By Sharon Drew Morgen

Customer buying decision path

I moved to London in 1983 to start up a tech company after spending years as a successful sales person. After years of “understanding” and “qualifying” prospects, getting appointments and networking, presenting and following up, I thought I understood buyers well-enough to become one. But I was wrong.

SELLING VS BUYING

My new role taught me the differences between selling and buying: I hadn’t realized how the complexity of my Pre-Sales activity determined whether or not I’d become a buyer:

As a sales professional my ultimate job was to place solutions; as a buyer, my main focus was to create and maintain Excellence in a way that caused the least stress on my company and team and matched our internal norms.

As a sales professional I struggled to say/offer the right thing, at the right time, to the right prospects, in order to close; as an entrepreneur and potential buyer I had to continually manage any changes we needed while growing by using the most efficient, integrous, and least disruptive route to success to maintain happy employees and clients, and a great product.

As a sales professional, I sought to influence those who needed my solution; as a buyer, I couldn’t fully define my needs, make adjustments, or resolve problems, until all voices (stakeholders) and impediments to change were factored in and until we were absolutely sure we couldn’t resolve our problems internally.

Selling and buying are two different activities: different goals, different behaviors, different communication and thinking patterns. And before becoming a buyer myself, I hadn’t fully appreciated how severely the sales model limits itself to seeking only the low hanging fruit – those who have come to the realization that they cannot fix their problem themselves and know, precisely, the sort of solution that would be acceptable with the least ‘cost’ of resource. Buyers don’t start off wanting to buy anything; they merely want to resolve a problem at the lowest ‘cost’ and least disruption.

As a buyer, the very last thing I needed was to buy. Literally. But when I did buy, it was based on my ability to manage change without disruption, not on my need. Indeed: the ‘cost’ of a fix had to be lower than the ‘cost’ of maintaining the status quo, regardless of my need or the efficacy of a solution.

What I hadn’t realized was that a decision to buy anything was first a change management problem before it was a solution choice issue. And any needs I had were secondary to maintaining consistency and team agreements. After all, we were doing ‘just fine’ without bringing in anything new.

THE JOB OF A BUYER

As a seller, I hadn’t understood the importance of a buyer’s need to maintain their status quo. I never even thought of anything besides placing my solution and never realized how much I was restricting my success by limiting my search to folks with ‘needs’. I overlooked an 8x larger audience who were in the process of becoming buyers but not ready.

As a buyer, I had more to worry about than having a problem. I had to take into account

  • the rules and brand of the company,
  • the well-being of the employees and staff,
  • the integrity of the product or service provided,
  • the congruence and integrity of the status quo,
  • the needs of the customers.

My challenge was to be better without losing what worked successfully, to ensure

– everyone involved agreed to a common solution,

– I had consensus and a route through to congruent change,

– we were all absolutely certain we couldn’t fix the problem with something familiar,

– I managed a range of idiosyncratic decision factors that involved my investors, my Board, my staff, my clients, and

– I made sure any change or purchase maintained our status quo.

Even though I was the Managing Director/Founder, it wasn’t totally up to me how, if, or when to resolve problems. I had a well-oiled machine to consider – great staff, great clients, fantastic ROI – one that had a few problems, but did a lot successfully; I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Here’s what I needed to know before I began looking ‘outside’ for answers for any potential change or purchase:

– Who did I need to get agreement from? And how would their combined voices inform our needs or a resolution?

– What would the ‘cost’ be to us, the downside, of bringing in something external? Was the downside worth the upside and could we recover?

– How could we fix the problem ourselves? At what point would we realize we couldn’t?

– How could we be certain upfront that the people, policies, rules, and goals we had in place would fit comfortably with anything new we might do, any solution we might purchase? And was it possible to know the downside in advance?

Once I shifted gears from selling to actually making a buying decision and realized that my needs were not the driving factors, I realized that my first job was to consider how to change in a way that maintained us without destroying us; and if the only way we could fix our problems was to buy something, could we recover? I had to know the upsides and downsides of fixing our problem in order to know if maintaining my status quo was the best option vs. making a purchase. Certainly not so simple as having a need.

I noticed I was taking specific steps to figure this all out. It was certainly much more complex than merely picking up a phone to buy something. I decided to get it all on paper so I could make sure that going forward I could replicate my decision process.

I then mapped out 13 steps necessary to go from someone with a problem to a buyer seeking a solution. I took that knowledge and designed a change facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) as a path to facilitate buying decisions for sellers to use as a Pre-Sales process before trying to place their solutions.

One thing I’d never considered as a seller: as someone with a problem to solve, until I fully realized I couldn’t resolve my problems on my own, I wasn’t in the market to buy anything. I wasn’t even a buyer!

