Sales, Marketing and Social Can Be More Successful. Hint: it’s not about your content.
Sales, marketing, and social marketing attempt to place solutions and create relationships by supplying great content, discovering likely prospects, and creating trust. Unfortunately sellers end up closing a small fraction – less than 5% – of those they reach, and marketers and social end up closing even less, wasting a lot of time without meeting their goals. So what’s causing our failure? Our products are terrific, our service and knowledge solid. Doesn’t seem to make sense that we don’t close more when folks need what we’ve got to sell.
PROBLEMS WITH OUR CURRENT THINKING
Here’s a bit of flawed thinking that exacerbates the problems:
- Sellers believe prospects are folks who SHOULD buy (those with a ‘need’) rather than those who WILL buy (those who achieve consensus and are ready and able to buy regardless of need). It’s possible to know very early if the prospect CAN buy;
- Marketers believe that content is king, that offering the right content at the right time enables a buying decision. But we don’t know the role the reader plays on the Buying Decision Team, how or when the content is being used, and if it’s making a difference in the buying decision (i.e. it might be just a resource);
- Social believes that by engaging in relationships over time and developing trust, followers will come back when they are ready. But because we can’t know their decision path or if they have yet assembled the associates who would need to buy-in to any change (and any purchase represents some level of change in the buyer’s status quo), or if their internal political issues have been resolved to be ready for a purchase (the steps they must handle prior to buying), we can’t know if we are spending time wisely.
- ‘Need’ should indicate a buyer. But ‘need’ isn’t the issue. Buyers are merely seeking excellence; a purchase is the last thing they want, and they’ll seek internal solutions, or consider maintaining the status quo before seeking to buy anything.
We can facilitate buying decisions by employing different thinking to avoid:
- Wasting time seeking, chasing after, and waiting for the low-hanging fruit (those 5% who are finally ready to buy, regardless of the efficacy of your solution);
- Wasting time assuming if we play nice or offer good content people will buy or take action;
- Neglecting actions we can take to facilitate the decision steps buyers and followers take much earlier in their decision path, before they are ready to make a choice.
It’s time to add some new thinking to what we’re doing.
WHAT I LEARNED IN THE TRENCHES
Because of the focus on placing solutions, sellers fail to take into account the change management and consensus issues buyers must manage internally, outside the purview of needs or solution choice, before they can consider buying anything:
- People have complicated internal people/policy/status quo issues to handle before they can buy or change;
- Figuring out the full complement of people to include in any purchase or change decision is complex, but necessary. Each participant in the Buying Decision Team brings their unique criteria – problems, fears, unique needs – into the mix creating the buyer’s voice and change management issues they must consider before they’re ready to make any change (including a purchase). It’s useless to ‘gather information’ until this occurs;
- Given politics, internal relationship issues, history, and future plans, it’s challenging for buyers to get buy-in from everyone involved. But the buy-in is necessary to ensure the status quo doesn’t implode with a new purchase or change.
I learned this as both a sales person and an entrepreneur. When Merrill Lynch hired me a stockbroker in the 1970s, I became a million-dollar producer my first year. But I couldn’t figure out why everyone with a need (especially those I had a great relationship with) didn’t always buy what I thought they needed. Where did they go?
When I started up my tech company in London in the 80s I realized the problem: as a buyer myself, my direct needs were often superseded by the social, political, organizational, and relational considerations I had to manage. When sellers came to pitch they worked hard to understand my needs and gave fine pitches but had no way to handle or understand the fights I was having with the Board, or the issues the distributor was having with their sales force.
Nor did the sales folks who visited me even try. But until I figured out how to handle those things, until I got buy in from everyone who would end up touching the final solution and heard their voices, I couldn’t buy or there would be damage to relationships and my business. And if these sales professionals had helped me figure out my confounding issues, they would have facilitated me through to a purchase.
