When is it time to sell?


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Sellers assume that when they make a prospecting connection and notice a ‘need’ that aligns with their solution, it’s time to sell. For some reason, a ‘need’ has been equivalent to an action call – much like when we see a child moving toward the road or a hot stove that we go into action to alleviate a problem.

But if this assertion were true, we’d close a helluva lot more sales than we’re now closing.Why doesn’t a perfectly qualified buyer know they are supposed to buy our solution when there is a perfect fit?

It’s because it’s not about the ‘need.’


Buyers buy ONLY when their status quo – their system, as I call it – and everything in it, decides that adding something new would be of more benefit to the SYSTEM than leaving things as they are. Remember: the ‘need’ is only a part of the larger problem and has been there for some time (and they didn’t find it important enough to resolve yet).

As sellers, we seek out ‘need’, and bias our questioning and listening to hear what we want to hear,  to confirm our suspicion that there is, indeed, a prospect. But we are not asking about, and not hearing, what would tell us if the buyer is ready, willing, or able, to buy – very different from having a need. And we are certainly not managing the exercise buyers have to go through internally to help them get their ducks in a row so they would buy if they could.

Sales treats an Identified Problem (my vocabulary for ‘need’) as if it were an isolated event, not paying attention to the fact that there is no such thing as an isolated event in our buyer’s environments. Company rules are wrapped around the Identified Problem. People, their relationships and history, their egos and jobs descriptions are all wrapped around each other and the need, even if they are in different departments.

I once got a letter in secret from a department head in a department outside of my client’s area: she had worked with my client years before, and (I learned later) they had had a falling out. She told me that he was cheating, that he was using my material and our training with a different group that he wasn’t licensed to train (nor did he pay for). I was happy to find out of course. But it goes to show you that nothing, nothing exists independently.

When we meet our prospects (unless they call us with a checkbook in hand and have done ALL of the change management on their own prior to calling … and this happens about 1% of the time) it’s not time to assess their need. And it’s certainly not time to discuss our solution.

Sales gathers data around need – the obvious data about how the problem got there, what a solution should look like. And all of this data is imperative in order to sell a solution. But it’s not the first thing that buyers need to do: buyers may or may not know about the problem, but obviously haven’t done anything about it or they would have already!

Before buyers can buy, they must get buy-in from all elements (people, policies, rules, providers, technology) that touch the ‘need’ in any way, or the risk of disrupting the system is too high. It’s very possible, however, to help buyers do this first. But not with the sales model.


Let’s take a simple telemarketing call. Of course, these don’t happen anymore, but let’s pretend. Let’s say they are selling a magazine subscription. Doesn’t get easier than that, right? Instead of calling to say, “Hi. I’m Jim. Let me tell you about our magazine selection and our special offer” which does nothing but push solution, it’s possible to do Buying Facilitation® even here.

Here is a one/sided script, just to show you how to help the buyer manage the internal issues she’d have to deal with even to purchase a magazine:

“Hi. My name is Jim, and this is a sales call. I’m selling magazine subscriptions. I know there are hundreds of different magazine titles, and I’m wondering how you currently subscribe to the magazines that will give you the sorts of data that you enjoy reading about?”

Given we all have so little time, at what point would you consider adding one or two new titles to the magazines you’re reading? And how would you know that we were a trustworthy vendor to buy from?

Obviously this isn’t a large or complex sale, so getting to the point is necessary. But notice the sorts of decisions I asked her to consider, just in these few sentences:

  1. how to you choose to get informed in the areas that are of interest to you?
  2. how would you choose to use your time when you put aside magazine-reading time?
  3. given that we’re on a telemarketing call, how would you know to trust us?

The magazine is not the issue here: there is absolutely nothing to sell until or unless the person decides on the above points.

First, help your buyer figure out how to make the necessary decisions with the right people, get buy-in from all of the relevant people and policies, get agreement to change, and THEN you can sell. We’ve never had skills to do this sort of thing before. But we do now.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Sharon-Drew Morgen
I'm an original thinker. I wrote the NYT Bestseller Selling with Integrity and 8 other books bridging systemic brain change models with business, for sales, leadership, communications, coaching. I invented Buying Facilitation(R) (Buy Side support), How of Change(tm) (creates neural pathways for habit change), and listening without bias. I coach, train, speak, and consult companies and teams who seek Servant Leader models.


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