I’ve recently heard sales folks complain that the status quo was the ‘enemy’ of buyers buying. Nonsense. It’s just another element along the buyer’s decision path that must be addressed, and can be directed, codified, and influenced – but not with a sales hat on. Let’s consider the, um, status quo: When does a buyer buy? When they’re ready – regardless of their need. When is a buyer ready? When their stable status quo recognizes it cannot fix any problems with known resources and is prepared to change in a way that won’t cause irreparable disruption. A buying decision (any decision, frankly) is a change management problem. Here are the basics:
Ready: Ready means that
In other words, even if buyers need your solution, they can’t buy if the cost of disruption is higher than the cost of the solution implementation. And here is the frustrating part for us: Any change must be initiated, managed, and maintained from within the system because no outsider can understand the nuances of a status quo they are not part of. Here is a rule: until they know how to manage any change that would be incurred as a result of a purchase, prospective buyers cannot buy regardless of need.
Status quo: The status quo is
The status quo keeps us operating congruently every moment of every day. It doesn’t judge right or wrong; it doesn’t recognize good or bad. It’s just ‘what is’. To become a different ‘what is’ it would have to change. And change means disruption, potentially a breakdown or interruption of normal operating. Although a natural occurrence – we move house, make new friends, take a new jobs, buy new clothes – we won’t substantially change unless we are assured we avoid disruption, confusion, and uncertainty.
THE PROBLEM WITH CHANGING THE STATUS QUO
The norms and values within a status quo have been normalized; right or wrong, good or bad, we function in a pre-ordained way day after day. Anything – anything – threatening this habitual functioning will be resisted. I remember sitting on the floor of a hut in the Ecuadorian Amazon, sharing a meal with an indigenous family. My women travel friends were warned not to smile at the local boys who showed up to stare, as a smile was an invite to bed. After imbibing liberally on the local and highly fermented ‘chi cha’, everyone was drunkenly smiling – a cultural imperative for Americans – and the boys surrounded us like bees in a flower garden. Our host had to usher the swarming, eager boys out, offering a frustrated glare at us en route. The rules of our cultural status quo included being friendly to strangers; the rules of their status quo included avoiding women unless invited.
As individuals, our status quo has been formed by our subjective life experiences: the rules, beliefs, and thinking that we learn from our parents and grandparents, our schooling and birthplace, our education and work life, our friends and family. Our life choices, our communication patterns, our choice of mates and jobs all maintain our status quo. Doing anything different threatens our very core.
As members of teams, groups, or relationships, our status quo has more moving parts, including individual needs, rules for collaboration and communication, politics, corporate regs, and the historic relationships. For our clients, it’s imperative they maintain their status quo or they cannot get up day after day and run a business.
At the point we meet clients they are a walking bouquet of normalized elements that make no sense to anyone outside the group (or even inside the group sometimes). When we try to push change, the offered information is seen as foreign and will be resisted regardless of its efficacy. Until or unless the status quo knows how to add something new in a way that conforms to its baseline (and unconscious) rules, and understands that no permanent damage will occur, it won’t be willing/able to shift behaviors, learn new habits/patterns, or accept new ideas or solutions. In other words, no change can happen.
SALES, BUY-IN, CHANGE, AND THE STATUS QUO
Changing the status quo is a challenge of Systems Congruence; the new must fit comfortably with the habitual so the person or team can continue functioning normally.
For buyers, the time it takes them to figure out how to do this is the length of the sales cycle. It’s a systems/change thing, not a purchase/fix thing. But facilitating congruent change hasn’t been part of the sales skill set: with our solution-placement agenda, we limit our prospect population by seeking those who may be ready now or soon; too often we wait (and wait and hope) while those we deem appropriate complete this. We don’t take into account that sellers (or any influencers) are outsiders who can never understand how the status quo is kept in place, or add something to it.
Offered too early our data, or pitch, or ‘rational argument’ is not seen as a reason to buy but as threats to the balance of the status quo when it may not be prepared to change. Sometimes our solution is not recognized as being needed because the Buying Decision Team hasn’t yet been fully assembled and needs haven’t been fully elicited. Sometimes they know they have a need but haven’t determined how to change congruently yet, or tried out all of the internal workarounds that might offer a resolution.
It’s certainly possible that at the time we’re getting “No’s” our prospects are merely at a stuck stage and can easily move beyond it once they get understanding or internal agreement. When I hear sellers say that the status quo is ‘the enemy’ I know they are attempting to push against it with data, contacts, media. As I said above, nothing – not our brilliant pitches or presentations or charming personalities – from the outside will sway this stable beast.
But there is a way to help our buyers facilitate the 13 steps to congruent change as part of our initiative. Instead of spending so much resource seeking only those who are ready (the low hanging fruit), we can recognize, and enter earlier, with those who will buy, and help them shift their status quo from within, using their own values and rules to seek and accept new solutions. It will require, however, an addition to the status quo of the selling model.
HOW THE STATUS QUO CHANGES
Let’s begin by understanding how the status quo adopts change (I wrote a book on this. Read two free chapters: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com
Rule: status quo must recognize rules, beliefs, norms, that must be maintained before considering change to avoid resistance and systems incongruence.
To add anything foreign from the outside, the new must get buy-in from any people, policies, rules, and politics that would be affected. All change must be accompanied by a re-weighting of the norms of the status quo. The status quo itself must know exactly how it will be effected by anything new, and if it’s worth it to spend the energy mitigating itself to adopt. For this, everyone involved in maintaining the status quo must have a hand in defining the elements and understanding how change would effect it.
Rule: assemble everyone/everything that makes up the status quo to determine how, if, why, when any change would be required or accepted.
Once the status quo is coded, everyone/everything has bought in to change, the fallout from change must be considered and strategized. Change must be systemic and based on the values and rules that maintain it. Certainly no one from outside can cause the change.
Rule: every element within the status quo must understand the potential fallout to change, and be willing to consider ways to adapt to, or align with, the new, or it will resist change regardless of the rewards.
Unfortunately, the sales model doesn’t include this level of change facilitation; it occurs privately within the buying environment, during what sellers call the Pre-Sales, hidden, and highly personal portion of a pre-buying decision. I developed a model (Buying Facilitation®) that gives sellers a new tool kit to use with sales to manage systemic change and buy-in. I’ve trained it with terrific results for decades. But make no mistake: it’s not a normal part of the selling process.
The question is whether or not you want to change: to continue seeking those who have already accomplished this change management, or seek those you can lead through it as a change consultant first. You’d need to avoid gathering data and stop pitching until this has occurred and instead, begin by listening for systems and facilitating change. But then you’d have approximately 40% more real prospects who are ready, willing, and able to buy.
Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. To facilitate buying, you must enter earlier as a Servant Leader and be willing to first be a change agent. Then you’d find and facilitate the journey with those who really need your solution but haven’t completed shifting the status quo yet. Potential buyers must first do this, with you or without you, as we sit and wait, or miss the opportunity entirely. Instead of seeking those who have already finished this and are in the 5% you can sell to, why not find those who WILL buy, facilitate them through their change, and become part of their status quo. It actually takes less time and closes more. So much easier, kinder, and more profitable than chasing the low hanging fruit. You’d just have to change your status quo.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation® – a generic change management model for influencers that facilitates the journey through the status quo to enable congruent, systemic change. It includes Listening for Systems, formulating Facilitative Questions, and enabling choice. She has trained the model to 100,000 sales folks in companies such as KPMG, IBM, DuPont, Clinique, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, FedEX, GEIS, HP, Wachovia, Morgan Stanley, and Bose. Sharon Drew is the author of 7 books on this including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller Dirty Little Secrets. Sharon Drew’s most recent book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? breaks down the gap between what folks say and what is heard. She is an original thinker and visionary who trained, speaks, consults, and coaches. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen January 6th, 2020
As a Buddhist, I don’t understand why anyone would want to take another’s life or how it’s even an option. Yet so many in our country are feeling disempowered and ignored, targeted and disenfranchised and we haven’t yet created a dialogue to heal. In fact, we don’t even know how to hear each other. During this time of racial, class, political, gender, and education divide, of distrust and blame and victimhood, of killing and guns and violence, our inability to deeply hear each other is heartbreaking and costly.
I’m not going into the moral issues of Right/Wrong here. But I can offer my bit to make it possible to find solutions.
THE PROBLEM: HOW OUR BRAINS LISTEN
During the 3 years researching and writing a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I learned how ubiquitous our challenge is: the distance between our subjective experiences and cultures makes it almost impossible to accurately hear others outside of our own ingrained biases, assumptions, and triggers. Indeed, words can’t be correctly translated when the intended meaning gets lost in another’s unfamiliar mind-set, culture, and history; the possibility of finding collaboration and reconciliation gets lost in our communication.
Heartfelt intent and tears aside, we’ve not been taught how to listen without bias. From the individual spots we each stand in, with our restricting viewpoints and hot-buttons, we pose biased questions and make faulty assumptions, overlooking the possibility that our Communication Partner (CP) may have similar foundational beliefs that we just don’t know how to recognize.
Unfortunately, our brain causes the problem. It translates what’s been said into what’s comfortable or inflammatory or habitual or or… and doesn’t realize it has misunderstood, or mistranslated the Speaker’s intent. So we actually hear ABL when our CP said ABC and we have no reason to think what we we’ve ‘heard’ is faulty. I lost a partnership this way. During a conversation, John got annoyed at something he thought I said. I tried to correct him:
“That’s not what I said.” I told him.
“I know what I heard! Don’t try to get away with anything here!
“But I didn’t say that at all!
“John, I was sitting right here. She’s right. She never said that,” said his wife.
“You’re both lying!!! I’m outta here!!” And he stomped out of the room, ending our partnership.
It’s pernicious: our brains select a translation for us, reducing whole conversations and categories of people to caricature and subjective assumption. But to distinguish what’s meant from what we think we hear, to experience what others want to convey when it’s out of our experience, we must recognize when it’s time to make a new choice.
