Marketing is currently designed to inspire, identify, and engage potential buyers in a way that leads them to action. The baseline assumptions are that good content in the right hands, or engaged relationships that create connection, will provide the foundational components to cause buying. But do they?

Before people become buyers they have work to do that’s not buying related, outside the purview of both marketing and sales, and won’t be activated by conventional sales or marketing strategy.

I contend that marketing and sales could be so much more effective if they added the capability of finding, engaging and facilitating not-yet buyers through their Pre-Sales, change- and risk-management issues – the stuff that precludes them from identifying as buyers initially but who will be once they’re ready.



Currently sales and marketing spend money/resource finding names and inundating them with content, hoping to evoke a sale. But success has been elusive, and we must ask ourselves these questions:

  • Do our product details move people to action they wouldn’t take otherwise?
  • Are we convincing those who would NOT buy to choose us over our competitors? Cause them to buy NOW instead of later?
  • Does our information get read by folks who aren’t yet buyers but will be?
  • Are we capturing/engaging folks who WILL be buyers?

I think the answer is ‘no’ on all counts. It’s because we’re focused on the Sell Side and overlook the Buy Side. And they’re two entirely different things. Let me explain.

Before people consider themselves ‘buyers’, or have clarity on what, or even if, they’ll buy anything, they have Pre-Sales work to do. This is why they ignore what we send: it doesn’t seem relevant, regardless of a need or the efficacy of our solution. It’s like a realtor sending you details about a terrific house before you and your family have decided to move.

Until people figure out the bits and pieces they must handle, until they know they’re going to fix something rather than leave it as it is, until they understand the risk of change, they don’t seek to buy anything and will ignore outreach. Indeed, until the preliminary issues are addressed, they won’t even know what information they need!


A buying decision is a change management issue issue before it’s a solution choice issue. And there are far more people in the process of deciding – i.e. people on their Buying Decision Path – than there are those who show up as buyers. But as of now, neither marketing nor sales addresses this segment of a prospective buyer’s process.

It’s possible to facilitate buyer readiness with different thinking.

Right now our outreach is limited to folks who meet the demographics and search terms that imply to us they have a need.

But our ‘need’/solution-placement focus only attracts folks who self-identify as buyers, reducing our target audience to those relative few who have completed their change-, risk-management, and decision-making activity while ignoring a much larger group who have not yet identified as buyers (and will not read our marketing content) but will buy when they’re ready.

We’re not reaching them now because our selling criteria is disparate from their buying criteria: we need different outreach strategies to connect with them.

And yes, it needs new thinking and new types of content, but it will prove its worth in short order: since people must manage change and risk anyway before they become buyers, we can enter earlier, help them do what they need to do more efficiently (based on their unique change criteria, NOT based on the solution being sold), prove our worth as trusted advisors, and THEN sell.

In other words, facilitate the necessary change management issues first (with a different skill set and goal) so when it’s time to sell you’ll be speaking with folks who have already self-identified as buyers and are real prospects. Then you’ll spend less time pushing solutions and running after folks who won’t buy, and devote your time to closing those who are now eager to hear what you’ve got to say.


At the start, people don’t want to buy anything, merely resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ to their system. They only become buyers once they

  • recognize a problem,
  • gather the entire complement of stakeholders to understand the full fact pattern that caused and maintains the problem,
  • try to fix the problem with workarounds/available resources,
  • get buy in from the stakeholders if workaround not possible,
  • understand the downside, risk, the ‘cost’, of making a change,
  • agree on the criteria that an external solution must meet,
  • choose a solution that will match their criteria and all agree on.

Regardless of how sophisticated our efforts at prospects, until people have completed their change- and risk- management work above, they are not buyers, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. They certainly won’t be lured by marketing that pushes content they haven’t yet recognized they want.

And this is why we fail to close more sales: we’re assuming our content will entice, when they’re not looking for enticement. With our current solution placement/’need’ lens, we’re merely hoping and guessing our missives will inspire buying when we could be engaging and leading real, but not-yet-ready, buyers through their Buying Decision Path.

Certainly we capture some eyeballs as folks do research on route to fixing their problem, but these folks aren’t engaged buyers and often ignore what they read or we’ve sent them: they’re not ready, and they’re not yet buyers. In other words, a high percentage of folks who may be our target market are not actively buyersYet.

I suggest it’s possible to generate a much larger group of in-market buyers by first facilitating folks who haven’t yet completed their change process and be their natural choice once they’re ready.


I figured out the ins and outs of buying decades ago. When I became a tech entrepreneur in the 1980s after being a sales professional for many years, the differences between the Sell Side and the Buy Side became obvious.

When I began hiring and managing, it hit me that a decision to buy anything – leadership training, software – was more complex than I had realized when I was a seller merely trying to place solutions. As a responsible leader, I had to first try to resolve the problem internally, understand the full problem set by hearing from all involved, and get everyone’s buy-in for any change.

