The Real Buyer’s Journey: the reason selling doesn’t cause buying

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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 a great product.

As a sales professional, I sought to 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.

Selling and buying, I quickly realized, 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 who will buy by 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.

What I came to realize was that no one started off as a buyer but had to go through a change management process to figure out the best route to resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ and least disruption. And because the sales model focuses on selling, it could only seek and close those folks who considered themselves buyers already. 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, 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. So 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.

What I hadn’t realized was that a decision to buy anything was a systems problem – a change management problem before it was a solution choice issue; figuring out how to modify the status quo in a way that maintained Systems Congruence. 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 a seller, I hadn’t understood that change – and a decision to buy anything represents a change – is a systems issue. I had only thought of placing my solution; 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.

By limiting my search to folks with ‘needs,’ I overlooked an 8x larger audience of folks in the process of becoming buyers but not ready. Not to mention that my definition of ‘needs’ was often different from their definition, and ‘needs’ 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

  • the rules and brand of the company,
  • the well-being of the employees and staff,
  • how the problem got created to make sure it didn’t recur,
  • 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.

WHAT I NEEDED TO KNOW BEFORE BECOMING A BUYER

As someone with problems to resolve, 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 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?

Once I shifted gears from selling to being an entrepreneur with problems to resolve, I realized that my first job was to consider how to change in a way that maintained us without destroying us. It was only toward the end of my change management process that I considered the downsides of bringing in something new if the only way we could fix our problems was to buy something.

I began annotating the process I was going through to figure out my best routes to fixing problems. I began discussing this with colleagues, with family members going through change, and realized everyone goes through this same change management process before deciding to do anything different.

I decided to get it all on paper to not only replicate my process, but make it possible for leaders and sellers and coaches and influencers to use it to facilitate change.

13 STEPS OF CHANGE

My 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. I took that knowledge and designed a Change Facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) as a new tool kit for sellers to help folks facilitate the change issues they had to resolve on route to becoming buyers.

I couldn’t stop thinking what a huge opportunity for the sales industry to know who would be a buyer on the first call (simple, with a ‘change’ hat on instead of a ‘sales’ hat); shorten the sales cycle by half; and spend my time facilitating folks who were actually on route to becoming buyers – not merely names and guesses. I certainly ended up with a much larger pool of buyers to sell to.

By eschewing sales and entering as a Change Facilitator on the first call, I sought people seeking change in the area my solution could resolve, facilitated them through to their own conclusion, and then had real buyers to sell to.

As a seller I never realized that unless people tried to resolve their own problems and had buy-in for change, they’re not in the market to buy anything. They’re not even buyers! 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

  • 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 had on hand or were familiar with;
  • 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.

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). I needed to hear from my 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.

Every buyer goes through some form of this; they never begin at the end where sales enters. And although sales does a great job of placing solutions when people are buyers and need them, it’s possible to enter during their decision process and lead them through to their buying decision. By entering at the end of the Buying Decision Path, sales restricts who buys to those who are ready.

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 it’s a confusing process. It certainly can’t be driven by knowing about, or considering, an external solution.

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.

NAVIGATING THROUGH THE ENTIRE JOURNEY

My own sellers used 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. 

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. Below I offer the terms as I defined them, vs the definition currently used by the sales industry:

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.

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.

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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