There seems to be a confusion about the meaning of the terms buying decision journey, buying path, buy-cycle, helping buyers buy, and buying decisions. These terms define a specific set of sequenced actions buyers take to enable internal consensus and change – change management issues, if you will – rather than define steps that address needs or vendor/solution choice which come later and are the focus of sales.
I coined the terms in the 1980s to describe elements of a change management process I developed (Buying Facilitation®) that coaches buyers through their behind-the-scenes change issues they must handle before they can buy – a consulting process to help them get their ducks in a row. With sales folks applying the terms to the purchasing portion of a buyer’s decisions, the vital change management support element, the element that makes us real coaches and relationship managers, the element that finds and creates real prospects and halves sales cycles, is being lost.
Let’s go through a mock buying decision process to show you what has to get done by buyers before they, well, before they become buyers. And by-the-way, this is all fully flushed out in my book Dirty Little Secrets.
How Do We Buy?
Pretend you are the VP of Client Services of a $15 million company and find your current website inadequate for your growth and strategy. Indeed, you want to go around your internal tech folks and hire an external vendor with a new vision. You must:
- Assemble and get consensus from the appropriate people to determine if there is any agreement to making changes to your current site.
- Determine if it’s possible to fix what you’ve got (to save the time, money, human capital) or figure out how to work with the internal Tech folks if absolutely necessary.
- Find budget.
- Discover the criteria everyone needs to meet to agree to what success will look like.
- Get the buy-in from those whose work will be effected by the change.
- Create a path forward to enable buy-in, collaboration, win/win, and a minimum of risk/resistance/cost for everyone involved.
Here are all the steps you’ll go through to discover a solution everyone can get behind:
- start a conversation with some colleagues to discuss the current site. Mention your thoughts to the VPs of Sales and Marketing as you’d all need to share budget.
- go on line and research your competition’s site; call colleagues for vendor recommendations.
- talk with the internal Tech guys to discuss your displeasure and see what they’re willing to do differently, closer in line with what you’ve learned from your research.
- have a formal meeting with VPs of Sales and Marketing and the head of Technology (the 4 of you make up the foundation of the Buying Decision Team (BDT)) to discuss ideas to move forward and upgrade your site, including bringing in a web design vendor. Huge pushback from Tech who wants to keep it in house.
- contact a few local vendors to ask them to give you a presentation about web design so you can better understand what’s possible. You meet with them alone.
- meet with the BDT to discuss your take-aways from the vendor presentations. Everyone wants to do more research and decide they want to add branding, SEO capability, and a blog. Everyone has different needs for a new site; the Tech group wants it done in house.
- meet with CFO (manages the Tech department). She opposes hiring external vendors.
- meet with BDT. Long meeting to get consensus. Everyone has different needs: Sales wants to push solutions; Marketing arguing re the content, SEO, blog, etc.; Tech guys hostile and uncooperative and won’t discuss external vendors. All agree to bring in more folks onto BDT: HR, Project Management, Internal Consulting. Agree to get CFO’s permission to at least consider external vendors. Decision made to add ‘branding’ and SEO to the list of needs. Group decides to look at vendors again. They agree to go online to gather additional data on the newly added criteria re branding and SEO and agree to bring in additional vendors to present.
- same vendors come in and give same presentation to you but now Sales, Marketing, and Project Management are present. Additional vendors present branding and SEO capability. Tech folks, HR, Internal Consulting don’t attend.
- BDT meets to discuss presentations and possibilities. Majority decides to use vendors to do all the work rather than in house, but need buy-in from CFO. Tech guy resistant.
- some group members prepare a presentation to convince CFO to use outside supplier and add new capability. Head of Sales is chosen to get Tech folks on board.
- HR works with you to understand all levels of change necessary and who would be involved. You create a plan that highlights everyone’s needs, the problem areas, areas of overlapping responsibility, budget issues. You hand this out to the full BDT for comment and email discussion.
- meeting set up with the CFO and full BDT to present your findings and needs. CFO reaches a compromise: use the Tech team to do the programming; vendor to offer plans for the design, branding, and SEO. You agree to meet with the vendors to see who would be most capable of collaborating with the Tech group as they’d need to hand over, and work with, the Tech folks. You all agree that the Tech team – not you, who initiated the idea – will choose the vendor they think they can collaborate best with.
- vendor presentation meeting #3. New vendors call you to gather information (original vendors never called to see if there were any changes to the original criteria, or if there were a different lead internal coach). None asks about the split of the work, or the need for collaboration. The one vendor who discussed collaboration was chosen by Tech team.
This very simplistic and very normal decision path took a year in which the lead contact changed, the BDT members changed, the needs changed, the buying criteria changed. Happens all the time. And the sales model doesn’t manage this end of the buying decision path. We just come in at the end when all of the rest has been completed, or come in too early before the complete data set is agreed to or understood. Do you know what stage your buyers are at when you speak with them?
Sales Focuses on Needs and Solution Placement
Using just the sales model in the above situation, the potential vendors would enter too early to ‘understand needs’ or ‘get into the buyer’s shoes’, gather incomplete data (it wasn’t complete until Step 8) rather than facilitating discovery towards collaboration skills AND web design AND branding, plus addressing the CFO and Tech issues. And, the assumption would be that the entire Buying Decision Team – not fully formed until near the end – is already on board.
In this instance, sales is involved in steps 5, 9, & 14. As a seller, you’d give a great presentation, recognize a need, get along well with your contact, and assume you were ‘in.’ When you did your second presentation, you’d assume you were ‘in.’ And the rest is history.
If you used Buying Facilitation® this time waste could have been avoided for both you and your prospect. You would have begun your connection as a consultant, and on the first call helped the buyer
- recognize and manage the problems with the CFO and tech guy;
- design the make-up of the full Buying Decision Team assemble all of the appropriate people, and facilitate the discovery of the full set of needs at the very beginning;
- recognize all of the solution and change criteria the BDT wanted to meet as well as the change issues they would have to contend with;
- determine how to bring in a new solution and manage any change/budget/timing issues
and done a presentation only when everyone was there, in agreement, and a full understanding of what any work would involve. It all would have taken a month or two. And then you know what they will buy, when they will buy it, who to sell it to, and how to present it.
First facilitate the entire buying decision as a Buying Facilitator/consultant, then sell. Your sales will increase by an enormous percent and you will dramatically decrease your sales cycle. Remember: buyers have to do these things anyway, with you or without you. It might as well be with you. So add some new goals and thinking, and strap on some facilitation skills to add to what you’re doing with your sales model now.
This article is a minor examination of how to facilitate the buy cycle, buying process, and of how to help buyers buy along the full route of their decision path. For a more complete examination read Dirty Little Secrets or call me with questions at 512-457-0246.
About the Author
Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]