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What do Sellers Need to Understand – and When?

Submitted by on Monday, 19 October 2009

question-mark-clockAs a sales professional, you learn early on that your need to ‘understand’ a buyer. But what, exactly, do you need to understand?

On the sales end of the equation, you NEED to understand the prospect’s situation to make sure you are placing the appropriate solution in the right place. This same data will give you ability to fine-tune your presentation and pitch to ensure the buyer understand how your solution will fit in their environment. You also need to understand the buyer’s vision, and criteria for Excellence.

There is no way to truly understand anything else.

I know I”m bucking up against some resistance here, but hear me out. You will never understand the private, idiosyncratic issues going on within the buyer’s environment. You might ask questions about these things, hoping you’ll glean enough data to help you target your pitch. But if that worked, you would have closed a lot more sales. And, an outsider can never understand what is really going on inside of anyone else’s situation. There are relationship issues, company politics, history, working relationships, ego issues, rules, vendor issues, partner issues. An outsider can never ‘grok’ the import, the nuance, the residual feelings, the unconscious biases, that go on between people…especially people you don’t know and in groups you aren’t a part of.

I’ve been writing and speaking about the off-line decision issues for decades. This last year, folks are beginning to talk about them and start using the terms I’ve been using all along. Yesterday I got a cold call from a local vendor who actually had something I might be able to use. As the call was ending, I said I didn’t have the bandwidth to think about it now (book launch took over my time) but I’d take his number and call him when I was ready. He then said to me: “Can you please tell me when you’re going to make a decision?” I smiled, knowing he was probably told by a manager to start ‘finding out’ about people’s decision making (and knowing that my work had finally come into the mainstream of sales thinking) and didn’t have a clue what it meant or how to go about it.

Here is the rest of my conversation with the sales guy:

SDM: What will ‘knowing when I’m deciding’ give you?

Rep: What? I just need to know.

SDM: Why?

Rep: If you’re not going to be deciding within a month, I’ll call you back. Would a better question have been: Can I put you down for an order in a month?

This is a real conversation. Did the seller need to know when I was deciding? What would he have done with that data? What did he expect that question would do…make me commit? He never managed my issues: What did I need to know? How was I going to choose to buy?

Imagine if our new jobs as sellers include helping buyers understand how they will line up their internal, off-line decision issues – the people that need to be involved, the historic issues that must be resolved, the buy-in that must be encouraged – that need to take place so they are free to choose a solution. Not the issues involved with a purchasing decision, necessarily. Often, the internal issues have absolutely nothing to do with the buyer’s need, yet they must be handled.

Here is a simple way to look at the new skills I’m suggesting: in the first stages of the buyer’s decision making – you know, that behind-the-scenes part that we are not privvy to  – buyers are unfamiliar with the steps they need to take as they lurch toward solving a problem. If you could take the part of a GPS system and just offer coordinates for choice, the buyer (driving the car that the GPS system is not involved with) would easily find where they were going (they must drive alone, and watch the scenery that you can’t see) and you could be there at the end with the solution.

We can’t understand the exact specs of a solution until the buyer has traversed the journey. Knowing ‘how they buy’ or ‘how they decide’ won’t help the buyer choose you. Add Decision Facilitation to your sales skills. It will make your job easier to not have to understand so much at the front end, and save it for the back end when the buyer really can hear about, and use, your solution.

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Check out my new book: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what to do about it. Read two free chapters, testimonials, and much more. Then buy the book.

Or consider purchasing the bundleDirty Little Secrets plus my last book Buying Facilitation™: the new way to sell that influences and expands decisions. These books were written to be read together, as they offer the full complement of concepts to help you learn and understand Buying Facilitation™ – the new skill set that gives you the ability to lead buyers through their buying decisions.

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