Sellers can’t understand the buyer’s decision process

How do you and your spouse/partner figure out where to vacation?

When you have a need for a new car, how do you and your family choose it?

When your work unit (team, company) wants a new training program, how do you go about choosing if/when/why to have one, and with whom you’ll study?


When I ask you these questions, do you know the complete answer right now? Do you know now how everyone is going to react – at the start of, or during, the decision  process? What everyone will add to the conversation and weigh in on the choices? How you will shift perspectives, or reconsider needs based on other’s needs or comments? What  problems will arise? What additional solutions will arise? What will happen to your relationships as you all go through the process? What sort of a choice will you end up with in relation to the thoughts you had when you started?

Often when people are first aware of my work, they think I suggest that sellers  find out more about the buyer’s decision making. This always surprises me: I’ve never suggested this at all. Indeed, it’s impossible.

As sellers, we  work to understand a buyer’s needs, and then find the best route to showing how our solution fits. We absolutely need to understand the who, what, why, where, when.

But make no mistake: we will never, ever, understand what is going on during their behind-the-scenes decision process. And here, I speak not only of the decisions around a solution choice, but all of those change management issues they must address privately before they even get as far as choosing a solution. If your partner doesn’t want to move, you’re not moving. If your family needs a van, you’re not getting your Porsche right now. If your team wants to use their old vendor, they won’t choose the new solution.


Can I ‘understand’ your relationship with your spouse and/or family and the relationship issues and history involved in your decisions? Never. Gosh – YOU don’t even understand it sometimes. But as an outsider, I’ll certainly never understand. Do you understand your parent’s marriage? No? You lived with them for at least 18 years – and you still don’t understand?

So how would you ever expect to understand folks who you don’t know? THEY don’t even understand their process!

But let’s say there was some magical way you could understand – some way you could

  • get into each individual’s head and heart,
  • be there when they unconsciously figure out the reasons why they are saying what they are saying or pushing for their specific choices,
  • understand what’s going through their heads at the moment they decide to compromise or dig their heals in,
  • understand how their communications with colleagues have taken place over time and their relationship history.

Let’s say you’re wearing a cloak that makes you invisible and enables you to go into everyone’s unconscious individually, and then be there during the several meetings and dialogues take place. Even if you could do all that, you STILL wouldn’t have the capability to influence their private issues.

  • You can’t help them figure out whether to fire the guy who has been running the work-around that your solution will replace.
  • You can’t help the CSO and CMO communicate effectively with the CTO.
  • You can’t help the tech guys work better with the users.
  • You aren’t there when your Internal Client seeks out several alternatives to using you.
  • You can’t choose the criteria that will make or break their personal log-jam.

Sellers must understand need so they can place a solution. But the sales model does NOT handle the behind-the-scenes decision issues buyers must address to manage the change that will occur, to elicit the buy-in necessary to move forward – and design new pathways to allow change to happen without disruption. Because until or unless they do, they will make no decision – and hence the length of the sales cycle.

Asking ‘what is your buying decision’ is specious. As is ‘who are the decision makers.’ You knowing all that – which you can never do as there are far too many unknowns even for the buyers – will not help the buyer make their decisions. Sorry. It just won’t.

Buying Facilitation™ is a change management model that adds a decision facilitation capability to your sales model. Then you can be a support to the buyer’s private decisions instead of just sitting and waiting while they do this.

Have a look at Dirty Little Secrets – read 2 sample chapters. It explains exactly what buyers are doing internally while you’re hovering waiting to sell (and actually shows you how you can facilitate their decision making with a new skill set). Look at the Learning Accelerators that offer Buying Facilitation™ skills to help you help them manage their change. But make no mistake: the sales model does not give you the tools to be effective in this space.


For those wishing to hear Sharon-Drew live in Boston, please register for the September 23rd evening event titled: A Trail of Dead Salespeople

Listen to Sharon-Drew on the following webinars and podcasts:

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