Did you ever wonder why all those folks who obviously need your solution don’t buy? No, really. Have you? Did you think it’s because they’re, um, stupid? or ill informed? How ‘bout your guess that when you 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. 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 and your solution is great.
SALES IS THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION
The way you’re using the sales model is the problem: everything you do is focused on selling. Indeed, selling doesn’t cause buying.
The very focus of the sales model restricts who will buy, leaving behind a vastly larger group of people who will buy once they’re ready. The sales model is great for after they’re ready – not for making them ready.
I suggest you employ sales at a later stage of the buying decision process, and first engage with the people who will become buyers but haven’t gotten there yet.
With a focus shift, you can find the people with a high propensity of becoming buyers early along their decision path, facilitate them through their Pre-Sales change management issues, and then sell when they’re ready. In other words, instead of waiting for them while they do this themselves (and the time it takes them to do this is the length of their sales cycle), put on a different hat and facilitate them through their necessary process. They’re going to do it with you or without you. And you’re wasting a valuable resource by ignoring it.
Don’t get me wrong. You’re a fine sales professional. You’ve just overlooked what goes on in the buying. And it has nothing to do with how you’re selling.
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, get into a relationship so they trust you, explain as many ways necessary so they’ll recognize your solution 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.
It’s not changed much in the intervening years, and indeed has enhanced the very same themes:
The sales process must analyze demographics to uncover areas with a higher probability of prospect need; maximize content/information distribution to match those demographics using whatever technology is most effective to garner attention; maximize buyer touch points to develop brand and trust to minimize objections; price the solution competitively; connect with these buyers personally when possible to create trust and build relationship; and beat the competition.
Notice that everything is focused on a seller’s need to sell. Here’s the problem with that. Every penny spent on recognizing buyer personas, or demographics, or buyer personality types, or ensuring your messaging is appealing for the recipients, assumes that a seller can/should convert that name to gold. And yet it only occurs 5% of the time in face to face sales, and 0.0059% in digital marketing. That success rate (No other industry would call that success!) alone should be a hint that maybe something’s wrong. There is.
It’s time to forego the singular focus on placing your solution and first connect to facilitate buying. Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They’re two different processes. One’s tactical, one’s strategic. And the tactical is moot until the strategic is completed. Starting with sales ensures you will only attract folks already buyers and ignore a much larger group (5x larger) of folks who are in the process of becoming buyers but haven’t gotten their ducks in a row yet.
Btw when I say ‘facilitate buying’, I don’t mean final purchasing considerations of price or vendor. I’m not even talking about learning more so you can ‘understand them’ better. Or leading them where YOU think they should go. I’m talking about the process they go through much earlier, before they’ve become buyers, when they’re people just discovering a problem, up through all the intricacies of making a decision to go ahead and bring in an external solution and includes stakeholder buy-in.
Believe it or not, it takes less time to facilitate (regardless of the size or price of a sale) the decision process that all people must go through before they’re buyers than deal with the consequences of competing for the low hanging fruit once they are.
I’d like you to consider that there are two elements to buyer’s buying. 1. traversing the stages of discovering whether a problem is worth resolving within their set of givens, and 2. the choice process if they can’t fix it themselves and need to make a purchase. First they’re just folks trying to resolve a problem with their familiar resources, and when all else fails they become buyers.
By limiting your outreach (marketing and sales) to #2 you’re restricting your success to the last few steps along the Buying Decision path and it’s costing you money, not to mention it’s a tremendous waste of resource.
Let’s go back to Carnegie. 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.). Here are the limits of continuing to think only of placing solutions:
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. My research shows we’re ignoring 5x more real prospects using the sales model alone. Using the model I’ve developed to help buyers buy, Buying Facilitation® closes 40% of the same list selling the same solution, against the control group close rate of 5%. (In my client control groups, these same percentages have persisted for decades across all industries and product types.)
- 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 needs another person to act in a certain way. And frankly, just because someone likes you doesn’t mean they can convince their team to buy when half of them would be fired in the 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 buyers search Google and don’t need sellers to explain anything. But once they’ve discovered what a solution must entail for them, you can then pitch or present using THEIR criteria for buying as opposed to YOUR criteria for selling – which might be very different.
C. Buying decisions involved the seller, the problem, the product, and the buyer
- It was simple then. Now there are layers of stakeholders and decision makers; buyers live in complicated systems of norms, rules, history, group/individual needs – all of which must be addressed before a buying decision takes place, even for small sales. Pushing solution content from the outside does nothing to facilitate group buy-in among prospective buyers (and trust me: no matter how many you think there are, there are double that number); it merely causes distrust with those not ready. Those seeking your solution can find what they need without you if your only job is to sell.
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.
