Sales folks make a few incorrect assumptions about who a buyer is, including: 1. the name on the marketing automation or prospecting system is the name of the buyer; and 2. a receptionist or secretary isn’t a buyer. Not only is there rarely only one ‘buyer’, but whoever responds – yes, even secretaries and receptionists – might actually be on the Buying Decision Team (BDT). Indeed, if you ever attempt to ‘get through’ a receptionist or secretary, you’ll know for sure this person is a major decision maker.
OUR FIRST JOB IS TO FACILITATE CHANGE
Before anyone buys, they need buy-in from the full set of stakeholders – the BDT – who include those playing a role in managing any change a new solution generates. Each decision team member will face different hurdles: one team member might need to reorganize their team; one might need to fire someone or facilitate user compliance.
As outsiders we cannot know any of this, especially if we’re entering with a focus on placing a solution. But make no mistake: anything new brought into an environment causes some sort of irritation, and someone is responsible for resolving it; these issues need a plan for resolution before a purchasing decision is made. And as outsiders we can’t know what’s involved or who on the BDT is handling it.
NEED ISN’T THE ISSUE
Entering to find someone with a ‘need’, or someone specific to sell to, limits sellers to seeking/finding those who are ready to buy at the moment the seller connects – the low hanging fruit. It ignores all those in the process of becoming buyers and those still figuring out how to manage the change who can be facilitated through to Buyer Readiness.
We can expand the group of possible buyers by a factor of 8 if we enter as change facilitators first and help them do whatever they must. Indeed, this large group doesn’t respond to the conventional sales tools and goals we employ: they can’t yet know the full complement of their need, and aren’t yet interested in any of our content.
By starting off with the goal of finding those still on their buying decision journey and not yet buyers, and lead them through the steps necessary to manage the change, it’s possible to recognize who will be a buyer on the first call. Indeed, by helping them traverse their route, they will become buyers quickly. Your pipeline will actually include real prospects, not suspects. But the definition of who is a buyer will need to change.
For knowledge on this subject, I’ve written articles on the model I developed to facilitate the elements of the buying decision path that differ from sales: Buying Facilitation®, the real buyer’s journey, and help buyers shift their status quo. In this article, I offer three case studies on how to sell by going beyond what the sales process considers ‘buyers’. One shows how I sold more than anticipated by not assuming the listed name was THE buyer; one tells how a receptionist got me business; one shows how I instigated a prospect to enlist the Buying Decision Team and become a buyer.
CASE STUDY: DON’T RESTRICT YOUR CONTACT
Years ago, I was training Buying Facilitation® to a sales group within a call center selling three of IBM’s software packages. In those days, sellers prospected using the names on coupons sent from folks requesting information (old school!). During the training, I suggested that participants not ask for the folks whose names were on the coupons, as there was no way of knowing who was actually on the BDT or who filled out the coupon.
During my one-on-one coaching session with John Megatz (one of the participants…. I’ll never forget him!) he called a small construction company to sell an accounting package, assuming they’d need one. He asked the woman who answered for Louis, the name listed on the coupon. “Not in” she said. “Please call back Monday.” I then called the number back. Here was the call.
SD: Hi. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen, and I’m calling from IBM in response to a coupon. Can you tell me how you’re currently handling your accounting, and if you’re seeking any additional tools to help? [Note: I always assume everyone is part of the BDT. I do this on all cold calls.]
Kathy: I’m doing the accounting. Me. It’s me. All me. Since May. Me. I was the one who filled out that coupon. I’m trying to convince my husband to buy an accounting package within the next week, or I’ll not only quit, but I’ll divorce him. We’re a Mom & Pop shop here, and I took over the accounting when our accountant left last May (it was December). It takes up too much of my time and I hate doing it. Louis promised me I’d only have to do it for a month. So if I can buy a package now, it would save my marriage.
Kathy: Oh. Louis just walked in. Hey Louis! Pick up the phone, will you? It’s IBM with a solution to save our marriage.
Louis: Hi. This is IBM? Do you have an accounting package we can buy? I need to buy one today or she’ll divorce me.
SD: Hi Louis. Yup. We’ve got one. We need to check if our package fits your needs. But before I discuss it, I’m wondering if you also could use a Project Management package. It’s pretty cool. The project managers on client sites could log hours and create client invoices from the field. Or a Payroll package that would automatically write checks electronically. I see you’re a small construction business and can’t tell if anything we’ve got is anything you need.
Louis. Wow. I need all three! Can you tell me about them?
SD: Since I’m just a trainee, can we wait until Monday when the product managers for each package would be available to discuss the packages with you? I’m only the one with the mouth; they’ve got the brains. [Note: I really said this. I had no idea how to pitch any of the products.]
Louis: No. Is there any way we could do it today? [Note: It was 5:00 Friday afternoon.]
SD: Give me fifteen minutes. I’ll call you back.
John and I ran up two flights of stairs. Ran (and somehow I lost a very expensive Tiffany pen during the trot). We got to the sales group as they were walking out the door for the weekend. John grabbed the two sellers from the Project Management and the Payroll packages, and we ran back downstairs and called Louis back. To be honest, I knew almost nothing about the products.
