Going from a successful sales professional to an entrepreneur of a start-up tech company, I realized the problem with sales. As an entrepreneur I tried to tried to resolve problems in-house. When impossible, the next step was to figure out if we were willing to go external and actually buy something, figure out if the ‘cost’, the risk, of making a purchase would carry a greater risk than keeping things as they were.
We ended up fumbling around trying to figure this out, but always moving toward congruent change; I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And it wasn’t until we figured out how, if, or when to change without major disruption, and until everyone bought in, I never even considered buying anything.
Along the way I tracked my steps and noticed our decision-making process, a change management process with specific stages, each meant to maintain stability, each meant to find solutions and workarounds that would match our goals and norms.
WHO IS A BUYER
I was surprised to discover that regardless of my need, or any available solutions that I could have purchased earlier, I never considered myself a buyer and ignored all sales content.
This process, this change management process I went through, is something everyone does before they become buyers. In other words, the missing piece in sales was the change piece: if sales first sought folks trying to solve a problem in the area my solution would help them with, then facilitated them through the issues they needed to resolve (job descriptions, goals, buy-in, workarounds, and organizational/internal change) before choosing their least disruptive solution, we’d find folks on route to buying and make their process more efficient.
When we attempt to sell our solutions too early, folks haven’t yet determined their full set of needs, don’t have all the stakeholders on board, haven’t yet tried all workarounds, and generally are not ready to buy. The pitching and presenting, waiting and following up, was falling on deaf ears.
I sure could have used help making the process more efficient; if a sales person had helped me understand the issues my decision-making had to include, I would have figured out a lot sooner if I needed to buy something. But unfortunately, this is overlooked by the sales industry because it is NOT purchase-based.
I finally understood the missing piece in the sales model, the cause of the very low close rates: by assuming someone with ‘need’ is a prospect, we ignore the obligatory change management portion that precedes decision making. What if we added a wholly new skill set to first find folks in the process of change, help them address it, and THEN sell once they became buyers?
Turns out selling and change facilitation are two distinct endeavors with two distinct skill sets. I decided to develop a front end tool to add to the sales model.
For years I’d been studying NLP and neuroscience to best understand how brains are organized so I could figure out how to make change more efficient. I combined this knowledge with my newfound understanding of what goes on behind-the-scenes on the Buy Side, and developed a generic change facilitation model called Buying Facilitation® as a precursor (and wholly separate model) to sales.
This article introduces you to Buying Facilitation®, a precursor to sales, and a way to facilitate people along their route to buy-in, decision-making, and change. And buying.
DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HELP SOMEONE BUY?
BIG IDEA: People don’t want to buy anything, merely solve a problem at the least ‘cost’ (risk) to their system. Until they understand the risk of bringing in something new, they won’t self-identify as ‘buyers’ regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution.
PROBLEM: People don’t consider they have a need until all workarounds are tried and all stakeholders agree. They won’t heed any selling efforts even if the content offered might solve their problem. By seeking out folks with ‘need’, sellers restrict their audience to the low-hanging fruit – those who have completed their 13 step change management process they must traverse before considering they’ve got a need and become buyers.
SOLUTION: It’s possible to find folks who WILL become buyers on the first call, facilitate them through their change steps with a change/decision model (Buying Facilitation®), and then sell. But because the two endeavors are distinct, trying to incorporate change facilitation with selling causes the same resistance and avoidance sellers currently get.
BIG IDEA: People don’t become buyers until they’ve handled all of their internal stuff, the risk of change is acceptable, and everyone involved agrees they’re ready, willing, and able to bring in something new. With a solution-placement focus, sales and marketing finds only those few who have completed their change process.
PROBLEM: The problem is not in getting our solution sold; it’s in getting our solution bought. Before self-identifying as buyers, people have Pre-Sales, change management work to do that doesn’t involve the content we try to push on them. Our sales and marketing efforts seek to ‘get in’, get read, or determine ‘need’, which restricts the prospect base to people who already know what they need (those who have completed their process).
SOLUTION: Before they become buyers they must assemble the most appropriate people, get consensus, try workarounds, understand the ‘cost’/risk of making a change, and manage the actual change. Current tools only create connections with people already seeing external solutions, but it’s possible to enter earlier with a change toolkit:
- Because of the selling biases in our listening and questioning, sellers extract partial data, from people who don’t have the full fact pattern yet and who haven’t self-identified as buyers;
- promised dates get ignored and we spend huge amounts of time following up people who will never buy because WE think they have a need (and ‘need’ does not a buyer maker);
- we lose an opportunity to connect and prove our competitive worth by entering with a change facilitation purpose first;
- we waste our time pushing content on folks not yet buyers and waiting, hoping they’ll buy, and cause resistance instead of entering earlier to facilitate the change.
Buying Facilitation® uses a very specific tool kit, the Pre-Sales stuff selling doesn’t handle. Once we help with this, we’ve either helped them help themselves, or they realize they cannot solve the problem internally and they become prospects. For these folks, we then sell. These are the folks we would have ended up trying to sell to anyway, but too often we would have been ignored because they hadn’t been ready. Once they’ve reached this point, they are ready buyers and no longer prospects.