HOW TO DO HOW
We need a way forward to choose behaviors that maintain our Beliefs, Values, and Identity AND find common ground to listen to each other and come to consensus with action steps to help us all heal. I’m going to offer some steps for us to dialogue and reach win/win consensus. But first I’ll a few foundational truths:
I’ve put together a few action steps to begin to dialogue with those we’ve historically sat in opposition to. I also recommend that our conversations must work toward win/win. I call this a We Space.
Get agreement for a dialogue: It’s likely that you and your CP have different goals and life experiences. Begin by agreeing to have a conversation to do nothing more than find common ground.
Set the frame for common values: We all have similar foundational values, hopes and fears – they’re just different. Start by ‘chunking up’ to find agreement.
Enter without bias: With limiting beliefs or hidden agendas, there’s no way to find commonality. Replace emotions and blame with a new bias, just for this conversation: the ‘bias’ of collaboration.
Get into Observer: In case you have difficulty overcoming your biases and filters, here’s a physiological ‘How-To’ that comes straight from NLP: in your mind’s eye, see yourself up on the ceiling, looking down on yourself and your CP. It will virtually remove you from the fray, and offer an unbiased view of your interaction – one step removed as it were. One way to do this is to walk around during the conversation, or sit way, way back in a chair. Sitting forward keeps you in your biases. (Chapter 6 inWhat? teaches how to do this.)
Notice body language/words: Your CP is speaking/listening from beliefs, values, history, feelings, exhibited in their body language and eye contact. From your ceiling perch, notice how their physical stance matches their words, the level of passion, feelings, and emotion. Now look down and notice how you look and sound in relation to your CP. Just notice. Read Carol Goman’s excellent book on the subject.
Notice triggers: The words emphasized by your CP hold their beliefs and biases. They usually appear at the very beginning or end of a sentence. You may also hear absolutes: Always, Never; lots of You’s may be the vocabulary of blame. Silence, folded arms, a stick-straight torso may show distrust. Just notice where/when it happens and don’t take it personally – it’s not personal. Don’t forget to notice your own triggers, or blame/victim words of your own. If their words trigger you into your own subjective viewpoints, get yourself back into Observer; you’ll have choice from the ceiling. But just in case:
Summarize regularly: Because the odds are bad that you’ll actually hear what your CP means to convey, it’s necessary to summarize what you hear after every exchange:
‘I’ statements: Stay away from ‘You’ if possible. Try to work from the understanding that you’re standing in different shoes and there is no way either of you can see the other’s landscape.
Get buy-in each step of the way: Keep checking in, even if it seems obvious that you’re on the same page. It’s really easy to mistranslate what’s been said when the listening filters are different.
Check your gut: Notice when/if your stomach gets tight, or your throat hurts. These are sure signs that your beliefs are being stepped on. If that happens, make sure you get back up to the ceiling, and then tell your CP:
Get agreement on the topics in the conversation: One step at a time; make sure you both agree to each item, and skip the ones (for now) where there’s no agreement. Put them in a Parking Lot for your next conversation.
Get agreement on action items: Simple steps for forward actions should become obvious; make sure you both work on action items together.
Get a time on the calendar for the next meeting: Make sure you discuss who else needs to be brought into the conversation, end up with goals you can all agree on and walk away with an accurate understanding of what’s been said and what’s expected.
Until or unless we all hold the belief that none of us matter if some of us don’t; until or unless we’re all willing to take the responsibility of each needless death or killing; until or unless we’re each willing to put aside our very real grievances to seek a higher good, we’ll never heal. It’s not easy. But by learning how to hear each other with compassion and empathy, our conversations can begin. We must be willing to start sharing our Truth and our hearts. It’s the only real start we can make.
Sharon Drew Morgen has been coding and teaching change and choice in sales, coaching, and leadership for over 30 years. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic decision facilitation model used in sales, and is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Sharon Drew’s book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? has been called a ‘game changer’ in the communication field, and is the first book that explains, and solves, the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Her assessments and learning tools that accompany the book have been used by individuals and teams to learn to enter conversations able to hear without filters. Sharon Drew is the author of one of the top 10 global sales blogs with 1700+ articles on facilitating buying decisions through enabling buyers to manage their status quo effectively.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512 771 1117.
Sharon Drew Morgen December 9th, 2019
Your solution is great. You know the narrative of the type of buyers who buy. You’re writing appropriate content and getting it out to the right demographic. But you’re still closing less than 5% from first contact and spending a ton of resource finding different ways to touch the same people as your competition touches – in hopes that you’ll have the right message that catches them at the right time or just grind them down.
Why aren’t more buyers buying? Do you know why your well-executed sales outreach programs – salesperson, social media, digital media, marketing – don’t elicit more closed sales?
DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?
You’re not closing more because you’re messages target a restricted audience, those who have already
and then you and your competitors work tirelessly to grab from that small pool of ready buyers. Seeking those you believe are probable buyers (those who SHOULD buy) limits your spectrum of buyers to those at the end of their decision path (beginning at step 10 of 13 steps. See steps below.) and concluded they not only need to buy something but are prepared for any change a purchase will cause.
We forget that a buying decision is first a change management problem, before it’s a solution choice issue (Indeed, the last thing buyers want is to buy anything. Literally: the last thing.). By acting as if selling causes buying, we disregard the internal, private, idiosyncratic, systemic change management work buyers must do before they’ve got their ducks in a row and are ready; until then, they can’t buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. You don’t buy a house before organizing a whole bunch of stuff with your family and getting buy-in from all the stakeholders. It’s not about the house.
The sales model only handles the solution choice/buying portion of the complete Buying Decision Path targeting those you believe have a probable ‘need’ – the low hanging fruit – and have completed their journey to Buyer Readiness. But this is merely a fraction of those who will eventually buy.
Here are the problems you face when targeting probably buyers who don’t yet have all their ducks in a row:
Sure, you’re making great information available for those who know what to look for and are ready to engage. But by adding a new component, you could be entering earlier and facilitating the full range of steps along the buying decision process – those that are not accessible with the sales model. The problem has never been your terrific solution but in closing all the sales you deserve to close. It’s because sales are solution-placement driven, seeking optimal ways to get to probable buyers but ignores the much higher pool of real prospects who aren’t far enough down their buyer’s journey to commit or engage.
SELLING DOESN’T CAUSE BUYING
As a solution placement model, the sales model is great for when buyers have determined they cannot resolve their solution on their own and have gotten the appropriate buy-in for change. But for those buyers who SHOULD buy but haven’t yet determined if they CAN buy, sales don’t have the intent, skills, or focus on facilitating the Systems Congruence steps buyers must take first. Sales weren’t created to do that.
The ‘modern’ sales model was developed by Dale Carnegie, introduced in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937). He promoted relationships, face-to-face visits, finding folks with a need, and developing great pitches. Think about it: while there are certainly a helluva lot more bells and whistles in 2017, the basic skeleton of need/relationship/appointment/pitch, remains the same. It shouldn’t be. The buying environment has changed dramatically over the past 100 or so years, far more complex than merely choosing a vendor or solution; the sales model hasn’t. It’s time for new thinking. Let’s join buyers where they really have their real ‘pain’ and facilitate Buyer Readiness earlier in their buy-in/systemic change process.
If prospective buyers might need a new CRM system, for example, they cannot buy until their tech guys, users, time frames, vendor relationships, current software etc. are in agreement, recognize they can’t fix their problem themselves and have assembled everyone who will touch the final solution to integrate the ‘new’. It’s not merely about the need; making a purchase means change and until all ‘givens’ are known and handled, the cost of a purchase is too high and they’ll maintain their status quo. And the time it takes them to manage all this is the length of the sales cycle. Having some good conversations with your sales guy, reading some good articles, and liking/needing your solution are necessary later, once they’ve finished their Pre-Sales change work.
The early portion of the decision path is based on managing internal shifts in the status quo, existent rules, internal politics, and relationships, and is decidedly not concerned with buying anything; the sales model is not the appropriate tool for this. Buyers don’t want to buy anything. They just want to resolve a problem with the least disruption and the most efficient use of a resource.
All prospects/buyers must do this anyway, with you or without you. It might as well be with you. It’s what they’re doing (inefficiently, and in confusion) as you sit and wait and hope they’ll call and buy. Why not use your industry knowledge to help them figure out how to traverse their steps efficiently?
With a different hat on and a new skill set, you can facilitate them quickly through their process and be right there with them as they decide. You want to seek/find those exact ones who CAN/WILL buy. And it’s easy to do this by shifting your initial prism from seeking prospects with a ‘need’ to seeking people who are trying to resolve a problem and are willing to change, in the area your solution handles. Until all the ducks are in a row and stakeholders on board, until they recognize the implications to their environment of adding something new, they cannot even understand their full need.
STAGES IN THE BUYING DECISION PATH
To design messaging to find buyers earlier in their Buying Decision Path, recognize the steps buyers take to be ready and able to purchase:
1. Idea stage: Is there a problem?
*Does it need to be solved? When? How?
*What’s the fallout?
*Is the cost of a fix lower than the cost of the status quo?
*Who needs to be involved?
2. Brainstorming stage: Idea discussed with colleagues.
3. Initial discussion stage: Colleagues discuss the problem, posit who to include on Buying Decision Team, consider possible fixes and fallout. Action groups formed. Research begins. New team members invited.
4. Contemplation stage: Group discusses:
*Known workarounds and acceptable/fallout from each,
*People who would need to buy-in.
5. Organization stage: Group collects all internal issues that need consideration, including finding more folks to invite into process; research into the elements of the status quo; fallout to change. Begins to assess the entire scope of problem, resolution possibilities, cost of change/no change.
6. Change management stage: Group to determine:
*Types of research necessary (and who will do it),
*If appropriate people are involved (and who else to invite),
*A review of all elements of the problem and solution options,
*How much change management would be required,
*How much disruption is acceptable.
7. Coordination stage:
*Review needs, ideas, issues of new members invited,
*Incorporate change considerations,
*Delineate everyone’s thoughts re goals and change capacity,
*Appropriate research responsibilities.
8. Research stage: Specific research for each possible solution; seek answers to how fallout and change would need to be managed with each solution.
