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Buying Patterns: what are they, and how to influence them

Monday, 1 February 2021

Have you ever wondered why people don’t buy, even when it seems your solution is perfect for their needs? Have you considered that maybe your Selling Patterns don’t match their Buying Patterns? Or that they don’t have the ‘need’ you think they do?

With a focus on finding people with a need that is resolved by your solution, sellers overlook two very important factors in the buy/sell equation:

    1. people don’t become buyers until they’ve determined they cannot resolve a problem themselves and
    2. the ‘cost’ of a purchase must be equal to, or less than, the ‘cost’ of staying the same.

A purchase is a change management problem well before it’s a solution choice issue. And ‘need’ may have little to do with a purchase.

DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?

As they seek to resolve a problem, people go through an internal, systemic process of managing change that determines whether or not they can buy anything. Sales doesn’t address this to their detriment, connecting with people only once they’ve determined they’re buyers.

By overlooking the possibility of facilitating folks to first manage their change, we not only omit the possibility of connecting with the people who WILL buy when they are ready, but restrict our pool of prospects to those who show up. The problem is until they’ve addressed their change they aren’t yet buyers and can’t hear or heed your message, even if they need it.

Think about this: instead of trying to motivate a sale by pushing content, or lowering the price; or wondering why your prospect isn’t returning calls or in the pipeline for so long; or thinking they’re in pain; help them do the Pre-Sales work they must do before they become a buyer. You’re waiting (and calling, and calling) anyway. Might as well use a different skill set and help them where they most need help.

Here’s the takeaway idea: Enter as a change facilitator, help the folks who will be buyers (easy to spot with a change hat on rather than a sales hat) manage their change, and then you’re part of their team once they’ve become buyers.

Helping people who may become buyers is a very quick process, far quicker than trying to sell those few who are ready and wasting time pushing out content to the rest.

In this article I will introduce you to the steps, the Buying Patterns, people go through en route to buying anything, regardless of need or the efficacy/size/price of the solution.

I’ve spent years unpacking these buying decision steps after I personally went from a seller to a buyer. There is a sequence of 13 steps people take between discovering a problem and choosing/buying a solution. But first let me explain why the sales model doesn’t facilitate buying.

WHY PAIN & NEED ARE IRRELEVANT

There are two approaches sellers operate from that actually limit success: seeking folks with a ‘need’, and believing they have pain.

Let’s take a look at the fallacy of a ‘need’ criteria. Do you need to lose, say, 10 pounds? You have a need, yet you haven’t resolved it. What about getting more organized? Or exercise more?

People don’t buy based on need. They may have a need they’re not ready to resolve, or circumstances make it difficult, or colleagues that have different ideas or or.

If adding an external/new solution causes too much disruption they will not buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. They must weigh all the issues involved – most of which are historic and unique – and get buy-in from the stakeholders before any action is taken or not. And using the sales model, there’s no way to get inside the mind of a would-be buyer to help them.

Now let’s look at pain.

I don’t understand why ‘pain’ is so often paired with why/how buyers make buying decisions. Indeed, the ‘pain’ issue has been invented by sellers who assume potential/targeted buyers would function better if they bought the seller’s solution, and by not buying they’re obviously in pain. This is bogus.

As outsiders we have absolutely no idea what’s going on in someone’s environment. It might not be pain at all, but a very cogent decision that works for them and we’ll never understand.

David Sandler called me in 1993 to buy me out before he died. He said he’d made an error stating that ‘buyers are liars’ and saying ‘buyers are in pain’. Once he understood my thinking he realized that the problem was in the tenacious focus of placing solutions and the ommission of facilitating the necessary buying decision/change management process.

“I thought I had gone outside the box with Sandler Sales; I realize now I was still considering sales from a solution placement perspective. I didn’t understand how far outside the box I needed to go to include the buying decision process. Good job, Sharon-Drew.”

CASE STUDY

Here’s a simple story to explain what’s going on behind the scenes, and how little it’s got to do with what a seller is selling, need, or pain.

