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
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.
Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sharon Drew Morgen April 22nd, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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; email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen December 10th, 2018
Posted In: Sales
I recently heard yet another excuse as to why a buyer didn’t buy. This one was a hoot – seller/buyer misalignment. Seriously? Because the seller didn’t close a sale (That was expected by the seller? In the mythical pipeline?) there was a relationship problem? Because the buyer didn’t buy (according to the expectation of the seller) there was a bonding problem? No. The problem stems from sellers not understanding what a buyer is. In this case, there was no buyer to be ‘misaligned’ with.
FROM PERSON TO BUYER
A decision not to purchase has very little to do with the seller, the solution, the relationship, or the need. In fact, a purchase is the very last thing a buyer wants. Just because a situation seems like a perfect fit with your solution does not make it a buying/selling opportunity; just because someone really needs your solution does not mean they are ready, willing, or able to buy.
Let me begin by defining ‘Buyer’: a person (or group) who has
and decides to purchase an external solution as their only option.
1. A buyer isn’t a buyer unless they’ve bought something. Until then they are people with a problem that may, if all else fails, require an external solution.
2. People first recognize a problem that keeps them from the type of Excellence they require. They may or may not decide to fix it. It never begins as a decision to make a purchase (unless a small personal item).
3. There are usually a range of ‘fixes’ available for problems. Workarounds are always the first option, a purchase the last.
4. All people (buyers, groups, individuals) live in a unique unconscious, human system (rules, relationships, beliefs, experience, goals, etc.) that created the problem and maintains it as part of their status quo. The system exists AS IS, with problems factored in. If an element is recognized as problematic, the system would need to agree on possible forward routes. Any change would need to end up as an integrated part of the core system.
5. A purchase means something new will enter the system and replace or reconsider what’s already there without leaving a mess. It’s only when there’s agreement from all elements that created the problem that
* it can’t be fixed with known resources or workarounds,
* the cost in resources/change is lower than the cost of fallout,
* a path forward is defined by everyone who will touch the final solution,
that the full scope of a solution is understood. Until then ‘need’ isn’t fully defined. Here is where sellers often get caught thinking there’s a ‘need’ before there is one.
6. There is a defined series of 13 (generic) steps that all systems traverse (often unconsciously) to decide if, when, why, how, what to change. Until they’ve agreed they can’t fix the problem with familiar resources AND developed a plan for congruent change, (step 10), there is no willingness to seek an external solution. In other words, people become buyers at step 10; before that they’re merely people trying to fix a problem themselves.
7. During the steps of change, people within the system do research to find a variety of ideas that could possibly help them fix their problem themselves. If they have contacted a solution provider during their research phase (and have not yet gotten group buy-in) they’re not buyers regardless of their apparent need and the efficacy of a seller’s solution.
8. Making a purchase is first a change management issue, last a solution choice problem; the first question people ask is how they can achieve Excellence without leaving an internal mess; the last question they ask is what solution they’d need from ‘outside’. Using the sales model, only solution placement criteria and activities are considered and any questions posed are biased to inspire agreement, admission of need, ‘relationship’ – all with an intent to sell something (i.e. steps 10-13); there is no element of the sales model that facilitates systemic change to enable sellers to enter earlier.
9. Until any disruption caused by a purchase (i.e. all purchases are ‘foreign’ elements) is understood, planned for, and agreed to, no purchase will take place. The existing system is sacrosanct; keeping it running smoothly is more important to them than fixing a problem that’s already been baked into the system.
10. Everyone and everything who created the current problem and would potentially touch a new solution must agree to any modification (possible purchase). Until then, they won’t, they can’t buy and they are not buyers.
11. The time it takes people/buyers to discover their own answers and know how to manage change in the least disruptive way, is the length of the sales cycle. It has nothing to do with selling, buying, need, relationship, content, or solutions until the route to congruent change is defined and agreed to. It’s change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue.
12. The last thing people want is to buy something. With their only criteria of ‘solution placement’, sellers often enter at the wrong time in the buying journey, ask the wrong questions, and offer the wrong data – and sell only to the low-hanging fruit (the 5% who have planned their route to change already).
13. Buyers buy using their own buying patterns, not a seller’s selling patterns. Using a specific type of sales effort further restricts the population of those who will buy.
14. There is a difference in goals, outcome, capability of changing, and level of buy-in between those who CAN/WILL buy (based on congruent change) vs those who sellers think SHOULD buy (based solely on need/solution match) and hence waste a helluva lot of time.
15. The time it takes people to come up with their complete set of buy-in and change-based answers is the time it takes them to make a decision to seek an external solution – i.e. become a buyer. It has nothing whatsoever to do with their need, your solution, or your relationship until they are certain they will end up with Systems Congruence. And THEN they are ready to discuss the full complement of needs, criteria for buying a solution, and seek a compatible relationship with a seller.
By only listening for clues that lead you to assume a ‘need’ for your solution, by entering into ‘relationships’ based on what you’re selling, by only asking questions to ‘prove’ a need/solution match (too often with only one or two members of the full Buying Decision Team [BDT]), you’re not only biasing the interaction, but limiting your sales to closing those who have gotten to the point when they’re ready, willing, able to change – the low hanging fruit; you’re missing the opportunity to enter earlier, develop a real relationship, and facilitate the path that people who CAN buy must take before they are buyers. The sales model does not facilitate systemic change issues; buyers can’t buy unless this occurs and sellers aren’t helping them, merely waiting for them to show up rather than doing the real job of relationship managers and facilitating through their necessary change issues.
HOW SALES RESTRICTS POSSIBILITY
Because we’ve restricted selling to placing solutions, people with problems we could resolve slowly figure out their own path to change while we sit and wait for those who have completed their process to show up. Prospective buyers, facing confusing choices, would be happy to have help navigating through their Pre-Sales systemic decision/change process and adding a true facilitator onto their BDT.