9. Consensus stage: Buying Decision Team meets to share research consider their givens: downsides per type of solution, possibilities, outcomes, problems, management considerations, changes in policy, job description changes, HR issues, etc. General decisions made. Buy-in and consensus necessary.
10. Action stage: Responsibilities apportioned to manage the specifics of Stage 9. Calls made to several vendors for interviews and data gathering.
11. Second brainstorming stage: Discussion on results of data gathering, calls with vendors and partners, and fallout/benefits of each. Favored vendors pitched by team members.
12. Choice stage: New solution agreed on. Change management issues delineated and put in place. Leadership initiatives prepared to avoid disruption.
13. Implementation stage: Vendor contacted. Purchase made. Everything put in place.
For those who want to explore these stages and all elements of how buyers buy, see my book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.
A NEED ISN’T ENOUGH
Instead of only targeting probable buyers (the low hanging fruit) and ignoring the much larger pool of real buyers who are merely too early in their decision process to consider buying anything (but will, once they get to that point in their process), add a new target market and new messaging: spend time interviewing real buyers and learn the full set of issues they must address before they can seek an outside solution instead of trying to resolve the issue themselves, and use your new understanding of their change management issues to help the right ones get ready.
Note: you can’t use your current messaging to begin selling if you want to influence those who WILL buy and use the stages as the focus of leading them through their change management process; it’s the wrong tool because change management issues are not information, need, solution or sales driven. You need a new skill to facilitate change first. To manage this Pre-Sales work, and as an adjunct to the sales model, I’ve developed Buying Facilitation® to
Buying Facilitation® is a generic change management, decision facilitation model that can help buyers traverse that part of their journey that sales doesn’t handle. Using unique skill sets not involved in sales (Facilitative Questions, Listening for Systems, change sequencing) it was designed to optimize the change/decision process. By adding some new messaging and Buyer Persona targets, you can find those who aren’t touched by your sales messages but are in the process of becoming buyers.
By adding new messaging to target those who CAN/WILL buy rather than those you’ve determine might have a ‘need’ (probable buyers), by understanding the Pre-Sales (change management) steps all buyers take, by including messaging that teaches them how to address their internal resistance areas, disparate voices, and needs, you can facilitate the Pre-Sales decision path of those who CAN/WILL buy and enable them to ready themselves for a purchase – and your sales messaging. Here are two examples of success after learning Buying Facilitation®:
Kaiser Permanente initially made 110 visits and got 18 closed sales, wasting too much time traveling to those who COULDN’T/WOULDN’T buy. Adding Buying Facilitation® to their sales, they made 27 visits and got 25 closed sales. They still needed to sell – but only to those who were ready/able to buy. And saved a ton of time/money only traveling to those who were real buyers.
Working with Wachovia small business bankers, they went from 100 calls, 10 appointments, and 2 closed sales over 11 months, to 100 calls, 37 appointments, and 29 closed sales in 3 months. The sales folks’ opening Facilitative Question taught prospects how to do an immediate ‘sort’ for change, rather than need, and got invited to visit and meet all (all) the team members for their first appointment:
How are you adding new banking services to the bank you’re currently using for those times you need additional resource?
Know all – all – of the elements (most are hidden, personal and idiosyncratic) of your buyer’s Pre-Sales decision/change steps so you can design messaging to help them traverse their steps (Note: offering information about your solution here is irrelevant) to change and consensus – and THEN sell. We wait while they do this anyway and run after the ones who have completed this journey. Why not add a new criteria and skill set to what you’re already doing and expand your focus to find those who WILL buy.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader, the author of 1700 articles and 9 books including NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling With Integrity and two Amazon bestsellers: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and the game-changing What? Did you really say what I think I heard? that explains, and fixes, the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew is the inventor of a Change Facilitation model that gives influencers a unique set of tools to facilitate congruent change for buyers in sales (Buying Facilitation®), leadership, coaching, and management. She is an inventor, speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach. Her award-winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com carries articles on communication, leadership, decision making, change, sales, and buying. She can be reached at email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen August 12th, 2019
Would you consider a baseball player with a 95% failure rate Successful? Would you choose a surgeon with a 95% failure rate? Can you think of any field but sales, with an industry-standard close rate of 5%, that considers 95% failure ‘Success’? Using targets, commissions, hiring, and profits based on a 5% close rate, the field of sales colludes in perpetuating the lie that failure is Success. Why hasn’t anyone ever said, “Gee. Maybe a 5% close rate is 95% failure. Maybe it’s a sign something’s wrong? Maybe it’s not a solution-placement/content/pitch/buyer/marketing/technology problem.”
It’s possible to have much, much higher close rates. But that would demand the industry admit a problem. By colluding that a 5% close is industry standard – indeed, all that’s possible with the current Solution-Placement focus! – there’s no need to change.
THE MYTH OF SALES
When I began selling in 1979 the average close rate was 8%. Now, with our new electronic capability, sophisticated on-line marketing software, and ‘new new’ sales models, it’s down to 5%. Why? Because our current buying/selling environments are far more complex; consensus and change management are now necessary elements for buyer-readiness; and our Solution-Placement focus is designed to find only the 5% who are ready to buy.
By starting at the end of a buyer’s decision process, hoping beyond hope to convince buyers they need our great solution, sellers get push back from a buyer’s good-enough-functioning system not equipped for change, and finding only those who have completed their comprehensive decision making – the low hanging fruit (5%). That’s right: Sales pushes and pitches, presents and proposes, hopes and waits, using activity developed to find the 5% who are ready. Sales has never questioned its assumption that
It’s never recognized that prospects can’t even hear what we’ve got to say or know how it’s relevant before determining their readiness to change and buying anything; it’s never mentioned that with all the marketing, all the outreach, all the never-ending attempts to ‘get in’, nothing we’ve done for decades has significantly shifted our close rates. It’s because we’re pushing in from the back end and getting resistance, rather than entering at the beginning. More on this in a moment.
Look at this this way: we’ve got nothing to sell if they’ve got nothing to buy, and doing what we’ve been doing hasn’t produced appreciably different results – and we can’t use the problem to fix the problem [Remember Einstein?]. The issue demands new thinking, new biases, new goals, and new skill sets. Let me share what I did to fix the problem with my tech start up in London in the 80s.
Going from a sales person to an international entrepreneur, I recognized the low close rate problem as one of focus: sales focuses on placing solutions; buyers focus on solving (business) problems with minimal fallout. And since buyers can buy only when there is appropriate buy-in for change, management of fallout, and consensus among users (all steps necessary in some form regardless of the size or price of the solution), our efforts to find buyers or prospects is like seeking a needle in a haystack.
I figured out a solution to help my sales teams enter buyer interactions as change facilitators who nurture buyer-readiness first: I developed Buying Facilitation® as a facilitation/leadership tool to help buyers recognize and achieve their most efficient change processes without biasing them or being purchase/product focused. We ended up with a 35% close rate (up from 9%) from first call, regardless of the size of the sale (all buyers/prospects go through some form of this, even if unconsciously).
In 1987 I began teaching the model to clients, then left my business to teach the model full time to global corporate clients. Yet my results – all with control group studies – were largely ignored by the mainstream: I repeatedly came up against the collusion that perpetuates failure and the status quo, even in the face of obvious success. Here’s an overview of some of the resistance:
Working with Morgan Stanley in the 1990s, we achieved a 25% increase in one month over the control group. Follow on: the MD sent someone to Chicago to check on a man who purportedly had a similar buying-based model (turns out he didn’t). Why not just hire me to train everyone? Because I was a woman. He actually said that to the person he sent to Chicago.
A group at William Blair & Co. (brokerage house) went from a $400 million revenue to $1.3 billion in just under four years. Colleagues wondering how Jim achieved those spectacular numbers got a copy of my book Dirty Little Secrets from a carton he kept under his desk. Invariably they said the book was ‘Nuts’ and that Jim was just ‘lucky’. With a near-miraculous success happening before their eyes, this group preferred to devalue the results and continue failing rather than even trying to change.
Working with Boston Scientific, we achieved a 53% increase over the control group. During the ‘Thank You’ call from my client, I asked if we’d be training the entire team. “No, the model is “too controversial.”
Kaiser Permanente went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales (7% close rate) to 27 visits and 25 closed sales (600% increase). They fired my client, saying that training their 1500 sales folks in the new material would create a major disruption; they disbanded and re-assigned the folks I trained so the new skills would be subsumed.
Proctor and Gamble had a 15% increase in one month (huge in a behemoth company of this size). They said it would cost millions of dollars to change the systems that maintained their status quo – the manufacturing, delivery, billing, etc. all maintained a much slower sales cycle. They didn’t do further training.
I could go on and on. Crazy stuff. Incontrovertible proof that adding different skills and shifting the focus closed more sales and wasted a lot less time (in vastly shortened sales cycle, creating more ready buyers, and early dismissal of those who would never buy). They’d prefer to maintain failure? Build and compensate sales forces on 4-6% close rates? Lose market share, hire 9x more sales staff with high turnover, pay more in training and travel? Yet the sales industry is doing what all systems do: eschew greater success to maintain ‘good enough’ and the ‘known’. That’s right. Like the sales industry, my clients preferred lower revenues than change.
HERE’S THE REAL DEAL
Here are the underlying ‘givens’ that we ignore using the sales/Solution-Placement approach alone:
Believe it or not, there is only one issue causing the entire set of problems above. Only one. Sales pushes solution data at the wrong time, starting at the end of the Buying Decision Path, and finds only that group, that person, that shows up at that time, with everyone else ignoring or resisting. You would never buy a computer without doing research, talking to friends to help you gather and recognize all necessary criteria. Lots of personal decisions. As a team member in a company, you would never bring in training without the team’s input, or an attempt to try to fix the problem on your own first, or talking to current vendors, or getting referrals from colleagues. Lots of group decisions.
Research is showing the deterrent to sales success is our difficulty getting in to The Pre-Sales Process. While sales has attempted to resolve this issue by creating clever ways to get in from the outside (Buyer Personas being one) and is trying new tools to lead customers through to their buy cycle, it’s all taking place with a Solution-Placement bias. So long as the intent is to sell, an outsider will get resistance: there’s no way an outsider can ‘understand’ prospects during their change/decision/systems activities as they lie deep within the buyer’s culture. Before any purchase, buyers must figure out how to manage the resultant change and disruption congruently and until they do, theyre just not ready to attend to our needs to sell.