Ultimately, until we all understood the ‘cost’ (risk) of the change to our job descriptions and policies, and were certain we couldn’t fix the problem ourselves, I would have been irresponsible to consider making a purchase.

That’s when I realized the problem I had as a seller: buying and selling are two wholly different mind-sets and activities! The Buy Side is change management-based; the Sell Side involves solution placement. And both sales and marketing overlook this discrepancy.

It’s possible to engage folks who are on route to becoming buyers by leading them – with no bias, pitch, or influencing from us – through the change and risk issues they must manage before self-identifying as buyers. And both sales and marketing can play a part here.

Marketing can begin to engage with folks who might be buyers by first offering targeted content that facilitates these change issues, such as helping them figure out who to include in proposed change, or how to trial workarounds.

The goal is to offer tips for each of the 13 stages folks must go through before being ready to buy. In other words, help them navigate their necessary Pre-Sales change path so they’re ready to buy. Once buyers have understood and addressed their unique internal challenges, sales takes over.

Right now, because this idiosyncratic process has nothing to do with our solutions, or what people ultimately buy, sales overlooks this activity. Note: until prospects understand that the risk of making a purchase is less than the risk of staying the same they cannot buy, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.

And we’re left waiting for them to show up while they complete their internal action steps. (After training 100,000 sales professionals, I’ve never met one who absolutely knows who will finally buy.) And frankly, they don’t read our stuff or take our calls because they haven’t completed their steps and aren’t aware they need us (yet).

If we begin by first facilitating the necessary change issues, we can collapse the decision-making time, earn their trust, and be there to sell once they’ve finished. Until then they won’t buy anyway! And the time it takes them is the length of the sales cycle. Remember selling doesn’t cause buying.


Once I realized that change management preceded buying and that sales overlooked it, I developed a unique change facilitation process I named Buying Facilitation® for my own sales team. Instead of beginning by seeking folks with need, we sought folks seeking change in the area our solution could support, and facilitated them through the steps they had to take anyway as they approached problem resolution.

Once they completed their work with our help and the targeted articles we offered (How to Engage the Right Stakeholders, etc.), we were in line to be their chosen providers. I was happily surprised that we no longer needed proposals, and our pitches were greatly diminished as most of their decision making was already done by then.

We were seen as an active participant in their change and decision processes, a true trusted adviser, and there was no content push that risked annoying them. Not only did sales close in half the time, we stopped wasting time because we spent more time facilitating folks who were real buyers. My business doubled.

In case you want more data on the 13 steps all people and groups take as they manage their change issues, I suggest (and here’s a pitch!) you get my book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. It lays out each of step in separate chapters with a very detailed case study at the end.

Obviously this is different than what we’re used to as the outreach is not based on placing a solution. Because of the different focus and goals, the new thinking brings up questions: are we willing to

  1. broaden our activities to include change management?
  2. use a different filter than need or solution placement?
  3. take non-solution-related action?
  4. seek out those on route to becoming buyers and facilitate them down their steps rather then directing efforts to those we guess might have need?
  5. avoid solution details and sales/marketing techniques?

Of course we use customary sales tools and Sales Enablement once these folks are ready to buy. By starting with a facilitation hat on you’ll

  • find and facilitate soon-to-be buyers through the steps of change rather than assuming searches constitute a need or a prospect;
  • find real prospects on the first call;
  • stop wasting time chasing those who will never buy;
  • close in half the time.

You’ll end up with a higher quality prospect, a higher closing probability, and a competitive edge as you truly serve folks by helping them get their ducks in a row.

Also, I suggest marketing (ABM, Demand Gen, Lead Gen, etc.) can target people through each of their change management steps; build real relationships; and provide the right story line to continue to advance people through to becoming buyers.

Ultimately you’ll end up with vetted buyers to hand over to sales – hence, more closed sales. And of course the process can be used to keep customers engaged during the customer life cycle.

The days of using marketing only to offer product details are behind us. We’ve got the technology and the knowledge to enter a Pre-Sales change management journey and hand over a great, actionable list, to sales.


For sellers doing in-person sales, my Buying Facilitation® model offers new skill sets (formulating Facilitative QuestionsListening for Systems, etc) that I’ve taught in many global corporations for over 35 years. (Clients: IBM, Kaiser, HP, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia, KPMG, Bose, DuPont, P&G, etc.) My clients consistently close 8x more than the control group. This could be your competitive edge. After all, the time it takes them to complete this is the length of the sales cycle.

I continue to pose the question I began posing in 1985: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. And now we can do both. But are you ready? And can I help? My site explains my change management and sales models.


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. She can be reached at

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January 22nd, 2024

Posted In: News