It’s Really Not About The Buying Process


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As sales professionals (marketing too), for years we’ve always been pretty self centered.  We’ve focused on what we want–selling something.

We, me included, talk a lot about the selling process.

In recent years, we’ve discovered that’s really unfashionable.  We have to mask our true goal and be customer focused.  So we’ve shifted our terminology to focus on the customer buying process.

In politically correct circles, we talk about the buying process and engaging the customer in their buying process, perhaps even being prescriptive in their buying process.

The intensity of focus and discussion has even made it THE CUSTOMER BUYING PROCESS.  The customer is at the center of it, but it is all about helping them buy OUR PRODUCTS AND SOLUTIONS.

But is that what the customer is really doing, is that what they care about, or are we just displaying our arrogance and self centeredness by focusing on THE BUYING PROCESS.

What words would we use if we really decided to look at things from the customer point of view?

The center of focus of the customer is probably not about Buying.  It’s probably about solving a problem, addressing a challenge, seizing an opportunity.

They would likely describe what they are doing in terms very far from Buying.

They might say:

“We’re designing the next generation of smartphone” or whatever cool product they are designing.

“We’re trying to reduce our manufacturing cycle time and improve manufacturing process.”

“We’re trying to grow into a new market, enabling us to establish a platform to expand our company and grow our sales.”

None of this has anything to do with “Buying.”  It’s all about solving a problem, addressing a challenge, seizing an opportunity.

Customers tend to address these as projects and put together project teams to figure it out and drive the initiative.  The project teams have differing charters, goals and initiatives.  Thinking about the examples above, we might have:

New product development team.

Manufacturing process simplification team.

New market growth team.

When we look at the work done by those teams, it involves a whole lot of stuff.  Design, development, testing, business process analysis, business process reengineering, business process optimization, market analysis, skills development, change management, implementation planning, design for manufacturability, …………

Oh, and yes, there’s sourcing and stuff to buy, but I’ll come back to that later.

Project groups struggle, they have differing agendas, priorities, views of the problem, ideas about the project plan, ideas about the goals they want to achieve.  (Checkout Morten Hansen’s Collaboration)  Hmmm, this is sounding familiar, “buyers” have the same issues.

As we think further, the buyers and the project team members are the same people, or at least some of them are the same.  Perhaps the struggle with buying is more about the project and less about buying.  Perhaps there are elements of both.  But it presents an interesting opportunity.  If the same problem solving, critical thinking, project management and facilitation skills we use in helping them in their buying process, could we have a greater impact and create greater value by helping them with their project or even with their problem/opportunity solving processes.  After all, that’s what they are really trying to do, buying is just a small part of their overall project.

Perhaps, this also gets them to the buying part in a more effective manner?

But there’s more.

We may hang out for a while, waiting for them to get to the buying part of their project plan.  Again, our self centeredness makes us think that when they look at our products and solutions, they are in THE BUYING PROCESS.  In reality, they are probably in a buying process, one of many they will be engaged in.

Let’s go back to our examples from before.

The team designing the new smart phone, has hundreds of products and services to buy.  They have RF chips, Cameras, Displays, Glass, Covers, Memory Chips, Boards, Batteries, Microprocessors, Microcode, Active/Passive Components, Packaging, and other stuff.  They also have to buy manufacturing services, perhaps testing services, logistics/shipping and all sorts of other things.  So there are all sorts of buying processes they are engaged in, but we always think of ours as THE BUYING PROCESS.  Even if what we sell is the most expensive component, relatively speaking it’s small in terms of their parts budget, small in terms of all the stuff they have to buy, and much smaller in terms of the overall project.

But that’s what we are obsessed with and that’s where we tend to focus and that’s what we want to be top of mind and most critical to the customer.

But it may not be.

I could go through the same discussion for the other two projects, but you probably get where I’m going with this discussion.  Even if I look at the manufacturing process control system the customer in the second scenario might be looking at, that may be an investment of millions.  There’s still lots of other stuff they are buying and even more work for them to be successful with their project (change management teams, implementation, business process, to name a few).

You’re probably getting a little frustrated and pissed, thinking “OK Dave, what do we do about this?  How do we help them so that we create the greatest value and win the business?”

Glad you asked, it’s simple:  Help them solve their problem!  Help them with their project struggles!  Help them get to the buying that’s relevant to you, then help them with their buying–remembering it’s done in a context of a far larger challenge.  You have to keep connecting the dots back to that challenge, because their engagement with you is about solving the problem, whereas everyone else is disadvantaged by being part of the buying process.

Their problem is not about making a buying decision (it may be one of their problems) but rather it is about what they are trying to achieve.  We have to constantly connect back to that.

But how do we do this?  First help them understand the problem, help them understand their project.  Help them align themselves and figure out what they can do.  It’s all the same stuff we do in helping them figure out what to buy, but it’s focused at a higher level.

My buddies at Microchip are simply brilliant about this.  Their customers fit into the category of the first example I provided.  Not necessarily Smartphones but cool electronic devices.  The stuff Microchip sells is just that  micro-chips.  It’s not sexy stuff, (except to some of us who geek out over semiconductor technologies—it is actually really cool stuff).

The semiconductors Microchip sells are critical to the functioning of the device or new product, even though they may cost only a few dollars.  As a consequence, product designers pay a lot of attention to these devices.  The challenge is, however, why choose Microchip?

Here’s where the brilliance comes in.  While their sales people do address the technology and competitive issues, they seek engage the project team in a different way.  They say, “What are your goals with your product?  How will you capture the hearts and minds of your customers? How will you differentiate your cool electronic product from your competitor’s cool electronic product that does the same thing?  How will you be able to maximize your market share?”  There are a whole lot of other things they can talk to the customer about, but all of them are helping the customer achieve their product launch goals, about designing and developing a cool product that will have great success in the market.  That’s what the project team is trying to achieve, that’s what “their problem” is.

By the time they get to the part about the micro-chips, they can position how their product helps them with their problem and their project.  Of course, they’ve also created all that value in helping the customer solve their problem and manage their project.

THE BUYING PROCESS is our big thing, not the customer’s.

What if we helped the customer with their big thing  their problem/challenge/opportunity?  What if we helped them with their project?  By doing these things, doesn’t it help when the customer gets to our part of their buying process?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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