But as outsiders, we can still understand how systems change and serve by helping prospects discover their own steps to Excellence; if what you’re selling matches their buying criteria once they’re ready (much more quickly than if they do this on their own), you’ve made a very quick sale with little competition. Think about it. You don’t buy the way you sell. The sales model is a solution placement model never meant to facilitate consensus, buyer readiness, or systemic change.
It’s fixable once we stop colluding and perpetuating the myth of success; instead of redefining failure to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is optimal, let’s just concede that what we’re doing is Failure and do something different. Put together a strategy to add some sort of leadership/coaching/consulting practice based on facilitating change (not based on manipulating a sale). Do this consistently in marketing and content, cold calls, prospecting, telemarking, presentation meetings, and your large sales. The question is: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? We need both for success; they each demand a different skill set.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation® that includes a unique form of systemic, non-biased question (Facilitative Questions), a new form of listening (Listening for Systems), and a coded change sequence that incorporates all levels of change. Morgen has trained this model to global corporations for solutions of all sizes. She is a NYTimes Business Bestselling author of 7 books on the topic of facilitating buying decisions, including Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets; she is the author of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? and trains collaborative communication and unbiased listening to sellers, coaches, and leaders. Morgen consults, coaches, speaks, and trains; her blog ranked one of the top 10 sales/marketing blogs.
Contact Sharon Drew with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org 512 771 1117
Sharon Drew Morgen July 1st, 2019
I moved to London in 1983 to start up a tech company after spending years as a successful sales person. After years of ‘understanding’ and ‘qualifying’ prospects, getting appointments and networking, presenting and following up, I thought I understood buyers well-enough to become one. But I was wrong. My new role taught me the differences between selling and buying: I hadn’t realized how the complexity of my Pre-Sales activity determined whether or not I’d buy:
As a sales professional my ultimate job was to place solutions; as a buyer, my main focus was to create and maintain Excellence.
As a sales professional I struggled to say/offer the right thing, at the right time, to the right prospects, in order to close; as an entrepreneur and potential buyer I had to continually manage change using the most efficient, integrous, and least disruptive route to success to maintain happy employees and clients, and a great product.
As a sales professional, I sought to influence those who needed my solution; as a buyer, I couldn’t fully define my needs, make adjustments, or resolve problems, until all voices and impediments to change were factored in.
Selling and buying were different: different goals, different behaviors, different communication and thinking patterns. And before becoming a buyer myself, I hadn’t fully appreciated how severely the sales model limits itself to seeking and finding only the low hanging fruit – those who have gone through their internal systems checks and realized they cannot fix their problem themselves and know, precisely, the sort of solution that would be acceptable and cost effective.
As a buyer, the very last thing I needed was to buy. But when I did buy, it was based on my ability to manage change without disruption, not on my need. Even though I had needs, my vendors didn’t close me until almost a year after they met me; if they had entered to first help me address my change I could have closed/bought months earlier.
THE JOB OF A BUYER
As a buyer, my problem was not having needs but in addressing any disruption I’d face in addressing the needs: before bringing in anything new in, I had to first enable congruent change along a murky path between the status quo, and Excellence and respect
The challenge was to be better without losing what worked successfully, to ensure
– everyone involved agreed to a common solution,
– I had consensus and a route through to congruent change,
– I was absolutely certain I couldn’t fix the problem with something convenient or familiar,
– I managed a range of idiosyncratic decision factors that involved my investors, my Board, my staff,
– I had all my ducks in a row and considered any needs in terms of systems congruence, and
– I made sure any change or purchase maintained our status quo or created a new one congruently.
Even though I was the Managing Director/Founder, it wasn’t totally up to me how, if, or when to resolve problems. I had a well-oiled machine to consider, one that had a few problems, but did a lot successfully; I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I had to discern how to reach Excellence in the most efficient way and create the least disruption to the employees, company and investors. And the last thing – the very last thing – I needed was to buy anything.
– Who did I need to get agreement from? And how would their combined voices shift the thoughts on the needs, the outcome, and the process? What was the fallout if I forgot some of the voices?
– What would be the inflection point between the risk of change and the reward of Excellence?
– How could we fix the problem ourselves? At what point would we realize we couldn’t?
– How could we be certain that the people, policies, rules, and goals we had in place would fit comfortably – would buy-in – with anything new we might do? And was it possible to know the downside?
Once I realized that my needs were not the driving factors, and the change issue was a problem of Systems Congruence (I had to maintain what worked and find a way to expand the status quo to adopt the new) I used my Asperger’s systems-thinking brain to code the 13 steps from problems to Excellence and design a change facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) so my sales staff could sell more:
The change process we all went through was idiosyncratic and iterative (My book Dirty Little Secrets describes the process.). No outsider would ever understand what was involved during our change process; even I didn’t understand what would be involved when I began. What surprised me most was that only the last 4 steps were involved with making a purchase. And my journey to a purchase was defined by my Buying Decision Path. Indeed, I coined this entire process the Buyer’s Journey.
A WALK THROUGH THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
Initially, like all buyers, I didn’t know what I didn’t know: I didn’t know WHO really needed to be involved (It wasn’t obvious due to the hidden influence from some of the folks peripherally involved.); I couldn’t know if we could FIX THE PROBLEM OURSELVES (Once we reached consensus as to the nature of the problem, we needed to attempt to use our most familiar resolutions.); I didn’t know IF I needed to buy anything (I merely wanted excellence. A purchase is disruptive and couldn’t be considered until all else was proven lacking.); and it wasn’t until there were no other options, did we consider seeking an outside solution.
In other words, even though we had needs, buying anything was not the objective nor the first thought. When I had an idea of something that needed improvement I needed to hear from the appropriate folks to flush out their issues before we’d have a complete fact pattern; we all had to agree to the goals, direction, outcomes, results, risks, and path to change – confusing because every voice and job title had different priorities, needs, and problems. It was a delicate process, and there was no clear path forward until we were almost at the end of the path. Every buyer goes through some form of this; they never begin at the end where sales enters.
This is where buyers go when they’re silent. They’re not dragging their heels or seeking lower prices; they need to traverse their entire Buying Journey to get to the point of even becoming a buyer. And the process of navigating through the people and policies within the status quo to garner consensus for a potentially disruptive change is a confusing process. It certainly can’t be driven by knowing about, or considering, an external solution.
As a seller I recommended my prospects include the ‘right’ people; I even attempted to help them make good decisions. But I was an outsider. And I was biased by my directive of wanting to sell, or understanding how my solution would fit; no one from outside the system could ever understand the internal politics and relationship issues to be managed. As an entrepreneur there was no one to guide me through this; not schooled in systems thinking, I had to figure out how to navigate this minefield on my own.
This is the Buyer’s Journey – the route from the problem recognition, to the assembling of the appropriate people (idiosyncratic; not obvious), to the research and trials and workarounds to fix the problem with known resources, to the change management issues, to the point of defining the type of solution that will resolve the problem with least disruption.
The act of selling, I realized, does not create buying. But with a different hat on, by entering first as Change Facilitators, sellers could enter the Buyer’s Journey at the beginning and efficiently help prospects navigate through the confusion first, to enable those who will buy, end contact immediately with those who cannot, and then gather data, pitch, and sell with very specific data and a familiar buyer.
NAVIGATING THROUGH THE ENTIRE JOURNEY: THE JOB OF BUYING FACILITATION®
My own sellers used Buying Facilitation® as their first tool even when prospects would call in to us, to guide buyers through their own 13 steps, and then sell to the ones who had all their ducks in a row (We had an eight-fold increase in sales). The time it takes buyers to navigate these steps is the length of the sales cycle. And buyers must do this anyway – so it might as well be with us. Sellers wait (and wait) while buyers do this and then hopefully be there to pick off the low-hanging-fruit. Might as well start at the beginning, be Servant Leaders, and find/close more buyers.
As part of Buying Facilitation® I coined the terms Buyer’s Journey, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Path, Buying Patterns, Buying Decision Team, and Helping Buyers Buy between 1985 and 1993:
Buying Decision Path represents the set of 13 steps from problem recognition and garnering consensus, through to recognizing and managing change in a way that enhances the status quo – all before getting to the stage of purchasing anything. It’s possible to facilitate and discover those who could buy and efficiently help them navigate the steps to purchase and get into the Buying Decision Team. A buying decision is a change management process.
Buy Cycle represents the time it takes from recognition to Excellence, from seeking internal solutions to making a purchase. It’s a change management process, not a solution choice process.
Buying Patterns explains the unique and idiosyncratic actions each buyer takes along their journey to Excellence.
Buyer’s Journey includes the full fact pattern and set of decision and change issues between discovery and decision to buy anything and manage change. This is not merely a journey to a purchase. It’s a journey to Excellence.
Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation model for influencers (sellers, coaches, leaders, managers) that helps buyers traverse and uncover their hidden path to change with Systems Congruence and consensus. It includes a unique set of tools that includes Listening for Systems, a Choice Model, and Facilitative Questions. Buying Facilitation® demands a systems thinking brain and eschews trying to sell anything until or unless the buyer knows exactly what they need and how they need to buy – the first 9 steps of their Buying Journey. After all, you’ve got nothing to sell until they have something to buy. And all the information you share isn’t relevant until then.
All buyers – even individuals buying a toothbrush, as well as complex sales – go through some sort of internal change management before they’re set up to buy. It’s about the buying, not about the selling – two different activities. Do you want to sell? or have someone buy? By putting on a consulting/coaching/
BUYING FACILITATION® FACILITATES THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
Here’s what we don’t know as sellers when we first reach out to buyers to understand need or find a prospect:
The sales model does a great job placing solutions, but expends too much energy seeking those few who have completed their completed Buyer’s Journey and are at the point of being ready/able to buy. Sales believes a prospect is someone who SHOULD buy; Buying Facilitation® believes a prospect is someone who CAN buy and has the tools to invest in efficiently facilitating the Buyer’s Journey from the first moment of the first call, and THEN selling. to those who are indeed buyers.
