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Steps in a Buying Decision

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:

  1. Assemble and get consensus from the appropriate people to determine if there is any agreement to making changes to your current site.
  2. 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.
  3. Find budget.
  4. Discover the criteria everyone needs to meet to agree to what success will look like.
  5. Get the buy-in from those whose work will be effected by the change.
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. go on line and research your competition’s site; call colleagues for vendor recommendations.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. meet with CFO (manages the Tech department). She opposes hiring external vendors.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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

  1. recognize and manage the problems with the CFO and tech guy;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. 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]

Finding A Prospect vs. Creating A Prospect

You place a call to get through to the decision maker.
You call to find someone who needs your product or service.
You try to get an appointment.
You analyze names to prospect based on demographics, company size, job title.

You’re Playing A Numbers Game

You’re trying to find those 10 leads out of 100 that will even consider a conversation in which you can possibly place your solution – and then you’ll close 5 of them if you’re lucky. But a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy. Unless a buyer is

  • sitting and waiting for your call,
  • seeking an external provider AND need one at that exact moment,
  • already convinced that none of their vendors or colleagues can manage the problem for them,

they will ignore or reject your outreach. You’re seeking a prospect who needs YOUR solution NOW. But what if they are buyers? What if you merely need to help them take the right steps that enable them to buy?

When you’re just calling to ‘get your foot in the door’ or get someone to talk so you can ‘ask a few questions’, or just to ‘educate’ or make an appointment, the only people who will respond are those already seeking a different solution than the one they’ve got in place now – the low hanging fruit. And off you go, merrily trying to convince, manipulate, or influence, finding the best way to get your solution sold. Yet by the time they’ve taken your call, you’re already in a competitive situation.

Those Who Won’t Speak To You Need You

But what about all of the others – the 90%+ who won’t speak to you? Do they not need your solution? Of course they do. But your approach precludes them buying anything. Those who are not speaking with you

  1. don’t want an appointment, or see the need for an appointment, or see the need to do anything different (regardless of whether they have a need or not);
  2. may have a recognized need but are getting push back from other stakeholders and don’t know how to manage whatever issues would face change once a different solution is brought in;
  3. may have a need but have not yet decided to use an external resource rather than a known vendor;
  4. have buying patterns different from your selling patterns and don’t like your approach even though they like/need your solution.

By focusing on finding a prospect who will hear you discuss your solution, willing to spend time to see you, or is willing to offer you data about their status quo, you are eliminating over 90% of those folks who could buy from you (regardless of whether you are selling a service or a product). And keeping yourself in a competitive situation.

People buy something when they cannot resolve a business problem AND they have gotten appropriate buy-in from those folks and departments who will be involved with a new solution (stakeholders – usually unknown to sellers) AND whose buying patterns match a seller’s selling patterns (Remember telemarketing? Their solutions were fine – it was their selling patterns that were problematic.).

People do not buy because you’ve got a great solution or a shining personality. The last thing buyers need is a new solution. They merely want a well-functioning system (culture, company, group). Buyers must have answers to these questions before they can consider bringing in a new solution (regardless of their need, the efficacy of your solution, or your delightful approach):

  • How will folks know that bringing in something new could add to what they are already doing and offer minimal disruption?
  • How can buyers be assured that a new solution will work with their current solution in a way that will cause minimal change management issues?
  • What sort of change issues would come up when your solution is implemented, and how does that effect the group, the company, the stability of the company policies and relationships?
  • How do buyers go about ensuring that everyone who must be on the Buying Decision Team (everyone – even those not obvious) is on board and able to add their 2cents to the discussion?

Needs Aren’t Defined Until All Stakeholders Define Them

Buyers must know the answers to these questions. Their decision to purchase goes well beyond what you might consider a ‘need:’ They need to manage these Pre-Sales problems with you or without you, and the sales model – a solution placement model – does not offer the real consulting expertise that addresses this. And the time it takes them to accomplish this is the length of the sales cycle.

When you first speak with a receptionist or a manager, they have no idea what the full extent of, or how to manage, these internal change and buy-in issues. Nor can they understand the parameters of their need: a the need can’t be defined until all relevant stakeholders define it.

