I moved to London in 1983 to start up a tech company after spending years as a successful sales person. For years I had qualified prospects, created decks and wrote great content, chased appointments and networked, presented, and followed up. As I became an entrepreneur, 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 the complexity of the Pre-Sales activity necessary to 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 convince, persuade, and build relationships to close; as an entrepreneur and potential buyer I had to continually manage any change we needed using the most efficient, integrous, and least disruptive route to success to maintain happy employees and clients, and continue to develop a great product.
As a sales professional, I sought to find and influence people 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. We certainly couldn’t make any changes until we fully understood the risks that any change would generate.
Selling and buying, I quickly realized, are two different activities: different goals, different behaviors, different communication and thinking patterns, different types of responsibility. And before becoming a buyer myself, I hadn’t fully appreciated how severely the sales model limits who will buy by seeking only those with ‘need’ – the low hanging fruit, those who had completed their internal change management determinations and bought-in to any risks, any disruption, a new solution would bring to their environment.
The act of making a purchase, I realized, was a risk/change management problem before it was a solution choice issue. Any needs I had were secondary to maintaining consistency and team agreements. After all, we were doing ‘just fine’ without bringing in anything new.
As an entrepreneur with many factors to juggle, I realized that no one started off as a buyer but had to go through a change management process first. And because the sales model focuses on selling, it could only seek and close those folks who considered themselves buyers already, overlooking those who could become buyers with some risk/change facilitation. Let me explain.
THE JOB OF A BUYER
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.
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. So (hypothetically) if I needed a CRM system but had to fire 8 people to buy one, I had to weigh the ‘cost.’ And the time it takes to make this calculation is the length of the sales cycle.
As a seller, I had never realized that my biased questions (to ‘uncover needs’ of course), or listening for where my solution could be pitched, were restricting my success. The sales model never considered what occurred before folks even self-identified as buyers.
By limiting my search to folks with ‘needs,’ I had overlooked an 8x larger audience of folks in the process of becoming buyers but not yet ready. Not to mention that my definition of ‘needs’ was often biased by my own needs to sell, and didn’t necessarily mean the person was a buyer.
As a buyer, I had more to worry about than solving a problem. I had to take into account
My challenge was to be better without losing what worked successfully, to ensure
– everyone involved agreed to a common solution,
– there was consensus and a route through to congruent change,
– we were all absolutely certain we couldn’t fix the problem with something familiar,
– the risk of change was less than the cost of maintaining the problem.
As the Managing Director/Founder, 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.
WHAT I NEEDED TO KNOW BEFORE BECOMING A BUYER
Here’s what I needed to know before I began looking ‘outside’ for answers:
– 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 and needed outside help?
– 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?
– How could I determine the risk of change before I brought in a new solution?
I had to make decisions that didn’t cause too much disruption and garnered buy-in.
I began annotating the change process I was going through. Eventually I realized everyone goes through the same change management process I was going through before deciding to do anything different.
13 STEPS OF CHANGE
As someone trying to solve problems without causing disruption, my decision making process had very specific activities, from understanding the elements of a problem to ultimately ending up with a resolution. Turned out there were 13 steps for change, and people didn’t self-identify as buyers until step 10!
I used these steps to design a Change Facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) as a new tool kit to lead potential buyers through their risk issues. Indeed, with a Buying Facilitator hat on, I could identify folks who were on route to becoming buyers on the first call.
As a seller I never realized that unless people tried to resolve their own problems and had buy-in for change, until they understood and bought into any risks involved with a new purchase, they’re not in the market to buy anything. In fact, with all my awards for being a top producer, I never realized selling didn’t cause buying!
I taught Buying Facilitation® to my sales staff so they could help people on route to becoming buyers to
For those who want to understand the process, my book Dirty Little Secrets lays out the 13 step Buying Decision Path or go to my site www.sharon-drew.com where I not only explain it but have hundreds of articles on the subject.
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 people, I didn’t know what I didn’t know: I didn’t know who 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 (and although I did research, I never paid heed to marketing or sales content). We needed to understand the 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.
Every buyer goes through some form of this. The sales model overlooks this, not realizing that by entering at the end of the Buying Decision Path, sales restricts who buys to those who are ready, the low hanging fruit.
This is where buyers go when they’re silent. They’re not dragging their heels or seeking lower prices; they need to traverse their Steps of Change to get to the point of even becoming a buyer.
As an entrepreneur there was no one to guide me through this. I sure could have used the help of an unbiased sales professional who knew far more than I did about the environment.
Once I figured this all out and developed Buying Facilitation®, 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.
BUYING FACILITATION® FACILITATES THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
Buying Facilitation® eschews trying to sell anything until or unless the buyer knows exactly how – not what – they need to buy. After all, you’ve got nothing to sell until they have something to buy.
Here’s what we don’t know as sellers:
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.
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. Help people become buyers. Then sell.
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 her new book HOW? Generating new neural circuits for learning, behavior change and decision making, the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen November 27th, 2023