It’s time for a rant. After decades of writing books and articles explaining why we close such a small percentage of prospects and how, exactly, to facilitate the Buy Side to close much more, I’m going to say what I really think.
I’ll begin with my surprise: why do sales and marketing largely ignore the change management component of the Buy Side even in the face of very low (<5%) close rates? That the 95+% of prospects NOT buying (even in the face of the massive efforts) indicates that a focus on need or solution/product placement is imperfect? That maybe pitching/pushing content is the wrong strategy? My goodness, you wouldn’t even go to a hairdresser with a 95+% failure rate, let alone get on a plane or go to a doctor. Isn’t it clear that something is wrong?
DO YOU WANT TO SELL OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?
For me the answer is obvious: both sales and marketing ignore the path folks take to become buyers and overlook a group of highly probable prospects who actually need support handling their unique change management issues. Because they’re not buyers yet, you’ve overlooked them. But you’re ignoring a huge opportunity to serve, differentiate yourself, and close more.
Here’s my question: Do you want to sell? Or help someone buy? Your answer is obvious: ‘I want to sell and I don’t care whether anyone buys.’ That’s what you’re doing! Selling, even though such a small percentage are buying! It’s the wrong answer. If you really wanted people to buy you’d be doing something different.
Both marketing and sales ignore the Buy Side, focusing on solution placement/product sale, while restricting the purchasing audience to those relative few – the low hanging fruit – who finally show up. And making a purchase is the very last thing people do. Before then, they’re merely people trying to figure out their best route to solving a problem.
People don’t want to buy anything, merely solve a problem at the least cost to the system. And until they understand the ‘cost to the system’ (how their culture and norms will be affected) they can’t buy. They don’t even recognize a ‘need’ until then. They certainly aren’t seeking an external solution; nor do they consider themselves buyers! Hence they pay no heed to your selling or marketing content. And yet you persist on doing the same thing even in the face of failure.
It’s possible to recognize folks who WILL be buyers on the first call, then facilitate them efficiently through their Pre-Sales (i.e. Pre-Buying) change management steps. But not with the current solution placement/product sale model.
Sales and marketing were designed to sell solutions. But sticking to the historic solution placement/product sale focus, they ignore the real Pre-Sales buying decision journey folks take first and overlook the possibility finding folks who will soon be buyers but don’t self-identify as such yet.
Sales and marketing overlook the much larger group of folks on route to becoming buyers but not ready yet, focusing instead on anyone – anyone with a name that shows up somewhere, anyone who will sit still long enough to read or listen, anyone who has any semblance of a ‘need’ as per a biased interpretation. Anyone.
FACILITATE BUYING BEFORE TRYING TO SELL
Sales can begin by recognizing, finding, and leading people through their team– and culture-based detection and buy-in activities; marketing can use change-focused content to guide folks through their unfamiliar steps of change. All it takes is a focus on facilitating change – the necessary steps involved with ‘buying’ – as the first activity rather than beginning with selling. And by ‘facilitating buying’ I mean the process of change, nothing product-purchase related.
By overlooking the change folks must take before identifying as buyers, you’re limiting your audience to those relative few who completed their internal decisions and have their ducks in a row; you’re missing a huge opportunity to beat your competition and be a change facilitator – a role folks really, really need you – as one aspect of your sales and marketing strategy.
With a shift in perspective to first find folks seeking change in your area of expertise and facilitating their necessary change management Pre-Sales Change Path BEFORE trying to sell, you’ll find folks very early in their decision journey (before they even recognize they might be buyers) and use your new change management thinking to help them figure out what they need to figure out. Then more will be ready to buy, and buy quicker.
Here’s an example of two responses to a Facilitative Question I posed to begin a prospecting call. Notice that they both have ‘need’ but only one is a real prospect [Hint: the willingness to change is the identifier.]:
SD: How are you and your decision team adding new sales skills to their already successful strategies, for those times you’re seeking to shorten sales cycles?