For less time and resource, we can actually lead buyers down their own change route and recognize who will, or won’t, be a buyer. In one conversation we can help them discern who they need to include on their Buying Decision Team; if we wish an appointment, the entire Decision Team will be eagerly awaiting us. On the first call we can find buyers at different stages along their journey who need our solutions but aren’t yet ready to buy. We just can’t use the sales model until after it’s established who is actually a buyer.
The differentiating factor is that we start out not trying to sell, or qualify, or determine needs (You’re now only closing less than 5%, so obviously that approach isn’t so successful.) but as Change Facilitators, with the goal to help Buyers manage their OWN Buying Decision Path; we trust that our buyers have their own answers, and our solutions may be a part of their solution. We’re outsiders; we can never know the intricate politics and history of a buyer’s environment.
Let’s enter earlier with a change consultant hat on, to actually facilitate buyers to the point where they could be ready to buy – and THEN sell. We will find 8x more prospects, immediately recognize those who can never buy, and be true Servant Leaders. Otherwise we’re merely wasting over 95% of our time and resource seeking the low hanging fruit, and missing a vital opportunity to find, and close, those who WILL buy.And more will buy, and quicker.
I know that some of the recognized sales models (Challenger) talk about ‘buying’. But they are using ‘buyer-based’ terms in service to placing solutions, of finding ways to influence, persuade, or manipulate buying. But buyers don’t buy that way. They first need to navigate through their entire Buyer’s Journey. Help them. Then sell.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the the original thinker and visionary behind Buying Facilitation®. She has trained the model globally to over 100,000 people world-wide in sales, coaching, leadership, and change management. Sharon Drew is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller Dirty Little Secrets, and other books on how buyers buy. She is also the author of the game changer What? Did you really say what I think I heard? and teaches listening and communication to ensure we all hear each other accurately. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, coach, and author. email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen June 17th, 2019
A participant at one of my onsite Buying Facilitation® trainings took me to his desk where he scrolled through pages of names of one-contact prospects who’d ignored his follow up attempts. “What do I do with all of these names? They’re buyers. How can I get them to take my call?”
I scrolled through the hundreds of names, noticed the many dates of attempted follow up after each name, and told him to give me his finger. “My finger?” “Yes”, I said. “Use it to press the delete key. You’re wasting your time.”
NEED DOES NOT EQUAL SALE
Doing what sales professionals are supposed to do, this salesman sought out potential prospects with a ‘need’ his solution could resolve, assuming need = prospect. With pages of names and untold wasted hours calling, calling, calling them back (time he could have used to find real buyers), valiantly seeking a sale among those he assumed most likely, there was something he wasn’t understanding: just because it seemed to him there was a fit, didn’t mean these people were buyers.
Walk this back with me: Sales professionals have been taught that a prospect is someone with a ‘need’ that matches the benefits of their solution – someone who SHOULD buy, or likely to be a candidate to buy – and with the ‘right’ course of action, they can convert this prospect to a buyer. But after years of coming up with ‘new’ sales methods, closing techniques, e-tools, etc. etc. that employ the ‘right’ approach to target prospects, introduce the content in the ‘best’ way with the most efficient messaging, and finding hundreds, thousands, with a supposed need who don’t buy, we know ‘need’ does not equal Sale.
The mystery to me is why we keep doing it and telling ourselves that, even with a 5% close rate, what we’re doing is working. Has it never occurred that just maybe we’re doing something wrong? The truth is, selling doesn’t cause buying. Yet we keep doing the same thing and accept as normal the low close rates and silence from those we deem buyers. Nothing in this process works efficiently. We
Sellers can’t even identify prospects who will buy from their pipeline. After asking hundreds of sellers who among their current prospects will definitely buy, no one, in my entire 35 years of sales training and consulting, ever has more than a guess. But that’s because it’s not possible to know who will be a buyer on the first call using the current sales focus of seeking people with ‘need’.
And herein lies the problem: by entering prospecting calls with goals, expectations, and listening patterns that assume we can recognize a real buyer, or when we find someone with a ‘need’ we’ve got a prospect, or by sending out content marketing cleverly introducing features and functions, we not only chase those who may never buy (the majority), but overlook an entirely different set of criteria for finding those who CAN buy: people who are willing and able to change. That’s right: the criteria for finding someone who will/can buy is wholly dependent on whether they are willing and able to change. For those of you who find this concept unusual, I’ll lead you through this.
CHANGE IS THE CRITERIA, NOT NEED
Did you buy a gym membership (or get coaching, or lose weight, or…) when you first recognized a ‘need’ or when you were (finally) ready to make a change? How long did you have the ‘need’ before you actually did something about it? When you finally took action, it had nothing to do with the gym membership or the coach; you were ready and willing to change, to take action now (yes, now), find the time, develop new habits, make it a priority over something else you were doing with that time, have the funds, etc. ‘Need’ may inspire a consideration to do something different, but does not constitute the action to do it.
When we enter a conversation believing that someone with a ‘need’ is a buyer, we ignore
Think about it: why would anyone spend time listening to a stranger (yes, you’re a stranger) or reading content, unless they want something? Here’s the rule: if someone is in the early stages of scoping stuff out and hasn’t yet realized they might need to buy something, or haven’t yet adjusted for how making a purchase would affect their status quo, they have no reason to spend time with you, regardless need, or the efficacy of your solution. Therefore, with our solution placement outreach methods we merely attract:
Even if we’re connecting in response to a request for more information or a referral, we’re entering as a solution seeking a problem without considering the range of activities (the internal change management elements) necessary before someone can buy. We forget that between recognizing a problem and taking actions to resolve it (adopt something new), essential steps must occur (I wrote a book on this. Take a look: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com
In other words, sales shares data prematurely, before people even know what to listen for; listens for ‘buying signals’ that don’t exist; overlooks those who WILL become buyers but don’t yet understand they need us. Our prospects are restricted to the low hanging fruit who already know they need us, ensuring we play a numbers game as everyone fights to close the same pool of ready buyers. If they were fully cognizant of what they needed AND had the internal buy-in to make a purchase AND knew how much discombobulation they’d face, they would have gone online and contacted us already. To find real buyers on the first call, we need a different listening bias and goal to recognize those who are willing to change.
THE SALES MODEL RESTRICTS DISCOVERY
I’ve been told the ‘million dollar question’ is knowing who is a buyer on the first call. And yet, it’s simple. Here are two examples of me making a cold call to a Sales Director. I entered both conversations with the same Facilitative Question (FQ – a new form of question I developed that facilitates discovery without biasing choice or attempting to gather data): How are you currently adding new sales skills to the ones your folks now use for those times you seek to augment specific outcomes? Just from the responses to my opening question, it’s easy to recognize which person is a buyer.
Responder A: Every year I read 6 sales books. I then buy copies of my favorite one for each sales person, and ask them to meet once a month to discuss how to incorporate the ideas into their selling.
Responder B: Good question. I’ve certainly tried, but I haven’t been successful. I keep training my folks with the newest sales methods, and it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. Not sure if I’m using the right training methods, or I just need to fire all of my sales folks and start all over. Or maybe something we’re doing internally that’s causing the results. I sure wish I knew the answer.
Which one is the prospect? B, of course. Do they both have a need? Probably. But it’s clear who’d be willing to change. Notice I entered the conversation to help the prospect start thinking about change, not to try to find a match between my solution and a need, or find someone (um, the ‘decision maker?’) who would listen to a pitch (why do we assume that our glorious pitch and content will rule the day, after thousands of people ignore us?). Different from conventional sales approaches that enter to discover a ‘need’ or attempt to ‘gather information’, my opening FQ used vocabulary that restricted the conversation to where change would occur, while providing me information on their willingness to change.
And it’s quite important to understand that by entering the conversation with an entirely different focus, the rest of the conversation and the resultant human connection, the ability to find a real buyer and make a sale, is quite different from a seller entering to sell their solution.
The problem has never been our solution or their need. The part we’ve left out of sales is change. Every purchase, every add-on involves shifting the status quo in some way – assuredly causing some form of disruption; unless a prospect knows how change with minimal disruption they can’t buy anything regardless of their need or my solution. I ask you: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two distinctly different activities. And we’re only focused on the selling – all the while ignoring real buying opportunities that require some change facilitation rather than solution placement bias.
RECOGNIZING AND FACILITATING CHANGE BEFORE SELLING
Do you know what an exchange sounds like with a real buyer? Training Buying Facilitation® to small business bankers at Wachovia, we opened with a Facilitative Question that produced great results:“How are you currently adding new banking resources for those times you need additional support?” This question
Of course the discussion involved further facilitation, but this FQ opened the dialogue and, importantly, positioned the seller as a facilitator enabling Excellence rather than a sales person pushing solutions. Using this process, the results were profound: the control group, asking for appointments to present their new small business banking services, got 10 appointments out of 100, closing 2 in 11 months. Using Buying Facilitation® and starting with the above Facilitative Question (and no pitch!), my group got 39 appointments; they closed half in the first 2 months, then half of the remainder in the next month. So in 3 months, they closed approximately 30 prospects. Same list, same product. But by starting from a change consideration, we found – and then efficiently facilitated – real buyers. The other group merely uncovered those who recognized a willingness to seek a new banker but still weren’t in a position to change (i.e. notice the difference in closing times). The most interesting thing was how little time it took to close those willing to change once the seller facilitated the prospect through their change and buy-in determinants.
A buying decision is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue. Making a purchase or choosing a vendor is the last thing – the last thing – a prospect will do. If we eschew a ‘selling’ focus as an entry, and instead focus on change, we can find those willing and able to consider change and facilitate them through their steps of change – enlist buy-in; design a way to maintain what’s working while adding new solutions to ensure continuity; manage people issues and internal politics – changing with minimal disruption. But it demands an entirely different skill set and entry point.
My Buying Facilitation® model has coded every step buyers must go through to discover how, when, and if, to make a change and leads them through the non-buying, systems-focused steps necessary without the bias of sales; different from sales, and used as the first step before a solution is actually introduced (although the questions are posed around the area my solution can resolve) it operates as a change facilitation approach that consists of different skills from sales – Facilitative Questions, Listening for Systems, and Presumptive Summaries to facilitate discovery and manage change.