Right now, you’re seeking out those people you’ve determined SHOULD buy (and getting ignored, misaligned, dropped, etc.) and ignoring ways to facilitate those who CAN buy but haven’t yet become buyers. If you enter with a Change Facilitation focus, it’s possible to find those who CAN buy on the first call, and use your relationship and knowledge to facilitate them through the steps of the change management process first, and THEN be there as they determine the need for your solution.
By adding a Change Facilitation processes to your upfront tools (seller-, marketing-, or software-led) you can enter at any step along the Buying Decision Path and be part of the BDT to help them get their ducks in a row. Then you’ve gotten ahead of the competition, reduce your sales cycle by half, only connect with those who WILL buy, close a helluva lot more sales (my clients close 5x more than the control groups using the same lists), and truly serve the people who need you.
I’ve developed a model (Buying Facilitation®) that uses wholly unique skills (Listening for Systems, Facilitative Questions, etc.) to facilitate the discovery of a congruent route to Excellence. A generic model used for coaching, management, leadership, healthcare, I’ve been quite successful teaching it to global corporations ( i.e. IBM, Kaiser, Wachovia, KPMG, etc.) to increase their sales. Currently you’re now wasting 95% of your time running after those few who have finally arrived at step 10 – the low hanging fruit – ignoring the much larger pool of those who are on route, and fighting for a competitive advantage.
By adding new functionality to your sales model, you can enter earlier, be a Servant Leader, and facilitate congruent change and THEN be on board and accepted as a provider as they go through their buying decision process. It’s NOT sales; it’s NOT selling/purchase-based; it IS change-based. Right now you’re waiting while buyers do it anyway (or merely running after those you THINK have a need but end up fixing the problem in other ways). Why not add a skill set, stop wasting time/effort, and close more. Then you’ll never be ‘misaligned.’
Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader in two industries – sales and listening. Her original thinking on facilitating congruent decisions is the basis of apps and experiments.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. As the originator of Change Facilitation, she invented Buying Facilitation® for the sales industry; she’s trained over 100,000 sellers globally to diverse industries and cultures. Sharon Drew is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew works with individuals and teams as a coach, speaker, trainer, and consultant, in sales, change implementations, healthcare, technology. Her work on listening without bias has been called ‘game-changing’ and is used by corporations globally. Contact her at email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen October 15th, 2018
Posted In: Sales
Because of your sophisticated tracking and targeting, you know who’s reading your content. But do you know why they’re reading it? And how are you accessing those who could/should buy but are ignoring the articles your sending them?
Content is written with different reasons in mind: for Buyer Personas to learn about your solution as early along their decision path as possible; for brand recognition; to gain followers; to make a sale. We write with a narrow focus to reach our target market and use every means at our disposal to distribute and track it, hoping that it will help us make a sale or find more followers.
DATA VS DECISIONS
But how do you know if this content, with these ideas and these words, written in this style, will enable those seeking a new solution to recognize they need you? Not only are you seeking a reader you can’t fully know (Why are they reading the content? No. Really. Why? And how many possible buyers reject it because they’re not ready yet?), you’re hoping, guessing, tracking, targeting, and crossing your fingers in hopes it will get into the right hands at the right time to take action.
But your glorious content – sometimes little more than a thinly veiled advertisement – may not be getting you all the success you deserve. You have a ceiling of a 5% success rate (less than 1% for content marketing) because you’re limiting your readership to those who have already decided on their next actions. By sticking to data push, you’re missing an opportunity to make your content an interactive experience that enable the act of decision making. With a few adjustments, you can create content that can be used to facilitate a sale and expand and enlist your audience.
The problem starts with the use of content marketing as part of your sales/solution placement toolkit. Certainly content marketing is great for explaining, pitching, writing about, introducing, and presenting data about our solutions. But this usage limits our target audience to those who are ready to buy, and are also perusing competitive data.
When you think about the early activity within the act of buying – the Pre-Sales, change management, decision issues that include 13 steps to consensus/action (9 of which are Pre-Sales and not ‘needs’ or ‘buying’ related) – there’s a huge swath of prospective buyers who aren’t reading your content as it is because they’re not ready, but could easily be made ready with content that fits into the route of their Pre-Sales change management decisions. You can develop different types of relevant content so you’re with them each step of the way, even before they’re aware they might need you.
See, prior to deciding on a solution, buyers have some change work to do that’s systemic in nature and vital to them maintaining Systems Congruence – the rules, initiatives, relationships, and history of their culture and environment. They can’t just wake up one day, see your content, and drop everything and everyone mindlessly to do what you want them to do. No one buys like that.
Thinking that a prospective buyer ‘needs’ your content, or will be convinced or influenced to take action before they’re ready, is magical thinking and needlessly restricts your audience. Obvious, no? Before anyone buys anything they do research, get input and alternate ideas from friends/colleagues, discern the potential fallout, trial different possibilities, and ultimately get agreement to move forward. You content is only relevant when they’ve handled all of this. By pushing your message, you’re restricting buying. You can use content marketing to facilitate the process.
When it was time to begin marketing my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I had a problem. Known for my Buying Facilitation® material in the sales industry, I had no obvious audience in communication or listening. I had to attract a new audience: find new readers AND shift from being a ‘sales’ expert to a ‘communication’ expert. My goal was to offer corporate teams a one-day Listening Without Bias training. To do that I needed readers to first buy my book.
Realizing I’d need buy-in to run an in-house program, I wrote an article that would attract the largest population of readers because of the universal problems involved: meetings. I wrote a very helpful article on meetings that offered both a clear description of the inherent problems and offered very creative, tough, usable solutions to make them creative, collaborative, and results-oriented. I never mentioned anything to do with listening. There was no manipulation or commercial overlay in the article, no links to listening/book links appeared only in the footer.
I got dozens of ‘Thank You’ notes from readers I’d never heard of, saying they’d sent/shared my article among hundreds of employees, friends, and colleagues. Many, many people shared the article on social media, bringing me new readers and subscribers outside my natural market. The article was ranked as one of my best-read articles, with thousands reading it the first few days. And my book sales went through the rood: I had a 51% conversion rate.