Response #1: every year I read 6 popular sales books. I choose my favorite, buy 1500 copies for the teams, then have the managers discuss one chapter a month. I’ve been doing it for years and my folks love it.
SD: Sounds like you are happy with your strategy.
#1: Love it.
Response #2: every year I offer some type of sales training. But I must be doing something wrong – it doesn’t seem to help and our close rates and the sales cycles don’t seem to change much.
SD: sounds frustrating.
#2. It has been. But I don’t despair. I keep seeking a way to fix this problem. Shouldn’t be so hard.
Both #1 and #2 need to learn my Buying Facilitation® model. But only #2 is actively seeking change and actually bought my training 2 weeks later. When starting by seeking folks on route to change (instead of seeking those with need), you’ll find people with a good chance of becoming buyers once they’re ready.
SALES IS AN OUTDATED MODEL
When designed 100 years ago, sales and marketing only needed a reliable product, a charming personality (Have you ever met a seller who wasn’t charming?) and folks with a need. Easy. Even buyers had an easier time: with a simple buying process, far fewer solution choices, and fewer bits and pieces to organize, buying involved maybe two or three available solutions; marketing content provided data they couldn’t get anywhere else; sales reps were a necessary and accepted part of a buying decision.
Times have changed but neither sales nor marketing have changed with them. Close rates have gone from 8% when I began selling in 1979 to well under 5% now (closer to 3% if tracked from first call). When I told someone recently that the sales model closed less than 5%, he disagreed:
F: We’re closing 15%
SD: Starting from where?
F: Starting from a visit! (Question: how many not-yet-ready-buyers did he get ‘nos’ from as he attempted to get an appointment?)
SD: How many would you close if you started counting when you get a name?
F: Less than 2%.
Isn’t this an indication that something is wrong? That you must do something different? A <5% close rate is 95+% failure! And yet it’s called success! But what if you said, “Hmmmm. Such a small percentage close rate is failure, especially after all that effort and outreach. What are we missing here?”
With fewer people needing your help to make a purchase, more folks involved in a buying decision, and more people buying online, why are you using the same process, the same thinking, you’ve always used? With a blank slate and all possibilities available, even the new apps continue the same failed thinking!
With technology to organize a seller’s time, grab names from unpredictable searches, cause company names to come up in search engines, push out content, combined with the separation of the technology into cost centers that hide the real cost of a sale, the only people making money are the groups selling these new technologies to salespeople!
It’s time to consider first finding folks on route to change and facilitating their non-buying change management process before trying to sell.
DOING THE SAME THING IS INSANITY
The continued belief that with the ‘right’ content/message, the ‘right’ technology, the concept ‘if you find them they’ll buy’ is a foundational flaw.
Think with me here: You’re spending more and more money to find more and more names and spending more and more time on folks not even real prospects. The hope, the promise – that once people notice you, appreciate your solution, believe they need your solution, and trust/like you, they’ll buy – is moot. There are several issues involved;
The focus on solution placement/product sale, and finding folks with ‘need’, misses the real opportunity:
- the unique process each person/group people goes through before becoming buyers;
- when, why, how people become buyers (Seriously. I’ve trained 100,000 sales folks and not one – not one! – knows their market’s Pre-Sales buying decision/change management process!);
- the role of change in the buying process;
- the possibility of finding folks on route to becoming buyers on the first call;
- how to facilitate folks through their preliminary non-solution change decisions;
- how to use marketing to progress the buying decision path.
By restricting sales and marketing to solution placement/product sale, the real process people go through on route to becoming buyers has been overlooked. Think about it for a moment. If you want to convince your spouse to buy a 2-seater $350,000 Lamborghini, would you want them to sit down with a decision facilitator or a Lamborghini sales rep?
What would you need to believe differently to begin your sales/marketing outreach with a change management criteria?
The industry presuppositions as to targeting ‘buyers’ are specious:
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). 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.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.