Buying Facilitation® can be employed in a fraction of the time it takes to pitch to a stranger; it reduces the failed follow up attempts to ensure we’re only following up with those who WILL buy, and teach them how they CAN buy. And then, employ our brilliant sales approach to the right buyers. It’s win win. What would you need to know about the learning process to understand how Buying Facilitation® would enable you to close more, waste less time, and serve more clients efficiently? Call me. I’ll teach you how to do it.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, the generic Change Facilitation model that offers influencer the tools to enable Others to make congruent changes to find their own excellence, without fallout. She has trained this in sales, coaching, leadership, and management to Fortune 500 companies globally since 1985. Sharon Drew is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? which explores the gap in understanding between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.
Sharon Drew Morgen May 13th, 2019
BIG IDEA: Buyers can’t buy until they’ve handled all of their internal stuff and everyone involved agrees they’re ready, willing, and able to bring in something new. With a solution-placement focus, sales and marketing limit us to finding only those who have completed those tasks and deem themselves ready to engage – the low hanging fruit.
PROBLEM: The problem is not in getting our solution sold; it’s in getting our solution bought. Buyers have Pre-Sales work to do that doesn’t involve the content we spend a lot of resource trying to push on them. Our sales and marketing efforts are set to seek ways to ‘get in’, get read, or determine ‘need’, ignoring the buyer’s need to figure out how to do their real change work: to assemble the most appropriate people, get consensus, try workarounds, and manage change. Because of the selling biases in our listening and questioning, we extract partial data, from people who don’t have the full fact pattern yet; promised dates get ignored; people disappear; there is no buy-in. We waste our time pushing content and waiting, hoping they’ll buy, instead of entering earlier to facilitate the change with them.
PROBLEM: The flaw in the sales model: designed to place solutions, sales starts selling before buyers are ready/able to buy, restricting success to those who deem themselves ready- the low hanging fruit (5%). Indeed, buyers don’t want to buy anything: they just want to solve a (business) problem with the least disruption.
PROBLEM: The status quo is preferred and is the basis of decision making. Regardless of a buyer’s real need, or the relevance of our solution; regardless of relationship or pitch/content/price; it is only when there is buy-in for systemic change, and an action plan that manages disruption, will buyers investigate the most agreeable solution. This holds true regardless of type or price of solution.
SOLUTION: Buying Facilitation® is a unique consulting model that facilitates change and decision making. Used with the sales model, it enters the buyer’s buying decision process to facilitate excellence, teaching buyers how to manage all the systems/change stuff they must do: recognize and manage all of the back-end, idiosyncratic, internal issues they must address before they can consider a change in the area our solution can help in (i.e. you’re not helping them determine if they need new software if you sell leadership training.). It can be used with small personal products, cold calls, help desks, complex sales, and marketing.
A non-biased change management model, BF uses a new form of listening (Listening for Systems) and a new form of direction-driven/non-biased question (Facilitative Question) to facilitate our buyer’s journey through the steps of change only they can make – change that would include our solution for those ready. Once BF has supported buyers through the steps of their decision making, we are already in place, on their team. Makes it much easier to sell.
A buying decision is a change management problem. Buyers must handle stuff, with us or without us: we’ve always sat and waited (and called, sent, called, pitched, prayed, waited) while they do this themselves. If we can collaborate with them as consultants (change facilitators, not solution providers – and this is an important distinction), we’ll serve them from the beginning, making the process more efficient for those who are the real prospects, eliminating the rest immediately, and being on board when they’re ready. [Read my book on this: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com
CASE STUDY USING BUYING FACILITATION®
Let me lead you through one simple case study from a group of small business bankers I trained for one of the 3 major US banks. Their numbers after the training were quite impressive compared to the control group:
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 this might sound high, remember: interactions proceed differently using Buying Facilitation® because the focus isn’t to sell/push product/find a buyer (A) but to facilitate the entire buying decision path (B). We began immediately by helping them determine how they’d add a resource such as ours when they needed it:
“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?”
Here’s the thinking: Given all small businesses have some banking relationship, the only businesses who would want to meet 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. Attempting to get an appointment because ‘we want to understand your needs’ or ‘show you our new solutions’ etc. to prove we’re “better”, or to try to convince them to change suppliers, meant we would seem to be attacking their current vendors and current relationships. Not to mention pitching into a closed environment, leaving us hoping that the spaghetti would stick somewhere. That approach got a 90% refusal to even meet. Nope. No need to meet. We’ve got a bank, thank you.
By focusing on helping them determine how they’d manage if they needed more than their current providers could supply, and by helping them figure out where they could add a new resource without disrupting current working relationships, we vastly expanded the field of possible buyers and instantly eliminated those who would never buy. It proved a winning tactic: 37 made appointments 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.
CONCLUSION: 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 until the time when the buyers 1. have the complete set of ‘givens’ they need in order to consider all of the elements of change (including, but not limited to, buying something); 2. are ready to adapt to change and there is consensus. There’s no manipulation, no persuasion, no influencing. It’s a win/win collaboration, servant leader model: we actually facilitate buyer readiness. I can’t say this enough: buyers go through this anyway, without us. We can push stuff at them while we wait for them to show up, or we can facilitate them through the length of it. It can be your competitive edge.
We can teach people how to change/buy; we can shorten the time to buy by making their change process efficient; we are helping them determine how, and when, they need us. It’s a facilitation, not a push. 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 use your time to sell 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 spend your selling time only on those who WILL buy, and set that up by first facilitating prospective buyers down their own buying decision path.
Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Two different activities. Change your focus and sell more with a lot more collaboration and integrity Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation®. She’s been training and licensing it world-wide since 1983 to companies such as DuPont, IBM, Kaiser, Bose, Morgan Stanley,Wachovia. Sharon Drew is the author of 7 books on the topic, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and Amazon bestseller What? Did you really say what I think I heard?that explores the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, coach, and business consultant. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen April 22nd, 2019
With untold millions of sales professionals in the world, sellers play a role in any economy. While our jobs are nominally to place solutions, we are uniquely positioned to make a difference: as the intermediary between clients and providers, we can make sales a spiritual practice and become true facilitators and Servant Leaders (and close more sales).
The current sales model is a time-waster, restricts success, and is horribly inefficient. We close 5% of our sales and waste 95% of our time (approximately 130 hours a month per seller); our product data is well-represented online so pitches based on product details may be irrelevant; we connect with only those who are ready to buy, and ignore the possibility of facilitating and serving people en route to becoming buyers but quite ready to heed, or respond to, conventional ways of responding to sales situations.
Until people have figured out how any new solutions will infiltrate, change, or disrupt their environment, they will merely attempt to fix their problems themselves and avoid any outside intervention. It’s only when they know exactly how to manage change and not end up in chaos, when they understand that the cost of bringing in something new is lower than the cost of maintaining the status quo, will they seek help through a purchase. People don’t want to buy anything, they merely seek excellence and will buy if they must. And the sales model does not address this, using the time and connection to try to place solutions instead. Hence the 5% close rate and wasted time.
Indeed, the time we spend pushing solutions rather than helping buyers facilitate their change process is misplaced, mistimed, and misguided, leading to the win-lose quality of sales: sales becomes a product/solution push into a closed, resistive, private system, rather than an expansive, collaborative experience between seller and buyer wherein both attain a win-win. And we end up seeking and closing only the low hanging fruit – those ready to buy at the point of contact – unwittingly ignoring others who aren’t ready even though they may need our solutions, or just need to get their ducks in a row before they’re prepared to make a decision.
Imagine having a product-needs discussion about moving an iceberg and discussing only the tip. That’s sales; it doesn’t facilitate the entire range of hidden, unique change issues buyers must consider – having nothing to do with our solutions – before they could buy anything. We enter later than we need to in both sales and marketing. Failure is built in.
IS SELLING PREDATORY?
Sellers aspire to niceness and relationship; yet their restricted focus on placing solutions all but insures that kindness, respect, and true facilitation are unwittingly overlooked. A major factor is our one-sided communication:
I’ve been a seller, trainer, consultant, and sales coach since the 1970s, been a buyer as founder of a tech start up 1983-1988, and have personally worked with dozens of global corporations and untold thousands of sellers. I see sales as a near-predatory job: sellers spend their time seeking and following, pitching and positioning, networking and calling to find those few set up to buy something, and ignoring a large population of potential buyers who merely aren’t ready.
The model is fraught with guesswork and hope, manipulation and persuasion, white lies and exaggerations – not to mention highly ineffective when the time spent vs sales closed ratio is examined. Not only are we wasting time pushing/chasing folks we’ve deemed prospects (A real prospect is one who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy; the current sales model doesn’t know the difference.), but the global nature of staffing patterns and decision makers in our client’s environments causes closing to take 30% longer. And the very nature of the web makes most pitches and presentations moot. In fact, buyers often know more than sellers.
Sales unwittingly ignores the real problem: it’s in the buying, not the selling. The sales model’s focus on our products (terrific as they are) keeps us from using our positions as knowledge experts and Leaders to facilitate buyers down their own path to excellence.
SALES IS SHORT-SIGHTED
Indeed, the job of ‘sales’ as merely a solution-placement vehicle is short-sighted.
But we can truly serve clients AND close more sales, by adding a Change Facilitation capability that expands our entry points into the buy cycle, makes the buying decision process much more efficient and makes sales a spiritual practice. Here’s my definition of ‘spiritual’:
Different from sales, which
Aspiring to a win-win
Win-win means both sides get what they need in equal measure. Sellers believe that placing product or resolving a problem offers an automatic win-win but that’s not wholly accurate.
Buying isn’t as simple as choosing a solution; buyers first must resolve the entire system that created and maintains their problem (problems never occur uniquely). The very last thing they want is to buy anything, regardless of their apparent need. As outsiders we can’t know the tangles of people and policies that hold the problem/need in place. The time it takes them to design a congruent solution that includes buy-in and change management is the length of their sales cycle.
