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What, Exactly, is the Buying Journey from the Buy Side?

Monday, 30 August 2021

Buying and selling are two different activities. The Buy Side: People don’t want to buy anything, merely resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ to their system and become buyers when they’ve determined the expenditure to be less than the status quo. The Sell Side: Sellers seek to place solutions by finding those with a ‘need’ and having, promoting, and placing great content.

I suspect these differences cause some of the frustration sellers face when they strongly believe a prospect has a need but they’re not buying. Because the off-line journey people take on route to becoming buyers is change-based, not ‘need’ specific or buying-based yet, the sales model overlooks this portion of the Buying Journey at great cost.

I think we’re wasting a monumental opportunity to sell more, make more money, make more people happy, have fun at work, and truly serve our customers.

NEED ISN’T WHY PEOPLE BUY

Think about it: we sellers spend our time chasing ‘need’ – seeking a need, pushing data into an alleged need, and following up this mythical need – assuming ‘need’ drives buying. But just because someone has a need doesn’t mean:

  1. They want to resolve it.
  2. They want to resolve it now.
  3. They want to resolve it with our solution.
  4. They can’t resolve it on their own.
  5. They have the buy-in necessary for any resultant change management issues.

I joke that most of us need to lose 10 pounds or should eat healthier. But we don’t. Need has nothing to do with it.

And then there’s the perpetual assumption that a solution – when presented properly! – should be purchased if there’s a ‘need.’ Content marketing, intention marketing, demand marketing, are all based on pushing content because of this assumed need.

But there’s no uptake on the outreach regardless of seeming ‘need’ unless people have already determined they’re going to buy something. Usually we connect with them when they’re doing research along their route to discovery and change, and haven’t gotten all their ducks in a row yet. Until they do, there’s no way for us (or them!) to know if they’ll end up as buyers.

Indeed, with a need/solution-placement focus, it’s hard to distinguish between a real prospect and someone who appears to have a need but don’t buy. It certainly doesn’t convert people into becoming buyers. My motto has been: selling doesn’t cause buying.

I think it’s time sales includes an additional focus, an extended game plan. Think with me for a moment. We think and create techniques and apps for the Sell Side; we rarely consider the change and systems stuff (people, timing, policies) happening on the Buy Side that folks must address and have nothing to do with buying but could be influenced. I contend we’ll close a lot more by facilitating the Buy Side first.

People, as I said above, only want to resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ to the system. What if we helped them do what they need to do before we do what we want to do?

They have to do it anyway as we sit and wait and hope and cogitate about what we should say on our 4th voice mail. Instead of looking looking looking for that 5% who show up exactly when and where we’re looking for them, why don’t we join those who WILL be buying and facilitate their journey!

LET’S BE BUYERS

To help you better understand the Buy Side, I’ve written a case study that follows a typical tech buyer as he seeks to increase sales by possibly buying a new CRM system.

As you read it, notice how different the Buy Side is from the Sell Side and how murky it is when a ‘need’ filter is assigned. And notice how many of his activities, decisions, meetings, a seller can never be a part of but are necessary – hence the answer to the age-old question: Where do they go?

The buying decision, a ‘Buying Journey’, begins amidst the change and management issues needing resolution. Note that sellers can’t be part of this journey because Sell Side activities don’t match. There is, however, a way to join them on the Buy Side to facilitate them efficiently through their journey. But let’s start with Jim. Enjoy.

–      –   –   –

Jim is the manager of a sales team of 12 who use a two-year-old CRM system. Over lunch one day, he complained his sales were lagging. His colleague suggested he look into the new CRMs, that their functionality – tracking, organizing, prioritizing, segmenting – allegedly improved sales.

Problem detection and gathering stakeholders

Taking his friend’s advice, Jim invests time in online research seeking CRM systems that would match his team’s values. He fills out a few contact forms to get more data about them, maybe even a trial.