That meant as a seller, all of my pitching, my marketing materials and great content, weren’t even noticed by real people who would eventually be real prospects – because they weren’t yet buyers!

I realized that sales restricts its outreach to only those who had already become buyers (step 10 on the 13 step decision path) and overlooked those real prospects who were ON ROUTE to becoming buyers and weren’t yet seeking or noticing any marketing I sent out, or any connection at all. All those years I sold, and hadn’t realized that selling doesn’t cause buying!

Once I developed the model for myself, I taught it to my sales staff so they could begin all sales calls where people on route to becoming buyers needed help – along their Pre-Sales buying decision path.

  • Assemble all the right people – decision makers and influencers of all types – to get consensus for any change at all. It was quite a challenge to figure out every one of the folks whose voices had to be heard.;
  • Enable collaboration so all voices, all concerns, approved action by a consensus. This was a systems-change issue, not a solution-choice issue;
  • Find out if there was a cheap, easy, risk-free way to fix problems with groups, policies, technology we already had in place;
  • Discover the risks of change and how we’d handle them;
  • Realize the point where there was no route to Excellence without bringing in a new/different solution;
  • Manage the fallout of change when bringing something new in from outside, and determine how to congruently integrate a purchase into our status quo.

As a seller, I overlooked all this. But it cost me sales. I had thought that with the right solution, offered in the right way to the right people, they’d buy. Now, as a potential buyer, I realized that buying had to involve change management; and unless sellers could help me figure out how to change (the first 9 steps of my 13 step Buying Decision Path) separate from their need to sell, I didn’t need them! (My book Dirty Little Secrets describes the process.).

A WALK THROUGH THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

Take a look at this summary of my journey from a person with a problem to a buyer. Like all buyers, I didn’t know what I didn’t know: I didn’t know WHO really needed to be involved (It wasn’t obvious due to the hidden influence from some of the folks peripherally involved.); I couldn’t know if we could fix the problem ourselves; I didn’t know how disruptive a purchase would be and certainly couldn’t even consider bringing anything new in until there were no other options; I didn’t know what the ‘cost’ would be to bring in something from outside, and if the ‘cost’ was lower or higher than keeping the problem.

In other words, even though we had needs, buying anything was not the objective nor the first thought. When I had an idea of something that needed improvement I needed to hear from the appropriate folks to flush out their issues before we’d have a complete fact pattern; we all had to agree to the goals, direction, outcomes, results, risks, and path to change – confusing because every voice and job title had different priorities, needs, and problems.

It was a delicate process, and there was no clear path forward until we were almost at the end of the path. Every buyer goes through some form of this; they never begin at the end where sales enters. And make no mistake: by coming in at the end of the Buying Decision Path, sales restricts who buys to those who are ready, and overlooks the very real possibility of facilitating folks with real needs through to becoming buyers.

This is where buyers go when they’re silent. They’re not dragging their heels or seeking lower prices; they need to traverse their entire Buying Journey to get to the point of even becoming a buyer. And the process of navigating through the people and policies within the status quo to garner consensus for a potentially disruptive change is a confusing process. It certainly can’t be driven by knowing about, or considering, an external solution.

As a seller I recommended my prospects bring in the stakeholders, according to who I thought was a decision maker (but I sure could have been wrong!); I even attempted to help them make ‘good’ decisions. But I was an outsider. And I was biased by my directive of wanting to sell, or understanding how my solution would fit.

No one from outside could ever understand the internal politics and relationship issues people need to manage if they’re going to become buyers. As an entrepreneur there was no one to guide me through this; not schooled in systems thinking, I had to figure out how to navigate this minefield on my own. I sure could have used the help of an unbiased sales professional who knew far more than I did about the environment.

This is the Buyer’s Journey – the route from the problem recognition, to the assembling of the appropriate people (idiosyncratic; not obvious), to the research and trials and workarounds to fix the problem with known resources, to the change management issues, to the point of defining the type of solution that will resolve the problem with least disruption.

The act of selling, I realized, does not create buying. But with a different hat on, by entering first as Change Facilitators, sellers could first notice who WILL become a buyer, enter the Buyer’s Journey at the beginning and efficiently help people navigate through their initial change management decisions.

NAVIGATING THROUGH THE ENTIRE JOURNEY: THE JOB OF BUYING FACILITATION®

My own sellers used Buying Facilitation® as their first tool on cold calls, and even when prospects would call in to us, to begin by guiding people through their own 13 steps, and then sell to the ones who became buyers when they had all their ducks in a row (We had an eight-fold increase in sales and no longer wasted time following up those who would never buy as it was very obvious.).