If we enter first as Change Facilitators and help buyers efficiently traverse their internal struggles (that we can never be a part of per se), we can help them get to the ‘need/purchase’ decision more quickly and be part of the solution – win-win. Note: buyers need to congruently manage their change issues anyway. They will do this with us or without us, so it might as well be with us. Currently we’re not involved because this occurs before they recognize a need, or haven’t gotten consensus, or completed their change work yet.
We’re wasting a valuable opportunity to share this process with them by only wanting to sell – and then wait and hope, while competitively chasing after those who show up after they’ve completed their internal work without us. If we enter earlier, work with them as Change Facilitators (with wholly different skills and goals) to help them facilitate their change, we can spend our time capturing and serving more real prospects, and spend less time seeking out the low hanging fruit. We can use our time more profitably to develop real buyers, rather than fighting to find those who are ready. Let’s shift gears and enter earlier with a different hat on.
Believe it or not it becomes a very efficient process and great time saver: no more chasing those who will never close; no more turning off those who will eventually seek our solution; no more gathering incomplete data from one person with partial answers. We can enable those who can/should buy to buy in half the time and sell more product – and very quickly know the difference between them and those who can never buy. Win-win. [All the change issues buyers must address are in my book Dirty Little Secrets].
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
There are several pieces to the puzzle here.
We are all here to serve each other
Sellers understand enough about the systems in our areas of expertise to help buyers traverse their change route that could lead to a sale. With an entry point of systems excellence rather than solution placement, buyers immediately recognize the benefits from a collaboration and are happy to invite sellers onto their decision team and not seek other competitors. Win-win. The Facilitative Question I developed for Wachovia’s Small Business Banker’s cold calls helped prospects immediately realize a problem they had to resolve rather than say ‘No’ to an appointment request:
“How are you currently adding banking resources to the bank you’re currently using for those times you seek additional support?”
With no disrespect, no push, no information gathering or asking for an appointment, the Facilitative Question merely pointed them to the problem they might have to resolve over time. The results were astounding: against 100 prospecting calls and a control group: 10% appointments vs 27%; 2 closes in 11 months vs 19 closes in 3 months; we facilitated discovery immediately and served. And we expanded the universe of buyers by repositioning the parameters of purchase and only visited those who could close.
There is no right answer
Sellers often believe that buyers are idiots for not making speedy decisions, or for not buying an ‘obvious’ solution. But sales offers no skills or motive to enter earlier where buyers are not at the point of even knowing if – let alone what – they might buy. We must expand the definition of a buying decision (a term I defined in 1985) to include
the route down the 13-step path from the status quo through to congruent change. Includes the people, policies, relationships, and history – the systems issues that insure Systems Congruence – that maintain the status quo and must be addressed before they consider buying anything.
Once buyers figure out their congruent route to change, they won’t have objections, will close themselves, and there’s no competition: buyers are the ones with the ‘right answer’; sellers facilitate change management first and then sell once everything is in place. No call backs and follow up and ignored calls. Win-win.
No one has anyone else’s answer
By adding decision facilitation, everyone focuses on uncovering the right questions. Collaborative decisions get made that will serve everyone.
Let’s change the focus: instead relegating sales to a product/solution placement device, let’s add the job of facilitation to lead buyers through to their own type of ‘excellence’ through the mire only they can understand: let’s Lead using our industry knowledge. Then buyers make better, quicker, more congruent decisions – with more/quicker sales, less tire-kickers, better differentiation, and no competition, and sales close in half the time.
THE NEW WAY
As a seller and an entrepreneur (I founded a tech company in London, Hamburg, and Stuttgart in 1983), I realized that sales ignored the buying decision problem and developed Buying Facilitation® to add to sales as a generic change management tool. Buyers get to their answers eventually; the time this takes is the length of the sales cycle. Once I developed this model for my sellers to use, we made their process far more efficient with an 8x increase in sales – a number consistently reproduced against control groups with my global training clients over the following decades.
With Buying Facilitation® we can add a new capability and level of expertise and be a part of the decision process from the first call. Make money and make nice.
We no longer need to lose prospects because they’re not ready, or cognizant of their need. We can become intermediaries between our clients and our companies; use our positions to efficiently help buyers manage their internal change congruently, without manipulation; use our time to serve those who WILL buy – and know this on the first contact – and stop wasting time on those who will never buy. Let’s stop merely trying to place our solutions, and use our knowledge and care to serve our buyers and our companies in a win-win. Let’s make sales a spiritual practice.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. She’s the developer of Change Facilitation, a generic change management/decision facilitation model used by influencers to effect congruent change in the sales industry (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, health care, and management. The model includes a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that promotes unbiased discovery, a new form of listening (Listening for Systems) that enables non-biased hearing, and the coding of the sequence of systemic, congruent change. She has trained this material to over 100,000 sales professionals and thousands of senior consultants globally. Sharon Drew is the author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and two Amazon bestsellers, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers don’t buy and sellers don’t sell and What? did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew also coaches teams to encourage buy-in and compliance with buyers, teammates, partners, and patients. Her award winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com carries important essays and articles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Drew Morgen February 25th, 2019
Your important nonprofit or exciting startup helps the world be a better place. But now you’ve got to raise money. You’ve created a terrific pitch deck, have a highly competent management team and terms, and have identified donor prospects with major gift potential. You’ve designed a multi-channel approach to build relationships with small investors to excite them to becoming large investors. Why aren’t you raising all the funding you deserve?
Somehow your investors must choose between investments that seem equally promising.
CRITERIA VS. CONTENT
Ultimately, investors choose opportunities based on their own idiosyncratic choice criteria; your marketing efforts may be entering the wrong way, with the wrong goal, offering the right data and asking the right questions at the wrong time.
Investor funds are not sitting there waiting for you to show up, no matter how compelling your information or terms. You may be requesting funding that
Sadly, as an outsider, you have no access to their hidden or historic arrangements or political mind-fields. And asking them about their criteria will only get you the obvious answers. The more successful choice is to first, collaboratively, discern their values-based, unique decision/choice criteria and then offer the exact pitch to match it. After all, most pitch decks and requests for funds will sound somewhat similar. If nothing else, your ability to facilitate a collaboration will set you apart from the competition.
ALIGNMENT CRITERIA FIRST
Decades ago I realized the difference between choice criteria (personal, idiosyncratic) vs content (data). As a sales professional on Wall Street I was frustrated with the seeming gap between what I thought prospects needed (my solution, of course) and their willingness to buy. Once I started up a tech company in London and became The Buyer I realized the problem: before any decision to buy or fund, investors use an idiosyncratic set of choice factors familiar only to them.
As a Buyer, before I bought anything, I had to align my values-based criteria with my team’s often divergent and – conventional choice benchmarks aside – subjective, criteria. Whether we met before a vendor meeting or afterwards I learned to never ignore this team alignment: our vibrant conversations always brought more considerations to the table than I would have considered myself; sometimes we discovered as-yet-unforeseen fallout that needed to be handled prior to any action.
And then the problem with marketing materials. As a sales professional they were a tool to exhibit the data I believed relevant; as a buyer they were biased by the facts the presenters wanted me to know, but often missed my unique buying criteria.
I used this realization to change the course of my own selling and fundraising; I first uncovered and discussed decision criteria and then matched my pitch content accordingly. Rather than designing pitch material based on what I thought they wanted to know, I designed flexible materials that made it easy to fit my content into their choice criteria.
As a result of my findings, in 1985 I developed a decision facilitation model and guidelines for designing presentation materials for my sales staff. With my new realization as a buyer, my Asperger’s systems- thinking brain, and some testing, I coded the path of internal/group decision making and invented Buying Facilitation®, a generic, ethical, facilitation tool that expedites decision making and choice.
I’ve been teaching and writing books on Buying Facilitation® as a front-end to the sales model ever since. Used in fundraising, Buying Facilitation® helps investors determine all aspects of their choice criteria while encouraging win/win collaboration.
NOTE: Investors and buyers go through this process anyway – with you or without you. You can either use Buying Facilitation® to facilitate choice more efficiently (even during your presentation) or just keep smiling and dialing until you find the low hanging fruit who have finally gotten their ducks in a row.
Buying Facilitation® works on the following assumptions:
Using Buying Facilitation® first enables collaboration through the full range of systemic decisions necessary for buy-in and choice; THEN customized content must meet their specific criteria.
PRESENTING WITH BUYING FACILITATION®
Here are a few tips:
Your first job is to be a consultant (even on cold calls or group meetings) to facilitate decision making. Otherwise, you’re offering data into a black box of unknowns. Stop trying to have a ‘relationship’ or gather and share data up front; money goes to those opportunities that first match their hidden criteria regardless of how likeable you are.
NOTE: if you’re in a group pitch situation, do #1-3 as your opening gambit. It still must be done before you proceed with your pitch.
Ultimately, there is one important question to ask yourself: Do you want to pitch your solution? Or help investors give you money? Two different activities. And you need both.
Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader, an original thinker, trainer, consultant, and speaker. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® and author of 7 books on the subject including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach. Sharon Drew also is a communication expert; she’s authored the bestseller What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Visit Sharon Drew’s award winning blog to read her latest thinking. www.sharondrewmorgen.com. Contact her at email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen February 11th, 2019
Can you think of any business paradigms that have stayed the same over the past 100 years? These days we run our businesses differently, with new models of hiring, training, leading, and executing; we have the use of unimaginable amounts of information and search capability to connect with new people and ideas. We now care more about diversity, gender and racial bias, and collaboration. We are far more visible, know our competition better, have greater reach, and possess an astounding capability to develop new solutions from any materials, from anywhere in the world that our imaginations can envision.
For centuries, sales has focused on placing solutions by seeking buyers with needs. Yet the environment buyers buy in has changed. Even with our new technology that finds, targets, and pursues a higher level of probable buyers, we’re closing less due to both the complexity of business environments and the stakeholder involvement in buying decisions. No more single decision makers; stakeholders have a say in all decisions; the buyer’s system – the rules, criteria, history, relationships and politics – is complex and must be taken into account before anything is purchased. As a result, since the 1980s when I began training sales people, closing ratios have gone from 8% to 5%.