So yes, content is vital. But it can be read by more prospective buyers, earlier in their decision path. Start by understanding each of the Pre-Sales issues (i.e. systemic changed-based, not ‘need’ based or solution-based) your buyers must address with their colleagues and partners, and then write articles that will help them along their normal route to making the internal decisions they’d need to make before they can buy. Then you’ll have proven your worth and be familiar to them. By the time they’re ready to buy and have all their internal ducks in a row, they’ll seek out your content.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and visionary in systemic change in sales, coaching, leadership, collaboration, and listening. She is the author of 9 books, including Selling with Integrity and What?, as well as 1700 articles on buyer readiness, decision facilitation, and collaboration on her award-winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com.
Sharon Drew is the developer of the Servant Leader change model Buying Facilitation®, that gives sellers the tools to help buyers (and clients, and patients, etc.) manage their Pre-Sales/Pre-Change decisions. Sharon Drew has worked with many Fortune 1000 companies such as IBM, DuPont, Kaiser, Bose, and GE. She is a speaker, coach, consultant, and original thinker. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen April 16th, 2018
Comcast: Hi Sharon. I’m Pete from Comcast, wanting to help you sort through your options with your TV programming since your current package expires in December.
SDM: Pete, my first name is Sharon Drew, never Sharon. Always both names, ok? Thanks. I was going to call you anyway. My free HBO and Showtime are expiring. Can you tell me how much will it cost me once they go up? Is there a different 2 year plan I can sign up for that would keep my rate about the same?
Comcast: Well, Sharon, I…
SDM: Excuse me, Pete. Sharon Drew. My first name is Sharon Drew.
Comcast: Um, ok. Well. I’m glad you asked. Given what you’ve got now, I think I can actually upgrade your programs and still save you money. We have a package that does X. It will give you XYZ, similar to what you have now with two added channels, but costs less.
SDM: What’s the downside? What do I gain? Lose?
Comcast: Everything is exactly the same, except you’ll get two more channels and pay less.
SDM: Exactly the same? Cheaper? More programs? Cool.
Comcast: Yup. Exactly the same and cheaper. I can send you the paperwork, and you can see for yourself.
He then texted me a link to a contract to pay; within the contract was another link to details. I clicked and noticed inconsistencies.
SDM: This is more expensive! You’ve unbundled each feature and charged separately, so I’d pay $45 more than if I just let my current deal expire in December.
Comcast: Everyone pays for those things. You couldn’t have Comcast if we didn’t offer those features.
SDM: That’s not what I said; and you’re making the argument murky. You said it would be the same and cheaper with two new channels. But it’s not cheaper; services are unbundled and charged out individually on top of the quoted rate, causing me to pay more than I would with my next contract. Sounds like you’re lying to me or at least trying to muddle the facts so it just appears that I’d be saving money. What am I missing?
Comcast: Silence. Silence. Click.
As my provider, as the company/behemoth to whom I give thousands of dollars annually, Comcast owes me honesty, no? And aren’t they big enough to not try to dupe customers who would have pressed ‘Pay’ without reading the ‘fine print?’ Surely lying can’t be the preferred avenue to successful upselling, although I’m sure sometimes sales folks ‘do whatever it takes’ to get the commission without the sanction of their supervisors. In this case I actually redialed Comcast and said I wanted to renew my plan. When the seller looked up my account, she did exactly what the first guy did – same promise, same spiel, same text/link. Sadly it seems Comcast is training their reps this way.
WHY BUYERS BUY UPSELLS
As vendors, our job is to serve our clients and customers; our products are the path to serving, so we’re a ‘customer service company that provides web design services,’ or a ‘customer service company that provides financial services.’ As such, answering questions and solving problems are part of the promise implicit in a purchase. [PERSONAL NOTE: Any time we betray our clients’ trust and don’t deliver on the promise inherent in their purchase, and any time we lie to our customers, they have the right to choose another provider who will be honest.]
One of our services is letting customers know when we develop an upgrade; our success at upselling depends on how we connect to inform them.
Who is a suitable buyer? There are two inbuilt problems:
The fact that they will be ‘better’ with an upgrade is most likely accurate, but beside the point. We each ‘know’ we’d be better if we stopped smoking/lost weight/jogged/meditated/were kinder, etc. But knowing isn’t the point. The problem is the change – the time, disruption, confusion, political or relationship risks, etc. – involved in altering an established pattern. (Note: I’ve coded the steps to congruent change to help you understand what buyers must do before they can buy.)
When we introduce and describe our new solutions, when we focus on introducing and pitching the value of our solution, we ignore the biggest factor that inhibits buying: as outsiders we can’t know how the purchase would affect the buyer’s environment and use routines – the relationships, politics, time factors, etc. – which may change, or might be perceived to change, with an upgrade. Before they buy, they must understand the extent of any disruption to determine if it’s worth it to them: a trouble-free working environment and nominal cost supersedes need. Remember: they find the current version ‘good-enough’ as it is; they have people and policies in place and have factored in the costs and resource. Habit and status quo may supersede benefits.
I’ve got a story. IBM was seeking local users of an old OS to place a new Beta test version, with a goal of visiting, testing, questioning, etc. There was a possible user right down the road and IBM was eager to enlist them. But three different sales reps tried to engage this user to no avail. Nope, we’re happy. Yes, our current OS is very slow and we understand this new, free, one would make our jobs easier and workflow faster. Nope. We don’t want the beta.
Since I was already there running a Buying Facilitation® training they asked me to try. The phone call follows:
SDM: My name is Sharon Drew Morgen and I’m calling from IBM. Is this a good time to speak?
CUSTOMER: Sure. How can I help you? [Note: I was fascinated that just about everyone took a cold call from IBM.]
SDM: I am following up from my colleague’s call re giving you a free beta OS, and I heard that you’re really happy using the OS you’ve got in place now. Seems it’s working really well for you and you don’t seem to mind its speed.
CUSTOMER: It is slow. But we like it.
