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Prospects Aren’t Always Prospects

Monday, 30 March 2020

prospects-dont-equal-prospects

As sellers, we’ve been taught that someone with a need for our solution is a prospect. But that’s not true or we’d be closing a lot more business and wasting a lot less time following prospects who will never buy. Just because we see a need does not mean they

  • want it resolved,
  • want it resolved now,
  • have the buy-in to bring in an external solution rather than using their own internal fix or beloved vendor,
  • are ready to give up the work-around they have in place that resolves the problem well-enough.

Not to mention we use our biased questions, in our biased language choices, and listen through biased ears to ‘hear’ what’s being said as a ‘need’. In fact, given our predisposed assumptions and restricted inquiries, we have no way of knowing when, or how, or if the people we speak with are willing to bring in an outside solution regardless of a possible match or need. A decision to make a purchase is based on dozens of factors that go far beyond need. So rule number #1: need does not a prospect make.

Unfortunately, the sales model has no capability to go behind-the-scenes to facilitate buy-in from those within the buyer’s environment who don’t yet see a need, or don’t want to share budget, or want to address the problem in-house, or have their own agendas. And the sales model, used to attempt to place your solution, doesn’t have the tool set to enable prospective prospects to manage all these internal, hidden issues. Here’s rule #2: until everyone and everything that will touch the new solution buys-in to bringing it on board, there will be no purchase, regardless of a need.

A BUYING DECISION IS A CHANGE MANAGEMENT PROBLEM

People don’t want to buy anything, they merely want to reach excellence. It’s only when it becomes clear that they cannot resolve a problem internally that they’re willing to purchase anything, regardless of need or the efficacy of your solution.

As such, buyers have change management problems well before they have solution choice problems. A purchase is merely the last element in a chain of events that must take place, most of which are outside of a seller’s purview: assembling the right Buying Decision Team members, trialing many workarounds and reaching out to current vendors, getting buy-in, managing any disruption that would result from bringing in something new.

One of the biggest fallacies of sales is that someone is identified as a buyer when it seems they have a need that your solution might resolve. Because people merely want to resolve a problem, they must explore all avenues of an internal fix before recognizing a purchase is their only alternative. In other words, they have to know their route to change before considering purchasing anything. And the sales model does nothing to facilitate this.

Indeed, until they figure out if a fix will ‘cost’ less than the status quo, or understand the complete cost of the resources they’ll need to manage any change, people aren’t even buyers. Remember: they were doing ‘good enough’ until now, and if a new solution causes more disruption than the cost of staying the same, they aren’t buyers. Rule #3: the status quo is sacrosanct, regardless of the need or the efficacy of your solution.

CASE STUDIES

Here are two situations in which I failed miserably (and lost quite a bit of money), prior to understanding that buyers (in companies and individuals) must know how to manage internal change before they can buy.

  1. I did a pilot for the sales group in an iconic multinational. Using Buying Facilitation® the group had a 400% increase in sales over the control group (we shortened the sales cycle from 7 months to 4 weeks). They chose not to role out my program because the fallout from the cash flow issues of a short sales cycles, shifts in the manufacturing schedules, etc., would cost many millions to resolve. They eschewed the increased profit to maintain the system.
  2. I trained a large insurance group who got a 600% increase in sales over the control group (they went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales). After the test month, the trained team handed in their resignations because they said had been hired as ‘field sales’ reps and would rather quit than be ‘inside sales’ reps, regardless of how much money they made. They liked handing out donuts and schmoozing.

From my point of view it was nuts to give up vast increases in sales rather than figure out how to manage the change a new purchase involves. But this is where I had my ‘aha’ moment, where I realized the difference between what I had to sell, their ‘need’, and how they needed to buy: People need to maintain the equilibrium of their status quo at all costs – at all costs – regardless of the benefits of our solutions. If they have to fire a team to bring in new software, they have a decision: software or people. Do they need the software? Sure.

THE DAD STORY

I’m going to tell a story I’ve told dozens of times. For those who have read it in other articles or my books, I apologize. But it’s a terrific story.

Years ago, while running a Buying Facilitation® program at IBM, they asked me a favor. They wanted me to speak to folks at a ‘Mom and Pop’ store nearby who they wanted as a Beta test site. These folks would be getting a free computer for their efforts, yet three sales folks had been unable to get a Yes from them even though their old computer was far too slow for their growing company.

A man answered when I called. Here was the conversation:

SD: Hello. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. I’m calling from IBM. I’m a consultant for them and was reading the files they have on you here when they offered you a free Beta. Can I ask how your current computer is working?
B: Hi. Um, It’s ok.
SD: What’s stopping it from being better than OK?
B: Dad.
SD: Dad? I don’t understand.
B: This is a Mom and Pop shop. I’m the son. The owner is my Dad. He started the company 40 years ago, is now in his 70s, and has been handling all tech issues [Note: those were the early days of the net when there was so much confusion]. He’s retiring next year.
SD: Ah. So you can’t consider bringing in anything new that he might be uncomfortable with and will wait until he leaves to look into it?
B: Right. I would love to do your Beta as our system is so slow by now. I’ve just got to take care of Dad.
SD: I wonder if you and Dad would be willing to travel about 5 miles to X company on Y street. They are using it right now and are one of our Betas. Maybe you and Dad could go play with it a bit, ask them some questions, and see if Dad is comfortable?
B: Good idea.