Turned out, they bought all three packages. Right there and then. But they might not have if John had waited until Monday for Louis, or hadn’t assumed the woman answering was a secretary instead of co-owner. And John was set to restrict his sales effort to the accounting package.
CASE STUDY: ASSUME EVERYONE IS A BUYER
I once made a cold call to an engineering firm. The receptionist answered. I used my Buying Facilitation® model on her as I do with every person who answers a phone; I can never know who is part of the BDT, how their buying decisions get made, or even if they’re in the process of seeking new skills. You’d be shocked to know how much information these front line people have and how helpful they’re willing to be when respected:
SD: Hi. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen, and this is a sales call. I wonder: how are you folks adding new skills to the ones your sales folks currently use, for those times you want to shorten the sales cycle?
Susan: Wow. Cool question. Could you teach our folks to do that?
SD: Sure. That’s what I do. And I know you’re at the front desk and it’s probably busy. But I’m happy to see if what I offer and what might enhance your business would be a fit. Is this a good time?
Susan: No. It’s mayhem around here always. Would you mind sending me some sort of a packet and I’ll get it to the sales director? I promise I’ll do it. I like what’s going on in this conversation.
So I sent her a packet. She called me a week later.
Susan: Hi Sharon Drew. Thanks for the packet. I put it on our Sales Director Joe’s desk. But he was fired an hour later. I went into his office after he’d gone and he’d cleared everything out, including your packet. Sorry to ask you this, but would you send me another one?
I sent her a new packet. A week later I got a call from Gary.
Gary: Hi Sharon Drew. I’m sitting here with Susan who says I have to call you because whatever it is you’re doing sounds like we should be teaching our sales folks. This is my first day as Sales Director, and Susan has made sure this is my first act at my new desk. In fact, she’s standing here right now. You must have made quite an impression on her. Is this a good time for us to discuss?
I ended up training their company, not only in Buying Facilitation®, but in change facilitation. And even though she wasn’t an obvious stakeholder, Susan was on the Buying Decision Team and brought in other team members without me having to look for them.
CASE STUDY: THE IDENTIFIED PROSPECT NEEDS THEIR STAKEHOLDER GROUP.
I once got a call from the Director of Training at KPMG. He had just read one of my books, and said he intuitively believed his team needed Buying Facilitation®. With a 3 year sales cycle and only 1000 possible companies large enough to spend $50,000,000 to buy their tax minimization service, he wanted to stop blowing through his limited number of prospects and shorten the sales cycle.
“What has stopped you from figuring this out on your own until now?” said I.
Steve didn’t have an answer, but said he’d think about it and call back. Next time he called, he had 2 others on the phone. I posed another question about how they could resolve the problem internally and get the buy in that any change would require. We’ll think about it and call back, Steve said. This process continued for two months; each time Steve called back he had more people on the phone and more answers, until one snowy day at 7:00 a.m. while I was on a client site in Rochester NY (in winter!), he had 15 people on the phone from 4 countries.
We did our normal thing of me asking a question that no one had an answer to. During the silence of ‘no answer’ one of the participants started this conversation:
Man: Hey Steve. What’s she selling?
Steve: I have no idea. Hey, Sharon Drew, you haven’t pitched me anything yet. Why not?
SD: I had nothing to sell if you had nothing to buy. Now there’s a larger percentage of your stakeholder buying team present; you have more knowledge of what’s stopping you from having a more effective selling process; you understand the issues that will come up when you add my facilitation system; and who needs to buy in moving forward. Now you’re ready to hear my content.
Then, for the first time mentioning what I was selling, I pitched to the group who was ready to buy. They brought me in, and I trained the global team for 2 years. With my help, they reduced their sales cycle to 4 months.
Remember: until or unless the entire BDT is present (which might be more complex than obvious); until they know if they can/cannot fix any problems themselves or how to manage the change an external solution will bring with it; they’re not buyers.
Trying to sell to one person who you THINK might be a buyer because they were in the right demographic, or because they responded in a way to your manipulative questions that caused you to assume they had a need, or because you attempted to be their ‘best friend’ or ‘relationship manager’ won’t get you more than your 5% close – the low hanging fruit. Not to mention wasting 95% of your time hoping and waiting, asking the wrong questions, to find those who SHOULD buy, and don’t.
DON’T TRY TO GET TO THE TOP
For those of you who spend hours/days/months attempting to get to the person at the top, stop. That person has probably delegated the responsibility to the appropriate team, and more importantly, even if s/he is one of the decision makers, there are several on the BDT. During the time you spend trying to get to THE person, you could have been speaking with one or more folks on the BDT who will then bring the rest of the team into your discussion, so long as you use your time with them to help them facilitate their change to excellence and not try to pitch or pose manipulative questions.
It’s time for us to stop assuming that there is only one person who is THE person we need to speak with. You’re losing business, wasting time trying to find that ‘one’ person, and (when trying to get around or through a receptionist or secretary) not realizing the number of people who must be involved in making a buying decision. Remember: a buying decision is a change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue, so there are many folks who must be included. That will expand your audience of potential buyers by a factor of 8.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen March 2nd, 2020