The sales model, I realized was not designed facilitate the behind-the-scenes non-need-related issues I had to manage before I could buy anything. I realized that all the great content, all the lovely relationships, all the ‘needs’ I had that matched their solutions, were worthless if I couldn’t manage the off-line, ‘Pre Sales’ issues that would be involved if I purchased anything. So, “Yes” to need; “No” to Buyer Readiness. And the sales model has no way to address this outside of placing solutions, relegating sellers to finding the low hanging fruit – those who have already completed this activity without us.
I then developed a facilitation approach (Buying Facilitation®) for my own sales team to add to the front end of the sales model to first facilitate Buyer Readiness – the steps buyers had to take anyway: we began all selling and marketing by facilitating the stages and steps of the internal change management process first, instead of finding buyers with a ‘need’ or who were ‘ready’. After all, until they determined if they COULD buy they could never be buyers regardless of need.
Rule: the time it takes buyers to manage their off-line, idiosyncratic, systemic change issues is the length of the sales cycle. Once we entered first as facilitators to help buyers get their ducks in a row and manage their Pre-Sales and Buyer Readiness change issues, we were then able to get onto the Buying Decision Team early, lead buyers quickly through their unique decisions, and became great relationship managers. We were also able to end contact immediately with those who could never buy, find 50% more who could buy, and become true Servant Leaders. Our sales tripled and the time to close was reduced by two thirds.
The takeaway here for marketers and social is the recognition that we are largely ignoring the hidden, systemic issues going on within our buyers’ environments that are not available to outsiders yet fundamental for any change – or purchase – to happen. That is our Achilles Heel. And it doesn’t have to be. There are actually specific steps every group/person must take prior to being in a position to consider any purchase – and sellers, marketers, and social marketing can meet our buyers at any of these steps (so long as we eschew trying to sell anything).
WHAT’S THE ROLE OF CHANGE MANAGEMENT?
Buyers and followers don’t know their journey to change when they begin and hence take longer than necessary to figure it out. But figure it out they must. And we canhelp them, and make our value proposition our ability to be their GPS.
There are two elements of Buying Facilitation® that can be added to create a ‘pull’ that’s change- and decision-focused.
- Enter as a change facilitator. Instead of coding, noticing, tracking details that will help us guess at who’s reading, who’s a decision maker, where they might be in their sales cycle, etc. let’s begin listening for, and designing, tools to facilitate the movement along the decision path that change decisions goes through; let’s ensure the right people are all involved (some not so obvious) and address consensus-building. Currently we now listen for what we want to hear rather than listening for issues with decision making, change or the buyer’s protective need to carefully manage their status quo.
- Guide buyers through change management. Regardless of the type or size of the solution, buyers cannot buy until they are ready internally, and sales doesn’t have tools to handle systemic change management without bias. Facilitative Questions are a type of criteria-recognition and choice format I developed.
It’s possible to develop assessments, questionnaires, intelligent contact sheets, CRM tools that provide the capability to lead buyers and followers through the full complement of steps they must take, making it possible to send out just the appropriate data at the right point in the cycle, and facilitate the consensus and buy-in as they ready themselves for change. We can add these to the sales, marketing, and social models to truly serve our buyers and followers and close more. It will be an addition, and the results will enable stronger relationships and more conversions.
The problem has never been your solution – your products and services are great. The problem is in the Buying Decision process, not with the sales process: we overlook Buyer Readiness – helping buyers address their unknowable change issues (independent of need, and based on people, rules, relationships, history, etc.) so they can get their ducks in a row to buy anything. They have to do this anyway, with us or without us. So it might as well be with us, instead of us sitting and waiting for them to show up. By adding a facilitation tool directed at managing change before we try to sell, we can find more clients, and sell more, faster. And we can become true servant leaders.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation®, the generic change management/decision facilitation model that teaches Others how to buy, change, collaborate, negotiate, and implement with no resistance, with full systemic buy in, on their way to making a buying decision. She has trained 100,000 people worldwide, in global corporations (IBM, FEDEx, Morgan Stanley) and consulting firms (KPMG, Unisys). She adds this model to the front end of sales, change, decision analysis, leadership, and influencing. Sharon Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Best seller Selling with Integrity and 7 other books on sales. Read more articles on:www.sharondrewmorgen.com