The time it takes buyers to navigate these steps is the length of the sales cycle. And buyers must do this anyway – so it might as well be with us. Sellers wait (and wait) while buyers do this and then hopefully be there to pick off the low-hanging-fruit. Might as well start at the beginning, be Servant Leaders, and find/close more buyers.

As part of Buying Facilitation® I coined the terms Buyer’s Journey, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Path, Buying Patterns, Buying Decision Team, and Helping Buyers Buy between 1985 and 1993:

Buying Decision Path represents the set of 13 steps from problem recognition and garnering consensus, through to recognizing and managing change in a way that enhances the status quo –  all before getting to the stage of purchasing anything. It’s possible to facilitate and discover those who could buy and efficiently help them navigate the steps to purchase and get into the Buying Decision Team. A buying decision is a change management process.

Buy Cycle represents the time it takes from recognition to Excellence, from seeking internal solutions to making a purchase. It’s a change management process, not a solution choice process.

Buying Patterns explains the unique and idiosyncratic actions each buyer takes along their journey to Excellence.

Buyer’s Journey includes the full fact pattern and set of decision and change issues between discovery and decision to buy anything and manage change. This is not merely a journey to a purchase. It’s a journey to Excellence.

Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation model for influencers (sellers, coaches, leaders, managers) that helps buyers (and clients, etc.) traverse and uncover their hidden path to change with Systems Congruence and consensus. It includes a unique set of tools that includes Listening for Systems, a Choice Model, and Facilitative Questions.

Buying Facilitation® demands a systems thinking brain and eschews trying to sell anything until or unless the buyer knows exactly how they need to buy – the first 9 steps of their Buying Journey. After all, you’ve got nothing to sell until they have something to buy. And all the information you share isn’t relevant until then.

All buyers – even individuals buying a toothbrush, as well as complex sales – go through some sort of internal change management before they’re ready to buy. It’s about the buying, not about the selling – two different activities. Do you want to sell? or have someone buy? By putting on a consulting/coaching/facilitation hat, it’s possible to discover and enable real buyers quickly.

BUYING FACILITATION® FACILITATES THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

Here’s what we don’t know as sellers when we first reach out to buyers to understand need or find a prospect:

  1. Where buyers are along their decision path.
  2. How many, or if, the requisite Buying Decision Team is in place, and ALL appropriate voices have been heard so a full evaluation of the upsides and downsides to change can be considered.
  3. Until ALL voices have been heard, there is no way to recognize or define ‘need.’ As outsiders we can NEVER know who belongs on the Buying Decision Team because it’s so unique to the situation.
  4. Who is a real buyer: only those who know how to manage change, and get consensus that they cannot fix the problem internally are buyers. Need doesn’t determine ability to buy.
  5. The fallout of the risk factors, and the ability for any group to withstand change.
  6. The types of change management issues that a new solution would entail.

The sales model does a great job placing solutions, but expends too much energy seeking those few who have completed their Buyer’s Journey and consider themselves buyers. Sales believes a prospect is someone who SHOULD buy; Buying Facilitation® believes a prospect is someone who CAN/WILL buy efficiently facilitates the Buyer’s Journey from the first moment of the first call, and THEN sells, to those who are indeed buyers.

For less time and resource, we can actually lead buyers down their own change route; and we can easily, quickly, recognize who will, or won’t, be a buyer. In one conversation we can help them discern who they need to include on their Buying Decision Team; if we wish an appointment, the entire Decision Team will be eagerly awaiting us. And with a Change Facilitator hat on, on the first call it’s possible to find buyers at early stages along their decision path who need our solutions but aren’t yet ready to buy. We just can’t use the sales model until after it’s established who is actually a buyer.

The differentiating factor is that we start out not trying to sell, or qualify, or determine needs since there’s no way for folks to actually know their needs until every stakeholder has had his/her voice heard and the determination of the ‘cost’ of change has been made. As Change Facilitators we trust that our buyers have their own answers, and our solutions may be a part of their solution. We’re outsiders; we can never know the intricate politics and history of a buyer’s environment.

Let’s enter earlier with a change consultant hat on, to actually facilitate buyers to the point where they could be ready to buy – and THEN sell. We will find 8x more prospects, immediately recognize those who can never buy, and be true Servant Leaders. Otherwise, with a 5% close rate, we’re merely wasting over 95% of our time and resource seeking the low hanging fruit, and missing a vital opportunity to find, and close, those who WILL buy. And more will buy, and quicker.

I know that some of the recognized sales models talk about ‘buying’. But they are using ‘buyer-based’ terms in service to placing solutions, of finding ways to influence, persuade, or manipulate buying. But buyers don’t buy that way. They first need to navigate through their entire Buyer’s Journey. Help them. Then sell.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

 

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June 8th, 2020

Posted In: Listening, Sales

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