Jim calls a team meeting to discuss his frustration with the poor sales and asks them if they’d find a new CRM system helpful to sell more. Hmmm. Mixed: some like the one they’ve got, some want an upgrade with more functionality, and two don’t care so long as it’s easy to use and they wouldn’t need training.

As a follow up, Jim asks them each to send him a note about what functions on the current CRM they use most and why, which parts they don’t use and why, and what they would find beneficial if they could add functionality.

When the notes come back two weeks later Jim notices an interesting mix of uses. Some use the system to manage data, while others keep notes and track conversations. He wonders if the folks would use it more if it organized data differently, or maybe had more automatic tracking capabilities if there even was such a thing.

The responses bring up a question: would fixing the use of a CRM system actually improve his sales? Maybe a CRM system isn’t the answer. Maybe the folks need sales training, or communication training, even possibly supervision. He’s not even sure what’s missing. The team had hit their target numbers for so many years that Jim hadn’t noticed the problems now cropping up.

During his discovery process, Jim receives several emails (almost daily) from CRM companies sending him data and offering him deals. Three of them have already called him to pitch. But he has no idea what he needs yet and can’t even ask the right questions. He’s told them he’ll get back to them, but that hasn’t stopped their emails or follow up calls. He’ll probably begin ignoring the ones who are so persistent. Gosh, he sure would appreciate it if they were able to help him think through all the issues he must address.

Fixes and workarounds

Jim has just realized how many issues must be resolved and how little understanding he has of the full set of problems causing the lag in sales. He now needs specific data points. Maybe he’ll discuss this with the company’s inhouse tech guys in case they could be part of the fix. That certainly would be simpler.

Jim sends the team a questionnaire:

  1. What would new CRM capabilities enable you to do that you’re either not doing now, or doing some other way that takes more time?
  2. For those not using the current system much now, what’s stopping you? If you had different functionality would you use it more? Or do you just not like using a CRM system at all?
  3. Would you be open to learning a wholly unfamiliar CRM and start from scratch if new functionality will make it possible to sell more? Or would you prefer to have our tech guys upgrade the one you’ve got?
  4. Name two additions in functionality that would make your current CRM more effective for you. What would you be able to do better because of it?
  5. If our inhouse tech guys could provide new functionality in a decent time frame, would you be open to sitting down with them to find out what they could provide?
  6. Do you think a CRM system with more functionality would provide you the most helpful tool to increase sales? Or would you like sales training? Or communication skills training? Please write down your thoughts and suggestions.

Once he receives the responses, Jim meets with the team again to discuss. So many choices. Certainly new CRM capability is part of a mix of fixes. But when to upgrade? Until he understands the entire picture he can’t really make any decisions.

As he’s thinking and researching and meeting, Jim is now actively avoiding taking calls from the CRM folks. But honestly, he would welcome help thinking through his issues and calculating a possible timeline. The sooner he figures this out the sooner he can increase sales.

Team buy-in

Jim decides to let the team choose their options so there will be more buy-in to whatever new solution they come up with. He apportions research tasks among team members:

  • two will research different types of sales training;
  • three will look into different types of CRM systems;
  • three will make a list of the functionality the team would want in a CRM;
  • two will meet with inhouse tech guys in case reprogramming the current system is an option in a timely way;
  • two will research communication skills training.

When the team meets, they discuss the information gathered and consider:

  • which type of training would most efficiently improve their sales;
  • favorite additional functionality for the CRM system;
  • three favorite CRM systems;
  • three favorite sales trainings and communication skills trainings;
  • time frame of training program vs new CRM capability;
  • time frames and capability of inhouse techs to upgrade current CRM.

At the meeting the team decides they want listening training first, then sales training. The plan is to trial these new skills for two months after the training, then factor the resulting changes against their current CRM and see if adding anything is necessary.

Time to buy

Jim places calls to training vendors to make appointments to meet him and the team. He would have preferred to take action sooner, but he needed to muddle through all the issues involved or face resistance and non-use.