SDM: What’s stopping you from considering adding more speed to the one you’re using now?
SDM: Excuse me? Dad? What does that mean?
CUSTOMER: We’re a Mom and Pop shop. My dad is the Pop. He’s 75, and will be retiring next year. He’s in charge of the technology, and he’s not as sharp as he once was. We’re not going to add anything to his plate, and wait til he retires to upgrade whatever we need to.
SDM: Ah. That makes sense. I wonder how hard our new OS is to learn or use. I could find out. What would you and Dad need to know to be willing to experience whether or not the new OS would be simple enough, just in case there came a time when you wanted to accommodate all your new users?
CUSTOMER: I’d need to know that Dad would have no difficulty or confusion, and it would be easy and seamless to implement with no glitches.
SDM: We happen to have a functioning beta site for this product right down the street from you. Would you and Dad be willing to join me and visit them to try it out? Then, if Dad likes it and you find it more efficient, we could then discuss you being a possible beta site for us?
It all went well, IBM got a new Beta test site and the customer got a free upgrade. It’s not about an upgrade; it’s about their readiness for change. And as outsiders, we can never know where a ‘Dad’ is and have no opportunity to lead them through a different decision.
Convincer and information strategies close the low hanging fruit. Each customer has unique ‘givens’ that have created and maintained their status quo; they’re not ‘stupid buyers’, they just must manage their own internal integrity. And the conventional sales approach assumes that the features, functions, and benefits will convince them to buy, ignoring the ‘how’ or ‘if’ or ‘why’ or ‘when’ to handle any disruption caused to their system by addiing a new element to their status quo with no route to address change for what’s already in place.
What is the suitable vehicle? There are certainly several ways to facilitate upselling with integrity. When customers call in, ensure an integrous connection with someone or something in your company; provide a wonderful opportunity to exhibit respect and care. Each vehicle requires a different approach but includes the goal of facilitating change and managing the change-over to new routines.
Cold Calling with Integrity: Happy customers have more of a willingness to take a call. Use this as an opportunity to serve them by facilitating change. I designed Buying Facilitation® to specifically facilitate the buyer’s steps of change and decision making; or design your own unique Change Facilitation model that quickly helps them think through routes to managing any disruption, and adds product pitch once the customer is ready. Remember: unless a prospect can positively address their change, use, and habituation issues, they will not buy regardless of need or the strength of your solution.
Email outreach: Current email blasts focus on introducing reasons to buy the upgrade. It’s possible to add ‘implementation features’ or ‘ways to get your cell phone recycled’, or ideas to mitigate whatever change your particular solution might incur. For this I recommend you research the routines and issues current customers face when using your solution. When researching this for my clients, I call several existing happy customers and ask the ‘how’ of their routines, and I include the Facilitative Question: What would keep you from adding an upgrade to what you’re currently doing successfully?
Help desk: Currently, help desks suck. With a focus on time rather than service, we get customers enraged and frustrated. This is a wasted opportunity. When working with Quest years ago, we taught the reps to help customers figure out how and if an upgrade would serve them; we brought the help desk upgrade rate from $300 a month to $2100 a month per rep.
Tech support: See above: this is a great opportunity to serve. You’re wasting it by keeping people on hold and passing customers from pillar to post. Have ONE person own the incident to minimize the annoyance factor and use a Change Facilitation approach while on the phone. A great venue for upselling.
On-line chat: Reprogram responses to avoid the disrespect and annoyance that keeps customers from using this feature. Again, it can be a great opportunity for upselling if used correctly.
These are merely an introduction to ideas for more robust upselling. It’s possible to upsell a lot more than you’re now selling. Good luck.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Change Facilitation models, including Buying Facilitation®, an addon to sales that leads buyers through their Pre-Sales steps to a purchase to enable Buyer Readiness. As an original thinker, she has written 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew trains, speaks, consults, and coaches in the areas of sales, coaching, leadership, communication, change, buy-in, and influencing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her award winning blog has original articles and essays. www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen November 6th, 2017
In 1993, when my first book came out and before he died, David Sandler called to buy out my Buying Facilitation® model. We couldn’t agree on terms, but he was excited by my differentiation between the sales model and the buying process: “I recognized that the problem was on the buy side, and thought my Sandler method was thinking out of the box. Reading your stuff, I now recognize my focus is still on getting solutions sold,” he said. “I hadn’t realized that ‘outside the box’ meant to shift the focus first to facilitate buying. Well done.”
And yet, after all these years, the problem remains: we’re limiting success and wasting an untold amount of resource seeking those few who are ready, willing, and able to buy: we’re missing a much larger, untapped market of potential (but real) buyers we ignore because our sales outreach doesn’t affect them. By broadening the goal to include facilitating change with those in the process of becoming buyers, by recognizing that a buying decision is a systemic, change management issue before it’s a solution choice problem, it’s feasible to engage earlier (albeit in a different way) and find a much larger population of real buyers.
HOW SALES RESTRICTS SELLING
The sales industry has a singular goal of placing solutions. It’s an industry with solutions looking for a problem. And the paltry results of a 5% close rate have been baked into the system: you accept low closing ratios as the best you can do, hire more sales people than you need, suffer from a sales cycle that is months/years longer than necessary, and lose buyers that will need your solution but don’t yet need or notice the information you provide.
Have you never asked yourself why, with all the capability of finding prospective buyers at your fingertips, you still close only 5% – down from 7% a decade ago (and with much less technology)? And why you continue to waste untold bazillions on staff, technology, and time, chasing folks who will never buy. Have you not recognized that
the people you target aren’t necessarily buying or buyers,
you’re expending too much resource on those who will never buy,
you don’t know the difference between those who will and those who won’t buy?
With the best technology available, the most professional branding and marketing, great content, and a good solid product, you’re losing far more sales than you need to. This much should be obvious: No matter how much new technology, or how many sales methods available to you – regardless of all the ‘new new’ things at your fingertips – you’re still merely closing the low hanging fruit (those 5% who have determined they are ready, willing, able to buy).
