We can never understand a buyer’s buying environment

Sales people get confused when I suggest they can’t ‘understand’ the buyer’s needs if they approach a sale with this outcome. Without everyone on board who will lend their voice to a possible solution, buyers cannot understand it themselves. And using the sales model, we can’t help: we’ll never understand what’s going on behind-the-scenes as they figure out who should be involved, what must be managed, and how to maintain the rules and norms of the environment, as they consider change. We are outsiders, and not privvy to the agendas, communication, meetings, or relationships – the system, if you will.

To help you understand how foreign systems are to outsiders, here’s a personal story from a trip to India that made me realize I’d never understand another system as an outsider…. and what I needed to focus on instead of trying to manipulate or make sense of a situation that I wanted to effect change over, but was foreign to me.

In this funny story I was so confounded by my inability to understand another culture that I ended up having a spiritual experience.


I was on a speaking tour through India titled Spirituality in Business. India is a wonderous place that teaches you how to be authentic: there is no other way to be, since the only system they live with (outside of the strict rules of relationships) is chaos. And with my systems-thinking Asperger brain, that makes me horribly uncomfortable.

So I was going nuts. Absolutely bonkers. Nothing worked as I thought it should. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. No one did the job they were supposed to be doing. There were no rules, far as I could tell. I had no idea what to do, how to fit in or act. I was living in a state of confusion that hurt – every moment of every day.

I decided that the best route would be either murder or suicide. I didn’t much care which, so long as there was death involved.

I made such a fuss that the organizer of the speaking tour got me the name/number of a travel agent who would get me to HHDL (the Dalai Lama) in Dharamsala in North West India. One of the things to note about India is that your plane/train/bus will be late – or early, who knows – but whenever it does show up it will be yesterday’s transport, or tomorrow’s, and you’ll have to wait til, til who knows when. People wait for days. Calmly.

Anyway, I took the number and went to a nearby village to stand on line (with the goats and chickens, babies and arguing adults) to use the phone – a make-shift deal tied around a tree. It was probably the only phone for miles.

When it was my turn, I contacted Mr. Singh. “Ah, Miss Morgen. Yes. I have your plans to Dharamsala. Please hold while I get your file.” As I waited, watching some children play with a dog, I began smelling smoke. I looked around and saw nothing burning, until I looked down: the phone cord was dangling off of the tree, and on fire. That’s right. And that’s not even possible.

Obviously, I wasn’t going anywhere. No phone, no transport, no way out, no understanding, no choices. Typical of every moment in India: total confusion, all the time.

I sat down on a nearby rock, rolled my eyes upward, defeated: “OK. I’ll stay.”


What had to be true for me to remain in India and not commit Death of some kind? I had to learn how to take one step at a time, put one foot in front of the other, have no expectations, and live totally in the present without needing anyone else to behave in any particular way and without needing to understand anything. One step. I’m OK. One step. I’m OK.  One step. I’m OK. The anger, fear, rage, confusion slipped away; each moment was just fine.

After a day of taking very small, slow steps, I realized that not only was I (and folks around me) still alive, but that I felt free: I realized that much of my life had been based on assumptions of what I wanted to happen – what I expected, and what I thought I could influence, and the frustrations and annoyance when I didn’t get what I expected.

I took this lesson back to my life and job as a seller. I realized it’s not possible to understand a buyer’s systems. Sure, I understand the facts about a need and how it fits with my solution, but my ability to understand ends there.

What are the systems in your client’s environment? They must navigate their daily routines, decisions, jobs, relationships so that work gets done and excellence accomplished. But you don’t understand their system. So, what has to be true for you to help prospects traverse their systems and consider purchasing something?


Read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it. Read two free sample chapters.

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3 thoughts on “We can never understand a buyer’s buying environment”

  1. AskProfessorRowell

    Hi, Sharon. I enjoyed your description of conducting business in India. I had similar experiences during my 1+ year stay there as an entrepreneur. I do miss some of the simplicity I encountered there. Thank you for sharing! Elisa

  2. Pingback: Where does selling begin? Activate the buying journey immediately | Sharon-Drew Morgen

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