Here’s what we know that Carnegie didn’t know:
- People don’t want to buy anything. They just want to resolve a problem at the lowest ‘cost’ to their status quo and will 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 your information because they’re not aware they need it yet, regardless of their need or the efficacy of your 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 you have a prospect because you interpret what you hear as a need doesn’t make someone a prospect.
- It’s possible to facilitate the Buying Decision Path and partner with someone who WILL become a buyer – but not with the sales model which offers a solution before the full problem set has been scoped out and before there is stakeholder buy in.
- If we can first show up as Servant Leaders and facilitate the change management portion, we can expand our value and beat the competition when they become buyers.
NEW RULES FOR NEW TIMES
The crucial pieces buyers are missing are systemic; quite confusing because what until they figure that all out for themselves (Remember: we’re outsiders with an agenda.) they cannot buy:
- Buying an external solution has a cost. It’s much cheaper for people to fix the problem with known resources if they can. Until they figure this out, they will not buy.
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 so they can 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.
3. People with a problem won’t be researching your 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, you’ve got that market covered with your site and your marketing. That’s the low hanging fruit – your 5% close.
Rule #3: Your content, your marketing, your emails, your requests for appointments will only be noticed by folks ready to buy now and be ignored by the much larger segment of folks who are on route but could be made ready much more quickly with your knowledge (not of your solution, but of your industry or environment).
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 you’re prospecting will buy your 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 change management portion of the buying decision process which is systems and change related, not product/purchase related.. This restricts sales to those ready now. The change process can be accelerated, but not with sales.
You can see now why you’re not closing more than you close. Seeking need isn’t working or you’d close more. Creating a trusting relationship isn’t working or you’d close more. Generating terrific content isn’t working or you’d close more. Finding the right demographic isn’t working or you’d close more. All of those tools will uncover those who are specifically seeking your solution now. That’s it. They will not expand your audience because people who aren’t yet buyers won’t pay attention.
So what parts of Carnegie are viable now? The solution placement part. Content management; pitching and presenting. Negotiating and closing.
CONSIDER HOW BUYERS BUY
It’s time to facilitate people through the change management end of the Buying Decision Path. I’ve been talking about this for decades and have successfully taught Buying Facilitation® to global corporations since 1987. It’s time to shift, to add a front end before you sell, and then sell only to those who are going to buy.
1. Change the goal of your prospecting calls. Stop trying to find someone with a need or whom you can sell your product to. Stop trying to pitch, present, offer solution content until they are ready for it – after they’ve lined up their buying decision criteria. Find folks considering change and problem solving in the area your solution handles – easy to find if you stop trying to push your product 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 you’re already there when they become buyers.And THEN you can pitch to the full set of stakeholders who now know exactly what they need to buy.
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. An overview of the steps they must traverse:
a. recognize the full extent of the problem, possible by assembling, and extract data from, the complete set of stakeholders (which you can never know);
b. attempt to fix the problem internally (which you can never do);
c. manage any disruption an outside fix would entail (which you 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 the problem/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 – so long as the focus is on placing a solution.
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 clear this up for you: If you haven’t studied with me, 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 unconscious path to change and decision making. They do NOT attempt to gather information! They contain NO Bias. They are NOT a sales tool. 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. The formulation of these took me 20 years to perfect. 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 1. They’re biased by your need to know and most likely overlook vast bits of knowledge; 2. They are restricted in scope by your outcome and languaging; 3. They cannot be heard as intended due to the bias that your communication partner listens through; 4. 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; 5. they’re used as sales ploys to extract just enough data to make a pitch ‘obvious’ and the Responder feels manipulated when answering.
So don’t use conventional questions until these folks are at the end of the change steps and have real answers to your curiosity. Facilitative Questions enable change. Conventional questions try to gather data – unnecessary until folks are already buyers and you both need specifics that can be elicited through normal questions.
4. Stop trying to make an appointment. All you’re getting is folks who are either using your content to craft their own pitch to their team, or to compare against their internal, or historic, vendor. No one wants to waste their time to hear what YOU want them to hear unless they’re getting something out of it. And given the percentage of prospects who DON’T buy after you visit, you know you pitched to folks who wouldn’t buy. 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 who have a good shot at becoming buyers when they’ve discovered they need outside help and have buy-in to make a purchase.
Why not find those who are in the process of becoming buyers and facilitate them through their Buying Decision Journey. You’re already sending vast amounts of product content to a wide audience, hoping to ensnare new folks who have no interest because they’re not yet buyers. 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. You can even shift your content marketing tactics to address each one of their decision steps.
In summary, save selling until you’re communicating with actual buyers, and start by facilitating folks through their Buying Decision Path. 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 and services 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.
For those interested in learning about Buying Facilitation®, here’s a link to some articles. You should also considering reading at least two sample chapters in my book that explains this process: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. 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.