A buying decision is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue. By adding a few bells and whistles to your sales efforts you can find people who will be buying but aren’t yet buyers and facilitate their strategic Pre-Sales, non-solution-based decision path that concludes with them buying. Then you’ll close far more than you’re closing now with half the staff and half the time. But it needs different thinking.
SELLING VS BUYING
People become buyers only when there are no other options and a purchase is their last hope for problem resolution. They can’t even accurately define a ‘need’ until the full complement of stakeholders are involved and the scope of any resultant change is recognized. Sales ignores this group because their touch points are different and they are definitely not yet buyers. Yet it’s here they’re more open for support and connection: their path to congruently resolving a problem is confounding; they may forget to bring in “Joe from accounting”, or can’t recognize the full scope of issues until they’ve falsely started down one path to resolution and must start all over.
You’re a subject matter expert in the area of their problem resolution and could really be a support here – so long as you avoid trying to sell and focus on facilitating change first. This is where they will be eager to connect. By only focusing on selling/placing your solution, you ignore 40% of real buyers who haven’t gotten there yet but will.
Ask yourself this: Do you want to sell – or have someone buy? They are two different activities with different rules, needs, and behaviors. Sales is tactical. Buying is strategic. Your tactical focus on placing solutions with Buyer Personas, Opportunity Management, content differentiation, and yes, even Sandler, SPIN etc. offer biased questions and content focused on those few who have defined, and understand, their need and change issues, overlooking those people in the midst of strategic decision efforts who will develop into buyers once they get their ducks in a row. Sellers actually sit and wait while prospects do this anyway. Why not help them! Here what sales ignores:
A buying decision includes a 13 step change management process, the first 9 steps of which are systemic change (not purchase or need) focused; they aren’t ‘buyers’ until step 10 when all of their systemic/change management stuff is worked out, and there is agreement that a purchase is their only option.
A problem doesn’t equal a need; a ‘need’ doesn’t equal a purchase. It might turn out that maintaining the status quo is a better option for them; as an outsider, you can never understand why.
People aren’t buyers until they’re out of options to fix their problems themselves AND they’ve gotten buy-in to bring in a ‘foreign’ element. The last thing they want to do (precisely, the last thing) is to buy anything. The buyers you seek/find are already at the end of their decision path.
Your terrific content isn’t being noticed by people who haven’t yet determined, defined, agreed upon a ‘need’ even though they may become buyers later, or even really need your solution.
Your content/selling push assumes that with the right content and message, offered to the right demographic, at the right time, focused on the right need -> purchase scenario, you’ll get in/close – but you’re only reaching those few who are ready OR those in the midst of their research (who may never buy but may call you with questions or take an appointment). They won’t even read or heed your outreach.
You’re using a ‘need’ and ‘solution-placement’ filter which restricts your results 95% of the time, causing you (beyond all logic) to push push push push harder or better, against a closed system of people and policies that’s not ready, willing, able to buy.
The problem is not your solution (It’s great. And people can find the content they need on line when they’re ready.); the problem is that the sales model places solutions with people who need them, but does nothing to help facilitate the change elements people traverse en route to becoming buyers and are not buyers yet. Here are the main stages people execute as they seek to resolve a problem (The full set of steps are laid out in my book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell.):
Assemble the full set of stakeholders (including “Joe in accounting”) who spend time understanding the scope of the problem, how it got initiated, and how it maintains itself;
Once a problem is defined by all stakeholders, the group tries to resolve the issue with familiar resources to minimize fallout. (This is where they might contact you with questions. They’re doing research, not buying.)
Once it’s decided to seek an external solution, they must find a route to resolution that maintains Systems Congruence. So if your users refuse new technology, or your teams function well as they are, you might find a way around a purchase if the disruption is too great. An Outsider can never understand the unique nature of internal dynamics. Can I ever really understand why you don’t stop smoking, or stay in a dysfunctional relationship, or stay in a job/relationship that makes you miserable? Change is always personal.
Notice how these stages are change- and systems-focused, and not accessible to Outsiders with a ‘sales’ hat on. And until they are addressed, there’s no ‘need’ and no ‘buyer’. Btw, I developed these stages decades ago; they apply to anyone making a decision including coaching clients, patients, and employees, and all buying situations regardless of the size of the change/purchase. Whether you merely need to buy a new phone, or go through a merger, the steps of change must be traversed in a way that maintains the status quo (even when it’s unconscious) regardless of need. You wait while people do this anyway; why not find those who CAN become buyers (rather than ‘should’), facilitate their change quickly, and be there with them as they buy – and be with them as they figure out their own unique strategies for change – so long as you avoid trying to sell anything as they’re not buyers yet.
Is it sales? No. It’s a Change Facilitation process I call Buying Facilitation®. By first enabling people to facilitate their buying decision path, you’ll have less competition, close more, stop wasting time selling to those who can never buy, and be true Servant Leaders; you can use your technology, your content marketing, your sales efforts as you are now, but with an additional focus.
WHY AREN’T THEY BUYING? SDM ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS
Using the above thinking, here’s a ‘Q&A’ to help you better understand why you’re getting the results you’re getting.
What’s wrong with seeking buyers to place our solutions? Isn’t that what sales is?
Why do they keep talking to me if they’re not going to buy?
Until the entire scope of change is understood and integrated, people don’t understand the perimeters of their need (and when you ask biased questions, the flawed answers you receive often cause you to chase those who will never buy). Before becoming buyers, people must recognize that the cost of change (buying) is less than maintaining the status quo: their ‘system’ is sacrosanct. Would you buy a new car if your spouse would divorce you? Would you bring in a new CRM system if half of your user team would quit, or refuse to use it, or until the tech folks have the time to implement? You know you have to go to the gym more, and eat/drink less. You’ve got a need. Have you signed up for the gym? Stopped drinking beer?
Why are we still getting such a low close rate when we’ve got so many terrific tools at our disposal to introduce our features AND find the right demographic?