To get in earlier, to become a real Trusted Advisor, to help buyers facilitate all of their necessary Pre Sales buy-in/change management issues and help them down the path that leads to purchasing your solution, add a new job to your sales activity: help buyers recognize and manage all of the internal issues they must address. Because until or unless they do, they will take no action to do anything different.

I’ve developed a model called Buying Facilitation® that works with the sales model to first find the exact right prospects and facilitate their Pre-Sales activities on your first call. Instead of seeking the low-hanging fruit – trying to find prospects at the moment they are ready or think they have defined their need – start off by helping prospects determine what excellence will look like and how to get their entire Buying Decision Team assembled. Remember: they won’t even understand the full extent of their needs until they do. So help them. It’s not about needs. It’s not about your solution. It’s about finding the prospects who WILL buy, rather than those you think SHOULD buy.


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]

Decision Makers vs. Influencers

I’ve heard there are 5.7 decision makers for each sale, and ‘unknown’ influencers. Yet there is no difference between ‘decision makers’ and ‘influencers’.

  • If you want to move and your daughter is in her last year of high school and prefers to stay behind to finish the year, is she a decision maker or an influencer?
  • If your tech group isn’t available to implement an important new program until they finish their current work, would the tech director be an influencer or a decision maker?
  • If your company is going through a merger and the teams haven’t been merged yet, would the director of the groups that need training be an influencer or a decision maker?
  • If you think some of your folks need coaching, would these folks be influencers or decision makers?

See what I mean? ‘Decision Maker’ and ‘Influencer’ are arbitrary delineations. Until everyone who will touch the final solution buys-in, and any ensuing change is managed, no buying decision will happen, regardless of how well your solution matches their need. Think about that when you ask for ‘The Decision Maker’ or believe that the one person who showed up to your appointment is ‘The Decision Maker.’ There is never just one unless it’s a small personal item. And by focusing on this person as ‘The Decision Maker’ you’re actually delaying your sale.

Years ago, when technology was new, a coaching client selling golf carts with new type of visual GPS systems once bet me $20 that his prospect, the owner of a golf course, was the sole decision maker. They’d been having lovely, personal, conversations once a month for a year and my client believed he would eventually close due to the strength of their phone ‘relationship’. He knew they had a need that his golf carts could address. I disagreed: it was obvious to me there was another decision maker in the background that hadn’t been brought in to the conversation. With permission, I placed a call to the owner. Here’s how the conversation went.

SDM: I’m training with William. Seems you two sort of love each other but I’m confused. William tells me you love his carts and find them quite revolutionary. And you’ve been speaking for a year. What’s stopping you from buying them?

O: I do love your carts. But my grounds-keeper would kill me if I bought any. He’s afraid that if the GPS system breaks down we’d run out of carts for the golfers. So it’s not my call.

My client put his $20 into my lap. He’d ignored the fact that that until everyone whose job would be effected as a result of bringing in a new solution became part of the buying decision, no purchase could be made. (BTW, following the above exchange, I used the Buying Facilitation® process and facilitated bringing the grounds keeper into the conversation. Two weeks later the sale was made. But as long as the grounds keeper was not being brought into the conversation, he wouldn’t have. Buyers only buy when they can solve a business problem without causing internal havoc, not because your solution is terrific.)

It’s possible to facilitate the buying decision process by helping buyers recognize all of the people who must buy-in to a purchase. It’s not always obvious to them. And this must happen before buyers can buy. Having a need is merely one aspect of their problem set. And as an outsider, you’ll never know who all of the decision makers are or what sort of internal decisions must be made that fall outside your purview.

Remember that a buying decision is a change management problem; the sales model does not offer the skills to facilitate the sort of non-solution-based systemic change buyers go through (behind-the-scenes politics, relationships, timing, etc.) Pre Sales, and their process delays/stops your 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 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]

Steps Along the Buying Decision Path

As sellers we are taught to find prospects with a need that matches our solution and then find creative, professional ways to pitch, present, entice, push, market, or somehow introduce our solution to enable them to understand how our solutions will fix their problem.

