Buying Versus Selling


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Selling Versus Buying

Imagine entering a store to buy a TV, but having limited knowledge about what’s available. A clerk asks: May I help you? Despite desperately needing help, the most common answer is: No, I’m just looking. Why do buyers respond this way?

– They distrust people who haven’t demonstrated they are different from the negative stereotype of salespeople.
– They don’t want their decisions influenced by sellers who may not have their best interests at heart.

As with air, water, food and shelter, humans have a desire for control. When buying, people are in control. They set a budget, decide what their needs are and take action to satisfy those needs. It feels good! Being sold means someone is attempting to convince, persuade, or influence your decision. Buyers often feel they are being manipulated or taken advantage of. Selling in these situations is perceived as something that is done to buyers, not for or with them. When being sold, buyers feel pressured.

Most buyers prefer buying versus being sold. I welcome your comments on two questions reflecting your experiences as a buyer or seller:

1. What behaviors reinforce the negative stereotype of salespeople?
2. What can be done to allow people to buy?

John Holland
In co-authoring CustomerCentric Selling® (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and cofounding the company of the same name in 2002, John Holland leveraged more than 20 years' experience in sales, sales management and consulting. Holland began his career in high-technology with IBM's General Systems Division.


  1. John, I just joined Customer Think and here I come across your blog questions on “Buying vs. Selling.” question. The first question is an interesting one. What has perpetuated the negative attitude toward salespeople is the way “selling” is described in books on marketing and selling – having people buy what they don’t want for more money than they want to spend” and like types of definitions. With definitions like this, no wonder there are so many people who will do anything so as not to be “in sales” or associated with selling.. It is the “selling is what others do syndrome” that pervasive throughout the world. I’ve been told by one of my younger clients what we got to talking about selling, “my mother says I can marry anyone as long as he is not salesman.”

    Ask anyone whose job description is not in sales if they are in sales and they’ll say adamantly, “I’m not in sales, I’m in __(whatever their job/position is)___! ! 1 Yet, in order to get their job, promoted, etc. they had to “sell” others on their skills, knowledge, etc. And those making the decision were not wanting to be sold, they wanted to be the decision makers i.e. the buyer. However, they had to sell (give justification/get confirmation form) others in the business. Yet, of course, they are not selling?

    There is another factor and I call this the “MBA Snydrome” in that business, it is numbers that are the most important and controlling expenses is prime. Thus, salespeople are considered something anyone can do even by those that pay lip-service to the need for human capital. Why do “smart people” make the most important job in the business, making sales that bring in the money to run the business, to people who are not giving the respect and training they and the business customers deserve.

    Your second question is much easier to answer. What can be done to allow people to buy? is by giving customers enough choices, but not too many that they are confused, so they believe they have made the right decision as it applies to what they are doing, planning to do or, would like to do should they learn of it.

    Btw, trying to sell someone something that does not go with what are doing, planning to do or would like to do, is much worse than not making the sales. Since almost all salespeople are paid on commission and are rated by the “book” they write, their minds are on making a sale no matter what the “quality” of the sale is. Hence, as your blog says, people do not want to be sold, they want to buy. What you should have said, maybe, is “they do not want to be sold what they do not want or can’t use.”

    Thank you for bringing up a subject about attitudes that needs to be changed when I comes to things related to selling. Between the two of us, if we try hard enough, will begin to make headway.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador Of Selling
    [email protected]
    Winner of the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Member, PNW Sales & Marketing Group
    Member, Institute of Management Consultants
    Member, International Speakers Network


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