Because only a small percent of people you focus on are buyers. Until they’re out of other options AND determined they must bring in something from outside AND have all of their internal ducks in a row, AND have buy-in (Buyer Readiness), your tools aren’t recognized.
Why do they keep talking to me if they’re not going to buy?
During their change process, people research all possibilities. Your solution may be one of them; they’re actually using you for reference to report back to their team, or to figure out their own workarounds, or mention to their current vendor. It’s possible to know on the first call who will be a buyer and who is merely seeking data that will never lead to a purchase – but not with a solution-placement focus.
Why don’t buyers realize they need our solution when it seems so obvious?
It’s only ‘obvious’ to you. The best content, the most relevant solution, will be ignored until they reach step 10 when they become buyers.
Why is the sales cycle so long when there is a solid need/solution match?
The time people take to figure out how to manage change congruently is the length of the sales cycle. As Outsiders, we can never understand the depth of the change management issues: Who is fighting with who? What is the tech schedule? Who will need to be let go? How do internal politics show up? How does their history/future factor in?
The system that holds the problem in place is much more powerful than any solution you can offer. They need buy-in from EVERYONE and EVERYTHING that created the status quo and will touch the new solution. You’ll never recognize “Joe from accounting” who is an unsung influencer, or the fight going on between the sales and marketing folks who need to share budget. It’s not about their need – until it is. And they can’t tell you because they don’t know, or they won’t have found the nut of the problem yet, or you’re asking the wrong questions biased by your need to sell.
Why do buyers make promises they don’t keep? Are all buyers liars?
Buyers don’t lie. The one person you’re speaking with is responding to your biased questions, getting out of the thrust of your sales push, and is giving you the best data they’re willing to give you, or as much data as they have at that point in their 13 step change path. Whatever data they offer is limited by their access to the full Buying Decision Team, and the stage they’re at in their change management. You are, after all, strangers approaching them with a solution placement hat on, asking the wrong questions to the wrong people at the wrong time. As an Outsider you can never, ever have a clue as per the political, personal, strategic decision issues they face. But you can understand they system they decide in, a per your expertise in your field.
Why isn’t our great content being read or acted upon by the larger audience who really needs it?
Needs it according to who? Your research? Your biased questions? Your focus on placing solutions limits your audience and keeps you from getting into the decision path earlier. Are they at the point of seeking workarounds? Is there a team buy-in problem? Have they forgotten to assemble some of the appropriate stakeholders? Are they finding a glitch (political, personal, management-based, etc.)? Your sales, marketing, content, and technology restricts your target market to the low hanging fruit who have clearly defined their need, know they cannot fix their own problem, and have a route to congruent change.
When I gather info about a need, and it seems obvious there is one, what am I missing?
You’re merely asking biased questions to elicit the data YOU want to elicit from one person or a few research visits to your site, to find people who SEEM like they have a ‘need’ and spend a lot of resource chasing after them whether they are real buyers or not. Plus, because someone has a need doesn’t mean they are ready, willing, or able to buy; because the one person on the team you’re speaking with does NOT seem to have a need, doesn’t mean they don’t have one. You’re a solution looking for a problem. Enter first with a Facilitator hat on, help those that CAN/WILL become buyers traverse the route to change, and THEN sell.
It’s not as hard as you think. I developed a new form of unbiased question (Facilitative Question) to facilitate change (part of the Buying Facilitation® process) and pose these down the Pre-Sales steps to help the ‘right’ people become buyers. Here are two examples of responses to a Facilitative Question used on a first call. I bet you can tell which one CAN buy:
SDM: How are you currently adding more tools and capability to your sales team for those times you seek to reach an expanded market?
SALES DIRECTOR #1: I read a couple of sales books annually. If I like them, I’ll pass them on to my sales managers and tell them to get the sellers to read them, and run meetings to discuss their takeaways [Note: this was a real response.]
SALES DIRECTOR #2: I’ve had a helluva time trying to find new tools to use. I’ve tried several, and keep getting the same results. I’d be glad to use something new if I could be assured it was really new, and it would work.
My opening FQ, different for each situaltion, begins by shining a light on the system the person is operating in, and provides an invaluable insight into the state of possible change. It also begins making the person a Coach/Witness to her own status quo by asking for an overview of the system. This particular FQ helps #2 take an unbiased view of how she’s managed change until now. Buying Facilitation® then proceeds down her change steps so she can address each step efficiently, with me by her side. Director #1 had a need, but wasn’t a buyer.
When I form a wonderful relationship with a potential buyer with a need, where does he go? He seems to take calls and stay in touch, and then disappears. Where does he go?
He was never a buyer. He either couldn’t get the buy-in from the Buying Decision Team (BDT), or came up with an alternative solution, or decided not to move forward because the cost of disruption was too high. He stays in touch as long as there is a possibility he needs to buy something (he hasn’t yet gotten team agreement or become a buyer), or so long as the data you’re offering is useful to their ultimate decisions. 80% of our prospective buyers will buy a solution similar to ours within 2 years of our connection. That means they had a need but couldn’t figure out how to congruently manage the change.
When I’m months into a sale, and everything that was going well suddenly stops, where did it go?
See above. The person wasn’t really a buyer yet or the team wasn’t bought-in to change.
Are buyers spending a lot of time trialing and speaking to other providers before they choose us?
Possibly. People research the best alternatives to managing change with the least disruption.
Why aren’t we more successful when we check that they’ve brought in all stakeholders and help them achieve buy in? That’s managing Buyer Readiness, no?
You’re an Outsider. You’ll never understand what’s going on; the questions you pose and the direction you offer are solution placement based; you listen with a biased ear, etc. (Seriously: Read Dirty Little Secrets then call me and I’ll teach you how to do it.) Did they bring in “Joe from accounting”? How are they managing the fight between sales and marketing? Oh – one other big reason: you’re merely speaking with one, at most two, people; you have no reach through the sales model to facilitate change. I can’t say this enough: you’re an Outsider.
