured out a way to move ahead, though. But not by discussing the merits of the new computer or focusing on the need. I helped him decide how to take care of Dad.

SDM: I hear that until or unless Dad would be able to learn a new technology easily, and would be able to maintain it comfortably, you’d rather continue with your slow computer. What would you need to see from me to know if we could create a way to help Dad decide if he could handle it?

Owner: Are there any other Beta sites around here that you could take Dad to and he could see for himself?

He did, and it was fine, and they took the Beta.

Stop selling a solution. Until ‘Dad’ is aboard, the rest of the system will fight to maintain the status quo. Focus your efforts on helping the prospect figure out how and when and if and with whom to change and help them manage their decision paths. And then you can sell.


Read 2 sample chapters of Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it, and Buying Facilitation®: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions.

Hear Sharon-Drew make live prospecting calls.

2 thoughts on “How do systems determine buying decisions?”

  1. Pingback: The results of using Buying Facilitation® | Sharon-Drew Morgen

  2. Pingback: Change management and sales: influencing the buying decision path | Sharon-Drew Morgen

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top