They went, and a week later took the Beta. They had a need, but weren’t buyers until they figured out how to resolve the change management issues that were keeping them in place.

No matter how much you think your solution matches with a ‘need’, your goal, your questions, your inquiries, are all based on what you’re selling and you’re not facilitating them in the first steps they must take – managing the change – before they become buyers. By this fact alone, you will only ever close those folks who need what you’re selling, the way you’re selling it, at the moment you show up, and you’re only closing the low hanging fruit.

Using the sales model you cannot influence what’s going on behind the scenes. They must do it themselves as they are privy to the personalities, the history, the internal politics, and the ‘givens’ that an outsider can never understand. And they will never buy until it’s done – regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.

THE SALES MODEL IS SOLUTION-BASED; BUYING IS SYSTEMS-BASED

Philosophically the sales model is accurate: as sellers we clearly see needs that our solutions will resolve. But we don’t have a prospect until or unless the Buying Decision Team – everyone who will touch the final solution – is ready, willing, and able to

  • manage any changes that our solution causes to their people, rules, relationships, or job descriptions,
  • ensure the disruption won’t cost more than the problem it’s resolving,

or they cannot buy. Indeed: a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy. And ‘need’ has nothing to do with it.

I developed Buying Facilitation® in 1983 to manage the issues my own sales team faced in my tech startup. The model is a tool for sellers to facilitate people through their Pre-Sales change management issues before they sell.

As a sales professional, I never understood why ‘prospects’ weren’t buying as often as was logical. When I became an entrepreneur, I realized the problem buyers have when I had needs myself: how could I buy new software when the new programs I had just purchased weren’t yet accepted or used frequently by the users? When would be the right time to hire new folks since the last new batch wasn’t fully trained yet? How would a new manager blend in without disruption when the current team had been working so effectively as unit for so long?

When potential vendors came in to pitch new solutions to me, I understood the reasons I didn’t close as many sales as I thought I should have when I was a seller: the reason I couldn’t buy from these vendors had nothing to do with my need, but about managing my status quo effectively around a new solution; the vendor’s biased questions, assumptions of need, and pitch organized around what the seller was selling instead of addressing the change management issues I had to deal with as part of my buying decision process.

Everything these folks discussed, every question asked, was focused on selling me something. It never occurred to anyone that just maybe I wasn’t ready to be a buyer yet, that just maybe they had nothing to sell until I could clearly see my way through to a path to buy, even though I certainly needed their products.

Our time together should have been used to facilitate my steps to addressing my change management issues in the areas that I needed help with. And then not only would I have been a prospect, but I would have been a buyer.

So I developed my Buying Facilitation® model to add to sales to begin prospecting by

  1. first facilitating people who might have a need to recognize and organize the full Buying Decision Team,
  2. helping them try to find an internal workaround that would maintain their stability,
  3. facilitating them through to buy-in and change management when it became clear they needed to go external for a solution (i.e. when they became buyers), [Note: people need to do this anyway, and we wait in limbo while they do it. Might as well add a new skill set to have the tools to help them through their steps to becoming buyers.]

and then selling. After training this material for decades, I’ve found the most difficult part of Buying Facilitation® is the difficulty sales folks have in remembering to first put aside the ‘need’ or ‘sale’ and instead truly serve others in discovering their most efficient path to their own brand of excellence. People want excellence. The last thing they want is to buy anything. The last thing.

And you’re pushing the last thing far too soon, certainly depriving yourself of a real possibility of become a servant leader , a relationship manager, and a true professional. I’m not suggesting you not sell. I’m suggesting you don’t begin by attempting to assess ‘need’ or ‘value’ when there’s no way for them to know the full extent of their need until they’ve gone through their change management and buy-in issues. Indeed, once they’ve got the entire fact pattern, they may indeed need to buy more from you.

One more thing: once you enter a call with the goal of facilitating change rather than trying to sell, you’ll listen differently to each person. And you’ll know who will be a likely buyer on your first call: It’s those who seek change, and have been flummoxed by being able to resolve the problem your solution can resolve.

Stop seeking those with ‘need’ and seek those who want to change. And then facilitate them through their process. When it’s time to buy, they’ll be ready, won’t worry much about price, and you’ll barely have to pitch.

Help prospective buyers determine how to change, how to get buy-in, how to bring in your solution. Along the way, you both will determine next steps, who needs to be included, and how to get everyone on board – with you! – to move toward the remedy will provide – even on a prospecting call! And then you can sell. Buying Facilitation® first, then sales. You need both. Then you can help buyers decide to be prospects – and they will buy.

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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 sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.