If you start as a Neutral Navigator, listen for systems and facilitate them through their OWN decisions with NO BIAS to selling, you can quickly find and serve those who WILL become buyers and help them efficiently manage change. Using Buying Facilitation® KPMG went from a 3 year sales cycle to a 4 month sales cycle with a $50,000,000 solution; Wachovia small business bankers went from a 2% close over 11 months to a 29% close over 3 months; Kaiser went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales. By adding BF to their dummy terminals, Barclay’s helped customers define, and buy, the exact solutions they needed. Help them traverse their change path and sell to those who will buy.
Why don’t more people show up at appointments? Why are so many buyers reluctant to take appointments?
All of the stakeholders aren’t involved yet so they don’t even have a clear, complete description of ‘need’. Those who take appointments are doing research (and do WHAT? with your content) and haven’t gotten team buy-in, or the full decision team isn’t on board yet;
They know from the first moment of a call that you’ll be pushing YOUR solution and not facilitating them in discovering THEIR own solution. It’s only if you can be an asset to them that they’ll be willing to see you.
What’s wrong with trying to place a solution by ‘understanding need’, or creating a need, or selling?
You can do that, for those who are already buyers understand their need.
I’ve paid a fortune for technology, research into demographics, opportunity management software, scripts, and experienced sales folks – but I’m still not closing all I deserve to close. Why?
Because your efforts are focused on ‘buyer’ ‘need’, and neither of those necessarily correlate with buying anything for those who aren’t yet buyers.
How does Buying Facilitation® find, and close, more real buyers?
Buying Facilitation® is a Change Facilitation model that works with sales (and coaching, etc.) and includes Facilitative Questions, Listening for Systems, Presumptive Summaries – wholly different skill sets than sales, and includes no bias. It traverses the first 9 steps of change management, in the ares your solution operates in, beginning with immediately ascertaining who is set up to be able to buy, or has a possibility of systemic change and then teaches them precisely how to discover their path to change. By adding BF you not only find the right buyers, but teach those who may not have been able to buy how to facilitate change.
With Director #1 above, it would take so long to convince him that his plan was flawed, and then get the other managers who have complied with his plan to acceded to change, that it’s not worth the effort. BF progresses down the change steps and teaches them how to bring in the right people, discover if workarounds are worthwhile, and why they haven’t worked until now. Then it helps them determine how change would need to be addressed – and with BF you can do this on the first call. It will ignore the ones who will never buy, and help the real buyers be ready to buy. So much easier than finding those relative few who have already done this. And it’s much easier than it sounds: you’re just not used to it yet.
Here is a rule: as long as the sales model tries to ‘find buyers’ and ‘place solutions’, you’ll never sell to anyone other than those who have determined they’re buyers, leaving you continuing to push your solution into their closed system. You can
discover who is, or will be, starting down the journey that will lead to a decision to purchase something,
figure out, with a change management hat on, what the journey in your industry, and among your buying market, looks like (or call me and I’ll help),
then enter with those few on their change journey as they quickly (with your help) figure out how to manage stakeholders, buy-in, workarounds, etc. and become buyers.
By adding outreach, vocabulary, content, that first focuses on facilitating the buying decision path earlier you’ll enlarge your range of buyers by 5x. After all, people must do this anyway before becoming buyers; we might as well join them where they are and facilitate the right ones.
Call me. Together, we can create content, software, scripts to find the right ones – those who WILL become buyers – and facilitate them down their decision path toward effective change and buying.
For more reading on the subject, here are some ideas: Practical Decision Making, Questioning Questions, Buyer’s Journey, Do You Want to Sell? Or Have Someone Buy? , Influencers vs Facilitators. Or contact me to discuss. Am happy to share what I know. email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader and original thinker, as well as the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She has designed a Change Facilitation process for sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, health care, leadership, change management, and influencing, training it to such companies as DuPont (8,000 people), KPMG (6,000 people), Wachovia, Kaiser, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, IBM, P&G, Sandler Sales, ATT, Bethlehem Steel, Sandia Labs. Her blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com is recognized as one of the top business blogs, with articles on decision making, listening, questions, sales, coaching, etc. She is a trainer, speaker, consultant, and coach. Sharon Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Drew Morgen September 11th, 2017
The hot new sales tool is Opportunity Management automation. Just another in a long list of New New Things that seem like THE answer to THE way to efficiently close more sales. But is it? Over the past 10 or so years you’ve tried Buyer Personas, Understanding Need, marketing automation, Relationship Management, Trusted Advisor, Challenger, Sandler, SPIN, and lots of technology to push content. All hoping hoping hoping that THIS is ‘the one’ that will help you close more. But you’ve ended up with the same 5% close rate you’ve had for decades (It used to be 7%, remember?), regardless of the approach or the way an opportunity is managed.
Don’t get me wrong: opportunity management apps help sellers optimize their time and track results. But to what end? The tools can’t close more sales if the opportunity itself is flawed. What if you could find more viable opportunities by expanding your definition of ‘opportunity’?
WHAT’S AN OPPORTUNITY?
As I’m sure you’re aware, an ‘opportunity’ is often not an opportunity at all, or has only a small chance of being one. What if buyers aren’t your target audience? What if the larger opportunity is in a different place along the buying decision journey?
With the sales model based on entry points of ‘buyer’, ‘need’, Buyer Personas, and ‘need/solution’ match it’s impossible to close anyone but the low hanging fruit – buyers seeking a solution. This definition
and restricts you from finding those who WILL close, aren’t quite ready, and could use your help efficiently getting there. The confusing part for sellers is that these folks – these real, potential buyers – are off your screen: they aren’t buyers, aren’t seeking a solution, haven’t determined they want to buy anything yet, haven’t yet fully determined the scope of their need, aren’t attracted by your content.