Unfortunately, we fail to close over 90% of the time (from first contact) regardless of how well their need matches our solution. And it’s not because of our solutions, our presentations/pitches, or our professionalism. It’s because the sales model does not include the skills to facilitate the larger part of buying decisions – those idiosyncratic, behind-the-scenes, change-management-driven processes that are private and we can’t be part of. Yet until they go through this process and walk through each stage of decision making and change management they cannot buy. They will do this with us, or without us. It takes much longer without us, hence a protracted buying decision and closed sale.

Facilitating Change Is Not Selling

I’ve spent the last few decades coding and designing new tools to help sellers facilitate the pre-sales decision path that buyers go through without us. Using Buying Facilitation® with sales, sellers get onto the Buying Decision Team, facilitate the time to decision making/close, and eschew competition. Here are the steps I’ve discovered are what buyers – all change – need to address. As you read them, note that facilitating change includes some unique skill sets (Listening for Systems, formulating Facilitative Questions/Presumptive Summaries, etc.), goals, and outcomes. Remember to ask yourself: do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities, necessitating two distinct skill sets. Sales merely handles one of them.

  1. Idea stage. Fred has an idea that something needs to change.
  2. Fred discusses his idea with colleagues.
  3. Fred invites colleagues to meet and discuss the problem, bring ideas from online research, consider who to include, possible fixes, and fallout. Groups formed.
  4. Consideration stage. Group meets to discuss findings: how to fix the problem with known resources, whether to create a workaround using internal fixes or seek an external solution. Discuss the type/amount of fallout from each.
  5. Organization stage. Fred apportions responsibilities, or hands over to others.
  6. Change Management stage. Meeting to discuss options and fallout. Determine
    • if more research is necessary (and who will do it),
    • if all appropriate people are involved (and who to include),
    • if all elements of the problem and solution are included (and what to add),
    • the level of disruption and change to address depending on type of solution chosen (and how to manage change),
    • the pros/cons of external solution vs current vendor vs workaround.
  7. Add needs, ideas, issues of new members; incorporate change considerations.
  8. Everyone researches their portion of the solution fix (online research—webinars, etc., call current vendors or new vendors etc.). Discussions include managing resultant change.
  9. Consensus stage. Buying Decision Team members meet to share research and determine the type of solution, fallout, possibilities, problems, considerations in re management, policies, job descriptions, HR issues, etc. Buy-in and consensus necessary.
  10. Choice stage. Action responsibilities apportioned including discussions/meetings with people, companies, teams who might provide solutions.
  11. Meet to discuss choices and the fallout/ benefits of each.
  12. New solution chosen. Change management issues incorporated with solution choice.
  13. New solution implemented.

The sales model handles steps 10-13. Marketing, marketing automation, and social marketing may be involved in steps 3 and 8, although it’s not clear then if the decision to choose an external solution has been made, the full fact pattern of ‘needs’ has been determined, or if the appropriate decision makers and influencers are included. Buyers muddle through this but we can enter earlier to help by adding new skills of facilitation.

I started up a tech company in London 1983-89 and developed Buying Facilitation® to teach my sales folks to navigate buyers through their decision path, change management, and buy-in BEFORE they began selling. We increased sales 5x within a month. I’ve been teaching this model (and coaching and consulting) since 1989 with similar results.

My book Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it discusses these steps and how Buying Facilitation® can work with sales and marketing to enter the buy path earlier. Note: adding the above stages to typical sales/marketing thinking, outcomes, and skills, will not benefit either sellers or buyers. This model is solely for the benfit of the buyer. It’s truly a change management skill that makes a seller a real consultant, and needs/solutions are irrelevant until buyers understand how any change will affect their status quo. Read the book 🙂


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]

Using Buyer Personas During Pre-Sales Stages

Buyer Personas do a great job targeting marketing and sales campaigns to reach the most probable buying audience. But it’s possible to make them even more efficient.