In 1995 I was running a Buying Facilitation® training at IBM. One day my client asked me to help enlist a new Beta site for one of their new systems. There was a small ‘Mom & Pop’ shop (i.e. family run business) located nearby, and from their records they knew this company was using a system far too small for the growth they’d incurred over the past years, causing very slow response times.

Letting them have a free new system in exchange for IBM having them close by to test would be a win/win. But even after two sales folks had visited them with the promise of a new, free, system that would substantially speed up their response times, the company had no interest. Could I get them to become a beta site? Here was our conversation:

SDM: Hi there. I’m a trainee calling from IBM and have a question for someone who is using your computers.

SON: Hi. I’m Joe. I’m one of the owners. Maybe I can help.

SDM: Thanks. I wonder how your current system is running?

SON: It’s ok.

SDM: I know our folks were out there offering you a faster system to beta and you weren’t interested. I’m curious now what’s stopping you from upgrading your current system to be better than OK?

SON: Dad.

SDM: DAD? I don’t understand.

SON: I know our system is very very slow. But my father is in charge of the technology here, and he’s 75 years old. He’ll be retiring in a year or so, and I don’t want to overwhelm him with learning anything new. So I’ll make whatever changes necessary after he leaves.

SDM: Ah. So what I hear you saying is that your main criteria is not to overwhelm Dad and don’t mind how slow the system is in the meantime.

SON: Right.

SDM: You already know we want to give you an upgrade in exchange for being a beta site for us. From what I know about it, they’ve made it very simple to use and easy to learn. Maybe you and Dad could visit another beta site here in Rye to see if Dad likes it and finds it easy to use? I’d be happy to pick you up and take you there. And if Dad is happy, then maybe you’d be comfortable accepting it to beta test for us?

SON: Oh. I wasn’t aware we could do that. Your colleagues were trying to sell me on the features of the new capabilities, and that wasn’t my main problem. Sure, Dad and I would be willing to go to the beta site. Thanks. Having a quicker response time would be great for us if we could make that happen and Dad is comfortable with it.

The sellers used ‘features, functions, and benefits’ as their Selling Pattern; there was no way an outsider could guess that Dad was the problem that had to be solved. Offering a needed product or cheap price (free) details were moot. And so long as the seller focused on the sale, on the need, on the pain, there was no buy.

A BUYING DECISION IS SYSTEMIC AND STRATEGIC

A buying decision is a change management problem well before it is a solution choice issue. People don’t want to buy anything; they want to resolve a problem in the least disruptive way.

Indeed people only become buyers when they’re certain they cannot resolve the problem using familiar resources, and explore every avenue to fixing the problem themselves first. Buying anything is the very last thing people do.

Think about it. Before you buy a new CRM system, for example, you don’t begin by buying a new system: you begin by meeting with the managers and users to determine why the current system is problematic; trying to get the current one fixed; finding workarounds to try to resolve the problem easily; and making sure that there’s a process in place to manage any user, technology, training, time disruption that might come with bringing in new technology.

Again, buying anything is the very last thing that happens. By overlooking Buying Patterns, sellers automatically restrict their full set of prospective buyers.

Obviously when it’s time to buy, buyers take very specific actions as they choose one solution over another, choices based on price, reputation/brand of the solution, decision makers, etc. This is when the conventional sales model kicks in. But selling doesn’t cause buying.

STAGES OF BUYING PATTERNS

Here are the Pre-Sales stages folks go through as they become buyers:

What’s the status quo? Whats’ missing: until or unless every element of the status quo is understood, buyers cannot identify exactly what’s missing. In the Dad example, what was missing was not the computer issue, but the ability to have Dad learn how to support a new one; a delay in purchasing new software is most likely not a technology issue, but might be a recent reorganization, or a merger, or a change in leadership. And an outsider can never, ever understand because they’re, well, outsiders. This stage includes meetings, research, identifying stakeholders.