And therein lies the rub: before people become buyers they merely want to resolve a problem in the most efficacious way and their route to competence is initially not directly related to what you’re selling. Before people become buyers, before there is a sales opportunity, they must first conclude there is absolutely no route to resolving their problems with known resources AND have a route through to congruent change – internal adoption, buy-in, Systems Congruence, and change management. The last thing they want to do is go outside their system to buy anything – they never start out as buyers until they run out of options to fix a problem themselves. By putting on a wholly different hat, we can find and facilitate the ones who will BECOME buyers and vastly increase our pool of opportunities. But we can’t use a ‘sales’ hat to find them.
CHANGE MANAGEMENT PRECEDES BUYING
A buying decision is a change management problem first before it’s needs- solution-based. Buyers are merely people who have gotten to the point in their change management procedures when an external solution (i.e. making a purchase) is their only viable alternative to Excellence. The fact that people have a ‘need’ that your solution can resolve does NOT mean they are, or will ever be, ready, willing, or able to buy. There is a 95% chance that those who seem like buyers aren’t buyers at the point where your content finds them. And sadly, your content won’t get them there: they won’t even notice it because they’re not yet looking for it even though they may eventually seek it.
It’s possible to shift the ‘opportunity’ criteria to people who WILL be buyers but aren’t ones yet – and know how to recognize real buyers from ‘tire kickers’ on the first contact; there are far easier entry points into a buyer/seller dialogue than what might seem to the outsider like a ‘need’.
Before becoming a buyer, or having a fully defined need, people traverse a specific path (I’ve spent decades coding and defining, training and testing, the 13 steps in a buying decision path, as explained in www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com
In other words, there are 9 non-buying change management (Pre-Sales) steps people take as they figure out how to congruently solve their problem and manage the change an external factor will cause. Using a Change Facilitation lens, with a bias toward the steps of congruent change, we can enter earlier to efficiently facilitate real prospective buyers and be part of their system as they begin the buying process. It’s possible to expand your criteria and tool kit to connect along different stages of the decision journey and recognize/facilitate exactly who WILL become buyers but aren’t there yet. But your initial focus must be systemic change, not selling. Different questions, different listening.
Using ‘need’ and ‘solution placement’ criteria, the only way to attract an opportunity is to find those relative few who have gotten to the point of recognizing they cannot resolve their own problem. Until then, they cannot buy: they haven’t fully defined a ‘need’, don’t have their full Buying Decision Team (BDT) in place, haven’t gotten buy-in, and aren’t actively seeking to buy anything. Selling is tactical: buying is strategic.
WHO IS A BUYER?
Think along with me for a moment. A person or group doesn’t become a buyer unless they’ve determined they cannot fix their problem themselves with familiar resources AND they are set up (environment, culture, technology, implementation, buy-in) to manage any fallout from having a foreign element (a purchase) enter their system. Maintaining Systems Congruence is vital; the last thing, literally, that a person wants is to buy anything due to the possibility of disrupting their status quo that is functioning ‘well-enough’. Indeed until they
they’re only ‘people’ meandering through a confounding route to Excellence, facing political issues, personnel/personal issues, buy-in issues, tech integration issues, etc. They’re not buyers regardless of what you consider to be an ‘opportunity’, how many appointments you make, or how well the folks like you. And the way sales is implemented and biased toward solution placement, the questions posed, the answers sought, you’re only seeking and attracting those who have already reached step 10 and consider themselves buyers.
What’s the difference between an ‘opportunity’ and one that’s NOT an opportunity?
Your identification of an ‘opportunity’ is currently based on your biases, assumptions, conversations with a fraction of the full BDT, assessments, research, etc. based on the fit that YOU perceive between what YOU’VE determined (or that one outlier from the BDT) they need – and your solution. What you think is an opportunity most likely isn’t. Otherwise you’d be closing more than 5%. Data collected from my control groups when I train show it’s possible to close about 5X more than you’re closing now by entering earlier along their change path and using a Change Facilitation skill first. More on this in a moment.
WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY SOUNDS LIKE
Here’s what you’ll hear when there is a real opportunity (and yes, even on the first call, using a Change Facilitation skill set focus):
When you make an appointment with only one or two people you don’t have a real opportunity. If the person you’re speaking with thinks s/he has a need but hasn’t gotten team buy-in yet, or doesn’t know the complete set of potential disruptors that need managing, there’s no opportunity. If your prospect is going to take your information back to the boss/manager, there’s no opportunity. If a prospect calls you for information, there’s most likely no opportunity (although you can use this time to begin the Change Facilitation process).
I don’t consider a 95% failure rate success; you’ve just convinced yourself that this is the way it is for your industry. Let’s change it to be more successful. Instead of running after people once they become buyers, why not find those who are already en route to buying, use a different focus and new skill set such as Buying Facilitation® (the model I’ve developed to handle Pre-Sales Change Facilitation) or some change management tool to enter earlier in their change/decision journey, quickly facilitate them through their change, and THEN sell.
It’s not rocket science. You’re current selling/solution-placement modality restricts you to fighting for those who have defined themselves as buyers. People really need help determining how to change congruently. But the time it takes them to do so is the length of the sales cycle. You’re wasting your time chasing the 5% and ignoring the 80% of prospective buyers who WILL buy within two years of connecting with you but can’t until they’ve got their ducks in a row. But you can hasten their journey by first becoming Neutral Navigators doing a Change Facilitation process and THEN wear a ‘seller’ hat. Then you’ll stop wasting time and resource with those who aren’t buyers and truly serve those who WILL buy become buyers much quicker. But no amount of content, relationship, or Opportunity Management will force those who aren’t, or who will never be, ready. You’re waiting while people do this anyway. Help them. Close more. And have more opportunities to manage.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of a Change Facilitation model used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, healthcare, and management. She’s been running Buying Facilitation® and How Buyers Buy training programs in global corporations since 1985. She is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell,and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew has trained over 100,000 sales people globally, and is currently running Listening programs to facilitate unbiased listening. Her blog is consistently ranked in the top 10 of all sales/marketing blogs. Sharon Drew is considered an original thinker and thought leader, doing keynotes, coaching, and consulting to enable servant leader skills. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen August 28th, 2017