BIG IDEA: The flaw in the sales model: designed to place solutions, sales starts selling to anyone they assume has a need, well before people are prospects, before they are ready/able to buy and haven’t gotten the buy-in or understood the ‘cost’ of making a change. This restricts success to those who finally self-identify as buyers – the low-hanging fruit (5%).
PROBLEM: The status quo is preferred and is the basis of decision making. Regardless of a buyer’s real need (which they often don’t understand until very late in the change cycle), or the relevance of a solution; regardless of relationship or pitch/content/price; it is only when they’ve completed their change and all agree they need an external solution that they consider buying anything. This holds true regardless of type or price of solution.
SOLUTION: Buying Facilitation® is a generic, unique brain-based change facilitation model that facilitates people through the obligatory systemic decision-making steps necessary to manage change. Those who end up solving their problem are fine – we’ve served them quickly and there’s no need to follow up. Those who need our solution become prospects and sellers then shift into selling modality to place solutions. It can be used with small personal products, cold calls, help desks, complex sales, and marketing.
Because BF must be unbiased, I developed a new form of listening (Listening for Systems) and a new form of direction-driven/non-biased question (Facilitative Question) to facilitate someone’s journey through the steps of change. Once folks are at the point of becoming prospects and buyers, sellers are already in place and the buy cycle is quick.
But you must remember not to use BF as a selling tool or you’ll end up with the same results you’re getting now. It’s necessary to understand that a buying decision is first a change management problem before a solution choice issue.
Buyers must handle this stuff, with you or without you: you’ve always sat and waited (and called, sent, called, pitched, prayed, waited) while they do this for themselves and the time it takes them is the length of the sales cycle (And no, there is NO indecision!). If you can collaborate with them first as change facilitators, not solution providers, you’ll serve them from the beginning. [Read my book on this: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com]
EXAMPLE OF USING BUYING FACILITATION®
Let me lead you through one simple situation from a small business banker I trained at a major US bank. They decided to employ Buying Facilitation® throughout the bank following a successful pilot training:
A. Control group Sales: 100 calls, 10 appointments, 2 closed sales in 11 months.
B. Buying Facilitation®: 100 calls, 37 appointments, 29 closed sales in 3 months.
While these numbers might sound high, remember: interactions proceed differently using Buying Facilitation® because the focus is different: it’s first a call with a change facilitation hat on to (A) find those seeking change, (B) then facilitate them through their entire decision path and (C) then sell to those who become buyers.
Starting by seeking those folks already involved in finding the best route to change, and using ‘change’ rather than ‘need’ as the original focus, there’s different output and the odds of finding and facilitating someone who will become a buyer are high.
Using Buying Facilitation® with a Facilitative Question, my client started like this:
“Hi. My name is John and I’m a small business banker from X bank. This is a sales call. I’m wondering: How are you currently adding new banking resources for those times your current bank can’t give you what you need to keep your business operating optimally?”
Notice he’s not attempting to ‘uncover need’. Here’s the thinking: Given all small businesses have some banking relationship, the only businesses who would want to discuss new banking services were: 1. those who weren’t happy with their current bank, or 2. had bankers who might not be able to provide what they might need.
By helping them figure out where they could add a new resource without disrupting current vendor relationships, my clients vastly expanded the field of possible buyers and instantly eliminated those who would never buy. After all, people have the right to be satisfied with their current vendors!
It proved a winning tactic: 37 were willing to continue the conversation, line up all of the decision factors, figure out who the real stakeholders were, and have everyone meet the seller, just from that opening question (up from 10). During the field visit we helped them get buy-in and consensus to bring in an additional vendor – us. Win/win. Collaboration. True facilitation.
Buying Facilitation® is not sales, not a solution placement tool, not an information gathering tool, and not a persuasion tactic. It’s not content-driven, and sellers don’t try to understand a buyer’s needs because they can’t know their needs until the end of when they’ve become buyers: until they figure out how to manage any change, they are only people trying to solve a problem – not buyers – and they will resist all sales efforts and content. Once all workarounds have been tried, and the ‘cost’ (risk) to the system is understood and found agreeable to all stakeholders, people then self-identify as buyers.
By first facilitating change and decision making before trying to sell, you’ve halved the sales cycle and doubled the folks interested in buying. There’s no manipulation, no persuasion, no influencing. It’s a win/win collaboration, servant leader model that might lead into a sales process: we actually facilitate buyer readiness.
I can’t say this enough: buyers go through this anyway, without us. Let’s use our industry knowledge and be real trusted advisors. Find folks going through change in the area our solution serves, then help them navigate their change before selling. It can be your competitive edge.
And we end up with real prospects who we’ve helped get ready to buy. Not to mention the collaboration, trust, respect, and integrity built into the interaction creates lasting relationships when used throughout the relationship.
The good news is that you can still sell – but only to those who are indeed ready willing and able, rather than waste 90% of your time trying to manipulate, pitch, persuade, push, ‘get through the door’, network, write content, etc. You can help those who CAN buy get their ducks in a row and quickly eliminate those who will never buy because it will become obvious to you both.
I’m not suggesting you don’t sell; I’m merely suggesting you find and facilitate change for those who WILL buy, and set that up by first facilitating prospective buyers down their own buying decision path.
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.