RULE: a seller can facilitate someone through the process of recognizing the full fact pattern of givens within their status quo, including the people, culture, and rules, to help them learn what is keeping them from having an optimal environment. Guesswork is detrimental because it’s such an idiosyncratic process. Using these steps, sellers can get out of the guessing game and merely facilitate the change.

Gather the full set of stakeholders: until or unless everyone involved with creating the problem and touching a new solution is brought in the full problem set cannot be understood. Everyone’s voice must be included – Dad, and Joe in accounting. This stage includes meetings to determine who will touch the final solution and agreement as to how to involve them.

RULE: a seller can facilitate a prospective buyer through a discovery. Until all folks who will touch the final solution are included, there is no way for them to understand their needs. Speaking with anyone about needs before this is a waste of time (i.e. all those names on your call back list and pipeline].

Try to fix the problem with workarounds: until it’s fully understood that the problem cannot be resolved with anything that’s already been accepted by the culture – other departments or items, familiar vendors or products – and all workarounds have been tried, they will never consider buying anything as it will be disruptive to the culture. This stage includes internal research, and delegating folks to outreach for familiar resources: can our old vendors fix this? Can the other department help? Until a workaround is dismissed, there will be no initiative to make a purchase.

RULE: people always begin by trying to fix the problem themselves. Sellers can help here: What’s stopping you from using the vendors you used last year? Have you tried getting help from other departments? Either you help them through this, or sit helplessly while they do it themselves as you continue to think they’re prospects and put them in your pipeline. In reality, this is the simplest stage.

Managing change to avoid disruption: once folks agree

  1. They have a problem that all stakeholders have fully defined;
  2. They cannot fix it themselves;
  3. The ‘cost’ of a purchase is manageable;

then it’s necessary to go ‘outside’ for a solution.

The cost of the new must be calculated against maintaining the status quo. When they figure this element out, they’re ready to choose a solution. This stage includes lots of research within the group/company/family to ferret out problems that change would incur, and figuring out the human, time, money, strategic, costs.

RULE: facilitate people to recognize what might be in jeopardy if something new is brought in. Until they weight the risk between the status quo vs a fix, and can calculate that bringing something new is has a lower cost than maintaining the status quo, they cannot buy anything as the risk is too high.

Choose a vendor/solution: This is the last stage – where sales now enters! Once it’s calculated that it will cost less to bring in a new solution than maintaining their status quo, AND there is buy-in from the stakeholders, AND they know how to integrate the new with minimal disruption, they become buyers. This is the low hanging fruit. These folks are ready for a pitch! This stage involves sellers pitching, content marketing, website design, etc.

SALES VS FACILITATING BUYING PATTERNS

I always ask sellers: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. Buying has nothing to do with pain, or the marketing efforts, or the pitch deck, or the product. You’re products are great.

The problem is you’re only focusing on those who already show up as buyers and ignore managing the full set of Buying Patterns of the far larger group of real prospects. My clients close 40% against the control group that closes 5% selling the same solution. But not by starting with the sales model.

As a frustrated sales person, I developed a new model called Buying Facilitation® to identify and facilitate steps of change, choice, and buy-in as a servant leader. Following these steps it’s possible for sellers to assist people in navigating the journey first with no bias, before trying to sell anything.

This sequence – Buying Facilitation® first, sales second – ensures you’ll find (and quickly close) a much larger number of people who WILL buy (rather than those who SHOULD buy) and keep you from wasting time on those who will never buy (but you think they ‘should’ because you think they’re ‘in pain’). My clients who use Buying Facilitation® close, on average, 40% selling the same product as the control group that closes 5%.

People who will become buyers must go through this process anyway, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. But they do this without us, as we wait, hope, push, and pitch, and lose an opportunity to both serve and differentiate ourselves.

Instead of the time and resource we use pushing content, why not use a different skill set (i.e. Buying Facilitation®, or some form of facilitation model that manages change) first to help them become buyers.

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Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). 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.