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? How do you know she knows she needs your solution? Has she assembled the appropriate folks to begin discussing problems or change? Have they already tried a workaround that proved impractical and now must consider a purchase? Have they resolved any implementation/user issues that a new solution would cause? Have they reached consensus? Or if they’re individual buyers, have they addressed their own internal change issues?
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 forgetting the work they must do to prepare for, decide upon, and get consensus for, a purchase. And that stops you from finding/creating those who can buy 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 who have completed their groundwork at the moment you connect with them.
CL: I know what they need.
SDM: That’s not possible. She doesn’t know what she needs yet. 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. Buying anything is the very last thing they’ll do, regardless of the need or the efficacy of your solution.
CL: But our solution is a perfect match for her needs.
SDM: Having needs is different from being ready, willing, or able to buy. She’s got a lot of work to do before she’s ready. Instead of first focusing on selling, start as an unbiased coach. Facilitate her route through consensus and change so you’re 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 enable/facilitate those who would have bought later.
CL: I have no idea where she is along her Decision Path. Isn’t that just price, vendor or solution type?
SDM: Buying 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 make it easy for her to manage her change so she’s ready to buy if possible. If it’s not possible for her to get consensus, you’ll know in about 10 minutes she’s not a buyer, so long as you stay away from discussing your solution. She has to do this stuff anyway.
Giving her data too early doesn’t help: no matter how good or relevant your data is it’s useless until they’ve carefully determined they can’t fix their problem without some outside help. 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?
As sellers or influencers, here’s what we’ve got control over: pitch, solution data, content, questions, listening biases, assumptions. Focusing on understanding and biasing material toward Marketing Mary’s ‘needs’ is specious: we’re outsiders and can never understand the unique composition of anyone else’s culture that has created, and maintains, the ‘need’ and would have to change to bring in something new.
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. Even individuals of small items go through this process in a simple way.
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, 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 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.
You can, however, have real control by facilitating prospects down their Decision Path to design their own change process that includes you as the natural provider – or eliminate them quickly if it becomes obvious they can’t ever buy. You can 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 Facilitator and help the real buyers through their path quickly and shorten the sales cycle.
They must do this with you or without you. 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.
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 New York Times Business Bestseller Selling 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]