Here’s a question: Do you want to sell/market? Or have someone buy? The belief is that if you can sell/market appropriately – the right campaign to the right buyer with the right solution at the right time – buyers will buy. If that were true, you’d be closing a helluva lot more than you’re closing. Sure, Buyer Personas make a difference in your close rate. But it could be higher.

Currently, your targeted campaigns blanket probable audiences and find buyers at the exact moment they are considering buying, merely closing the low hanging fruit. It’s possible to enter earlier and facilitate (and influence) the complete buying journey.

Stages in the Buying Decision Path

Sales and marketing address activities surrounding solution placement: solution pitch details, solution features, etc., vendor details, gathering needs. But neither facilitate the entire decision path which constitutes issues beyond choosing a solution. Some might call these ‘Pre-Sales’ events. I call it the Buying Decision Path, along which sales is merely one of the entry points needed to close a sale.

Briefly, here are the stages buyers go through prior to purchasing a solution (Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it fully details each stage www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com):

1. Idea stage.

2. Brainstorming stage. Idea discussed with colleagues.

3. Initial discussion stage. Colleagues discuss the problem, posit who to include on Buying Decision Team, consider possible fixes and fallout. Action groups formed. Research begins. New Team members invited.

4. Contemplation stage. Group discusses:
a. how to fix the problem with known resources,
b. whether to create a workaround using internal fixes or seek an external solution, and acceptable type/amount of fallout from each,
c. people who would need to buy-in.

5. Organization stage.

6. Change management stage. Group determines:
a. if more research is necessary (and who will do it),
b. if all appropriate people are involved (and who to invite),
c. a review of all elements of the problem and solution,
d. the level of disruption and change management as per type of solution chosen,
e. the pros/cons/possibilities of external solution vs current vendor vs workaround.

7. Coordination stage. Review needs, ideas, issues of any new members invited aboard and how they affect choices and goals; incorporate change considerations for each solution; delineate everyone’s thoughts re goals and change capacity; appropriate research responsibilities.

8. Research stage. Specific research for each possible solution; seek answers to how fallout or change would be managed with each solution.

9. Consensus stage. Buying Decision Team members meet to share research and determine the type of solution, fallout, possibilities, problems, considerations in re management, policies, job descriptions, HR issues, etc. General decisions made. Buy-in and consensus necessary.

10. Action stage. Responsibilities apportioned to manage specifics of Stage 9. Owners of tasks do thorough research and make calls to several vendors for interviews and data gathering.

11. Second brainstorming stage. Discussion on results of data gathering including fallout/ benefits of each. Favored vendors pitched by Team members.

12. Choice stage. New solution agreed on. Change management issues delineated and leadership initiatives prepared to avoid disruption. Vendor contacted.

13. Implementation stage.

Buyers have to manage these stages (most of which are not solution- or problem-specific) with you or without you. Without being directly involved with behind-the-scenes politics or processes you’re left waiting, pushing product data, and hoping to be there they’re ready. And knowing the details of your Buyer Persona is insufficient.

Do you want to sell/market? Or have someone buy? Right now your efforts to sell and market are bringing in no more than 5% close rate (net). To become the vendor who truly helps buyers buy, to get an early leg-up on the competition and become part of the Buying Decision Team during the Pre-Sales process, sales (entering at stage 1) and marketing (entering at stage 3) can add another layer of skills, tools, goals, and touch points.

Buying Facilitation® is a Pre-Sales Management model that I’ve developed and taught for 30 years. It employs a specific quided approach to lead buyers through their internal politics and change processes, with profoundly different results from using sales and marketing alone. It uses neither sales nor marketing thinking: it employs a new form of question, a different type of listening, and a systems-thinking role consistent with true consulting. And then you can sell or market earlier and faster, to the right people.

I can teach your sales team how to become facilitators, or show your marketing team ways to design the right questions to help buyers traverse each stage of their unique buying journey. See more articles on www.sharondrewmorgen.com. Or call me: Sharon Drew 512 457 0246.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

Learn how to hear buyers effectively with Sharon Drew’s new book What? offered free, digitally at www.didihearyou.com.