YOU’RE FINDING THE BUYERS YOU SEEK
Believe it or not, you’re losing sales as a direct response to the way you’re selling. Your focus on finding ‘needs’ and placing solutions is limiting your audience to those who have already become ‘buyers’, which doesn’t occur until people are three quarters of the way through their buying decision path – a fraction of those who can/will buy.
Since its inception, sales has maintained the same focus – entirely appropriate until the days of global connections – and overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers. And for some reason, even with the obvious decline in numbers (and increase in effort), we haven’t changed. Indeed sellers keep finding new ways to push every which way, becoming so desperate to close that you’re willing to lie, or hire 9x more sales staff, or wait months or years to finally close a sale that could be closed in a fraction of the time.
Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem? Would you go to a doctor with a 5% cure rate? Or fly a plane with a 5% safety rate? Why should sales be any different?
Indeed, even though your solution/product is most likely terrific, it gets lost in the inefficiency of the sales model: people who need your information aren’t reading it; people who would be helped if they purchased your solution aren’t buying. The problem is not the buyers or your content or your solution. The problem is the sales model itself; it’s so critically outdated and so mistakenly focused that you can’t ever get appreciably more closed sales.
In a nutshell, you’re entering with the wrong focus, at the wrong time, with the wrong criteria and faulty tools, connecting with the wrong people, and closing a fraction of what you could be closing. It’s really easy to add some new skills to what you’re doing and change the equation. You could be closing 40% of the lists you’re now using, but not by using the sales model alone.
NEED IS THE WRONG FOCUS
The way you’re selling, regardless of the new tools for targeting and visibility, guarantees you can’t close all the sales you deserve to close because your focus restricts your buying audience to those ready, willing, and able to buy and are seeking the information you offer. And that’s fine – if you are happy with a 5% close rate (which means you’re wasting 95% of your time). But you can be closing 8x more. In pilot studies, folks who added my Buying Facilitation® model to the front end of their sales process closed 40% using the exact same list and product as the control group.
I’m curious: when was the last time you responded to a pop up, or a spam call? Why are you ignoring them? The products they’re selling are fine – you might even need them. How ‘bout the last time you went onto a gym website and read the content – all the course descriptions, trainer descriptions? Was it prior to your decision to join? Or did you just go on to read the content because you had nothing else do to even though you could lose 10 pounds and might need for a gym? So… given possible needs, you’re not reading the content being sent even though it’s been targeted for you? Hmmmm… maybe a need is not the criteria needed to buy?
One of the causes of lost or inadequate closed sales is your focus on finding buyers with a ‘need’ to sell your solution to. Here’s what’s wrong:
Over the decades you find better and better ways to sell less, and yet you continue to use the same organizing factors of solution placement based on need. Has it not occurred to you that it’s not working? That just maybe you might try something different like, oh, I don’t know, maybe focus on facilitating the comprehensive buying decision path? Maybe realize that without buyers you can’t sell anything? Because the truth is, selling doesn’t cause buying.
WHY PEOPLE BUY
People buy your solution because they want to effect positive change, and they can’t do it using the resources in front of them. And it’s only once they’ve done the internal, idiosyncratic change work necessary to get the buy in – STRATEGIC – are they willing to bring in an external solution (i.e. buy). And your great solution, your terrific content, your nice personality and fake relationship – your TACTICAL approach – isn’t noticed or welcome if their status quo will be broken beyond repair if they buy, or if the cost of the addition is greater than the cost of the status quo.
In other words, people don’t buy because they have a need. They buy only when they need a different form of excellence that they cannot achieve without something from the outside – so long as whatever it doesn’t cause irreparable disruption (for systems theorists, this is called Systems Congruence).
I have a brief story I often use to explain this. Years ago I was training Buying Facilitation® at IBM. I was asked to speak with a customer who had an old version of a new system they’d just developed and they needed a local beta test site. In exchange for being a beta, the client would get to keep the new hardware for free. And my client knew the old version and model the client had purchased years before couldn’t be working effectively given the way the company had grown.
Two sales folks had already called on this client, and the client said ‘no’ to both. They asked if I could give it a try. Here was my conversation:
SDM: Hi. I’m Sharon Drew Morgen calling from IBM. I’m wondering how your current system is working.
CLIENT: Well, it’s ok. [Odd. They turned down a free brand new, fast, system and weren’t ecstatically happy with the old one?] SDM: I’m confused. I heard that we offered you a brand new system that would be much faster than your current one. What stopped you from taking it?
SDM: Excuse me? Dad? Could you explain?
CLIENT: Sure. We’re a Mom & Pop shop, and Dad is Pop. He’s 75 now, and he’ll retire in about 2 years. He handles all of the technology, so I don’t want to confuse him or upset him. He might as well keep doing what makes him comfortable, even if our system is a bit slow.
SDM: So Dad’s comfort is your criteria. From what I know, users find the new system as easy to use as the old one. What would you need to know about the new beta to know if it’s easy enough for Dad to stay comfortable?
CLIENT: Dad would have to try it and be comfortable with it.
SDM: We happen to have another beta site about a mile from you. Would you be willing to have me come by and pick you and Dad up for a trial?
And so we placed the beta. It had nothing to do with need, and everything to do with the system, the change management issues, the buy in issues.
Buyers don’t need your solution. They need excellence. 100 years after Dale Carnegie used ‘need’ as the criteria [and in 1937 it was!], ‘need’ is no longer the reason people buy. In fact 80% of your current prospects will buy your solution within the next 2 years (probably not from you) once they’ve gotten their ducks in a row. Which means they were always buyers, but not ready or able to buy. And instead of facilitating their buying decision (not possible using need or solution placement as a focus), instead of helping them find their own best answers, you spend your time and focus on need, demographics, and targeted marketing campaigns that couldn’t convince them.
YOU DON’T BUY THE WAY YOU SELL
Take a moment to think how you buy. Do you wake up in the morning after a wild dream and go straight to a Porsche showroom and spend $100,000 on a car that sort of looked like the one in your dream? Of course not. You think about it, discuss it with your spouse, talk to friends, go online, find out how much your car is worth to sell, look at your bank account, consider your timing. If you did take yourself to the dealership the first moment you thought about it odds are you wouldn’t have made a purchase that day until you did all of the other background work.
Same with your workplace. Are there communication problems? Leadership issues? Motivation, diversity, personnel issues?? Why hasn’t someone hired a consultant to help you fix it? You’ve got a need – but someone, something assumes you can either fix it yourself, or there are budgeting issues, or it’s not a big problem, or or or…
Since its inception, sales has overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers – and continues to blame buyers for not knowing they need to buy. Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem?
A buying decision is a process that begins with some sort of stimulus, goes through a few rounds of discussion and examination against the rules, values, and stability of the status quo, some rounds of fixes with workarounds or tech solutions, some understanding of the downsides of change and consideration if the change can be tolerated or managed, and ultimately an agreement and considered preparation among all stakeholders that confirms they’re ready for something new to enter – the 5%, the low hanging fruit that finally, finally have completed their Pre Sales/change management work and become buyers. And yet you continue pushing pushing pushing your solution every which way in the hope that this set of words, this pitch, this website, will influence/inspire/manipulate/persuade people to buy.
Given that a buying decision is a change management problem, unless there buy in by all stakeholders, unless they are certain they cannot fix the problem with a known solution, until they are certain the new solution won’t cause irreparable disruption, people cannot buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution:
Here’s a wrap up of why your selling doesn’t cause buying: Besides narrowly listening for an inkling of ‘need’ (I wrote What? Did you really say what I think I heard? to teach you how to listen without bias), you’re overlooking the systems elements that must be managed before anyone can buy anything. You’re an outsider, using biased languaging, questions, and assumptions; your pitch merely represents what YOU think will inspire them to buy. But all that does is find those who 1. Have already done their Pre Sales change work, and 2. Seek exactly what you’re selling; it overlooks those who will shortly become buyers once they’ve traversed their route to congruent change. Got it?
ADD BUYING FACILITATION® TO YOUR SALES PROCESS
I invented Buying Facilitation® and successfully trained it to over 100,000 people in global corporations with consistent results. It is not sales. It does not focus on finding buyers but in facilitating those people who WILL become buyers down their decision steps so they can do what they need to do to be ready and able to buy. Using Buying Facilitation®, Kaiser Permanente went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales. You choose which is more effective.
As part of Buying Facilitation®, I developed a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that eschews information gathering or the Asker’s curiosity and instead uses brain science in conjunction with the steps of decision making to lead people through to congruent change. I also developed a new way to listen (see my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) that avoids bias and listens for systems. And I shifted the opening focus from ‘need’ to finding those who are willing and able to change – in the sphere I’m selling in, of course. I’m facilitating those who can/will buy to Pre Sales Buyer Readiness.
Buying Facilitation® works with marketing as well.By understanding all elements necessary in the buying environment of your industry, you can write articles that move prospective buyers through their decision path using the steps of change, not with product content, but with change thinking. To find an audience for my listening book, I wrote an article on meetings, for example, because I know the steps of groups needing communication tools. I got dozens of Thank You notes from team leaders who shared the article to hundreds of employees, giving me a 54% conversion rate. And I did not discuss my book or even mention it until the footer.
As long as your sales model is focused on placing solutions and searching and listening for need, you will only close the low hanging fruit – those who have done their change management work, know a new solution won’t change their status quo beyond repair, and have gotten the buy in to proceed. It’s time to add Buying Facilitation® to the front end of sales, sell 8x more, and really help buyers buy.
For those of you who want to read more about this, here are some articles I’ve written:
If you’d like to discuss this with me directly, call or email: 512 771 1117; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales thought leader, and NYTimes Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, a skill set that facilitates decision making along each stage of the Pre Sales buyer’s decision path, and assembling all decision makers and addressing all elements subject to change, pre purchase. Sharon Drew has trained global corporations, using pilot studies that consistently prove that adding BF to sales is 8x more effective at closing sales. Sharon Drew is also the thought leader behind the game changing book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew speaks, trains, and consults in Communication, Sales, Listening, Buy-In. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sharon Drew Morgen December 10th, 2018
Posted In: Sales