–      –   –   –

Jim’s journey led him to a solution he never would have considered at the start when he first noticed his sales problem. Not only that, the whole team is involved with the solution, surely a great sign that they’re committed to excellence.

One thing is clear to him: if he’d gone ahead with his initial idea to purchase a new CRM system without knowing the team’s real issues, he wouldn’t have discovered their need for further training, or a full understanding of usage issues, or the buy-in from the team for any change.

Some of the folks would have resisted anything new – certainly not used it – and sales would not have increased, not to mention he would have risked the trust his folks have in him as a leader. The way he’s gone about it they’re all on board with anything they decide.

THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

I assume that you recognize the difference between the ‘Buying Journey’ on the Buy Side, and how the sales profession views the ‘journey’ from the Sell Side. Notice how sales only sells to those who’ve completed their Buy Side activities which are at the end of their change management and decision journey.

In other words, the last thing people do is buy. These are the only folks who heed our efforts. Unfortunately we waste gobs of time trying to convince those who just aren’t ready when in fact they rarely notice, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.

I contend it’s possible to recognize who will be a buyer before they identify as buyers, then facilitate the Buy Side first with a change/decision facilitation focus and leave the ‘need’ and solution placement bits once they’re buyers. Saves a lot of time and resource wastage. And by starting with the need for change (i.e. rather than the ‘need’ for your solution) you’ll close 40% instead of 5% because you’re selling to those who have done their true discovery and buy-in work already and identify as buyers already.

And I’ve developed a model that actually does this and a book that explains it.

BUYING FACILITATION®

In 1985 I developed Buying Facilitation® to facilitate the Buy Side journey to Buyer Readiness when, as a successful sales professional-turned-entrepreneur, I realized that selling didn’t cause buying. Buying Facilitation® includes:

  • a new form of question (a Facilitative Question) that facilitates discovery (People don’t have the full data set until the end so gathering information too early doesn’t help either prospect or seller);
  • a stepped approach that facilitates people to through change and discovery to becoming buyers;
  • a model to listen for patterns rather than listen for ‘need’;
  • a way to enter a conversation as a decision facilitator first before a sales person.

After all, until people figure out what they need to figure out they’re not even buyers, and the time it takes them is the length of the sales cycle, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. People prefer to resolve problems in less time, but they can’t ignore the issues they must manage, or face disruption.

With Buying Facilitation® we can find those who WILL be a buyer on the first call and facilitate them through their decision and change issues and then sell – in one quarter the time. Imagine a seller saying this on a first call to Jim:

Hi. I’m Sharon-Drew with CRM Quality responding to your online query. You wrote that you’re seeking a new system to bring in more sales. Before I get into answering questions, I’m wondering how you’re currently addressing the change issues involved with giving your folks additional functionality or new skills?

Notice how this one Facilitative Question helps him understand you’re there to serve, avoids getting stuck in pitch mode, helps him actually begin to think through what he’d need to consider anyway, gives you a competitive advantage, and positions you as a true relationship manager as the two of you begin to traverse his change journey. And you’re not starting with sales because Jim is not starting with ‘need’. He is certainly not a buyer when he fills out online forms initially.

When we assume ‘need’ and send content, or pitch too soon, we can only attract those few at the very end of their process (the low hanging fruit) once all of the decisions get made. By then we’ve lost an enormous opportunity to discover and serve real buyers.

Discussing our content and following up (and following up) before folks have become real buyers is a great resource waste. The sales model ignores the real buying journey, causing us to close only that small percent who have completed it. It’s the reason we’re only closing 5%, when Buying Facilitators close 40% of the same population selling the same solution. So here’s the question:

What would you need to know or believe differently to begin selling wearing a decision facilitation hat to find folks early during their change/discovery phase and lead them through their decisions as they become buyers?

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? You know what happens when you sell. Maybe it’s time to get on to the Buy Side help buyers buy. Call me and I’ll help you figure out if it’s an idea your team can run with. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

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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. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.