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Where is the real control in the sales process?

Monday, 23 November 2020

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Recently I listened while a coaching client pitched his solution precisely when he could have facilitated his prospect through the contingent issues she had to handle before she could buy anything.

SDM: Why did you pitch when you pitched?

CL: It gave me control over the conversation, and gave her the data she needed to understand why she should buy.

SDM: So what sort of control did you achieve?

CL: Now she knows how our solution will meet her needs.

SDM: Do you know if she heard you? Did your pitch convince her to buy from you? How do you know she knows she needs your solution? Has she assembled the appropriate folks to begin discussing problems or a need for change? Have they already tried a workaround that proved impractical and now must consider making a purchase? Have they resolved any implementation/user issues that a new solution would cause? Have they reached consensus?

You’re assuming a need before the buyer gets her ducks in a row: she can’t understand her needs until she’s handled her contingent change issues;  she can’t hear about possible solutions – your pitch – until she knows what to listen for.

Just because she fits your buyer profile doesn’t mean she’s a prospect. A prospect is someone who will buy, not someone who should buy. You spend too much time chasing folks who fit a profile but will never buy; you can’t recognize a real buyer because you’re only listening for ‘need’. And that stops you from finding those who will become buyers but may have not completed their buying decision process.

This prospect can’t do anything with your information – unless you got lucky, and found one of the few (5%) who have completed their groundwork at the moment you connect with them. Making a purchase is the very last thing people do once they realize they have a problem they can’t resolve and have gotten stakeholder buy in to make a purchase.

CL: I know what they need.

SDM: That’s not possible. She doesn’t know what she needs yet; she can’t until the full stakeholder team is on board and fully discusses all the angles of the problem. You don’t know her buyer readiness or if she’s representing everyone else involved or where/if the team is stuck somewhere along the Buying Decision Path. You don’t live with them; only they can amalgamate all of the voices, givens, change issues, or future considerations and come up with the full fact pattern of a ‘need.’ People merely want to resolve a problem, not make a purchase.

CL: But our solution is a perfect match for her needs.

SDM: Your solution might seem like that to you, but in fact it’s not yet clear what it seems like for her! Especially since not all the stakeholders are involved yet. She doesn’t even know the full fact pattern yet, not to mention she hasn’t gotten agreement from the Buying Decision Team. She’s got a lot of work to do before she’s ready.

Instead of first focusing on selling, start as an unbiased coach and lead her through the decision issues she’d have to handle before being ready to purchase anything. Put on a ‘change management’ hat before your ‘seller’ hat, and begin by facilitating her route through consensus and change. Then you’ll be there at the right time with real prospects and never waste time on those who can’t buy. You could even speed up the decision path and find those who would have bought later once they had their ducks in a row. I’m not telling you not to sell, but to facilitate the buying first. They are two different things and you need to do both.

CL: I have no idea where she is along her Decision Path. Isn’t that just price, vendor or solution choice?

SDM: Solution choice is the last thing she’ll do. She must first assemble everyone to design a solution that fits everyone’s needs and avoids major disruption. Folks would much rather maintain their status quo if the price of change is too high – and you can help her manage her change efficiently so she’s ready to buy.

She has to do this stuff anyway, so instead of waiting while she does it, you might as well facilitate her through, and be part of, her discovery process.

Giving her data too early doesn’t help: no matter how good or relevant your data is it’s useless until all stakeholders are on board, they’ve carefully determined they can’t fix their problem without some outside help, and they know how to bring in something new without causing major disruption. Until then, they win’t even accurately hear your solution details because they won’t consider themselves buyers.

This is the length of the sales cycle. Be involved early as a Buying Facilitator and have real control. Or keep closing the same 5% that show up as the low hanging fruit.

WHAT CONTROL DO YOU HAVE?

Focusing on understanding, and biasing material toward ‘needs’ is specious: we’re outsiders and can never understand the unique composition of anyone else’s culture that has created, and maintains, what you consider the ‘need’ and they most likely consider their status quo because they’ve lived with the problem for so long. Even if it looks like a ‘need’ to us, it might be business as usual to them and we certainly have no control over that.

As sellers or influencers, here’s what we’ve got control over: pitch, solution data, content, questions, listening biases, assumptions.

Here’s what we can’t control: The prospect’s internal ill-defined decision-making process; the assembly of the people, problems, vendor issues, interdepartmental politics, relationships, balance sheets, corporate/team rules; their history; what criteria a solution must meet; consensus and change issues.

Until buyers make sense of this they can’t responsibly buy. No matter how good our content, presentation, pitch, or marketing is, it will only be heard by those ready for it and then you’re playing a numbers game. By trying to control the elements YOU think should be involved, or offering information/content where YOU believe it’s needed, or even thinking you can serve them and offering data to prove you can help, you’re restricting successful outcomes to your bias of what you want to achieve and will sell to only those who match your restricted criteria.

You can only ever have an outsider’s superficial understanding. Folks who need your solution but haven’t completed their change work will be turned off, not hear you, not understand how you can help, regardless of whether they need you or not. Even offering a price reduction will only attract those who have done their Pre-Sales change work first. The cost of change is higher than your price reduction.

You have no control over others; mentioning your solution details doesn’t give you control over the Buying Decision Path; trying to provide value is meaningless because you gave no way of knowing what they might consider value.

You can, however, have real control by first facilitating prospects who are considering change in the area your solution serves, down their Decision Path to manage change and select a solution that includes you as the natural provider – or eliminate them quickly if it becomes obvious they can’t ever buy.

So your choices are to either wait for those who’ve completed their Decision Path to show up, call/chase enough people to find those who are ready, or become a Buying Facilitator and help the real buyers through their path quickly and shorten the sales cycle.

Use your need for control to facilitate them in discovering their own best solution, not manipulate them into using yours. Where they are the same, you’ll make an easy sale.

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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.