Guest Blog: When Should a Seller Gather Information or Understand Needs?
Part 1 redefines buying thus: The process a buyer goes through to get their ducks in a row to manage all of the factors involved prior to, and including, making a purchase. It explains why the sales focus of seeking appointments, gathering information, offering solution data, and understanding needs doesn’t lead to a higher percentage of closed sales:
- you’re asking biased solution/problem-focused questions
- based on what you want to sell, and listening for problems you can resolve,
- that probably captures partial or incorrect data
- about problems that may not may not be recognized by the prospect,
- (someone who most likely doesn’t know or trust you) and
- may not represent the group of people who may or may not be the ultimate buyers
- who may only have partial knowledge of, or authority over, the final situation
- and may only partially represent a larger group
- who may not have officially assembled or reached consensus yet
- to seek answers they don’t yet have questions for.
You’re connecting with potential buyers who aren’t at a point where they can buy: regardless of your skill set, or the validity of the solution, questions or need, buyers can’t have useful data to share until
– whoever touches the final solution (Buying Decision Team) assembles and
– agrees to resolve a problem
– with an effective route to managing any change issues with minimum disruption.
Otherwise, even those who need your solution won’t take a meeting, speak with you, or possibly even know they have a need: the adjustments/consensus/change management necessary for making a purchase is so much bigger (regardless of the prize, size, or type of solution) than choosing a solution. To understand this better, read Part 1.
Sellers currently waste over 90% of their time trying to understand needs or gathering data (or seeking an appointment or presenting to ‘decision makers’) before a buyer would even know how to accurately respond to their questions. It’s like trying to guess a picture on a jigsaw puzzle with only 2 pieces visible.
Here’s a Case Study in which I used Buying Facilitation® (a model I developed to facilitate the pre-sales processes) with a global bank. Note: even though the buyer was the ‘The Decision Maker’ with the budget, there was a complex set of behind-the-scenes issues that needed resolution and wouldn’t have been uncovered had I begun by trying to understand his need or gathering information. In this scenario – as in most, even in a small sale – until the full Buying Decision Team was formed (many of whom my client hadn’t thought of including) and discussed their unique problems, the full set of needs couldn’t have been defined. And I would have wasted about a year and possibly never made the sale.
BANK: I’m the head of Commercial Banking at B Bank. I wonder if you can help. Our tech guys are creating a program for customers in our 4,000 branches so they can choose the most appropriate of our 200 products. Is there a way to add Buying Facilitation® to help them?
SDM: Sure. But what’s stopping your techies from wanting to do it themselves?
BANK: Nothing. They’re reading two or three of your books and trying to get the essence of Buying Facilitation® into their programming.
SDM: So how would your decision team know that working directly with me would give them a different capability than working with the tech guys using my books?
BANK: They wouldn’t. They would prefer to use the in-house guys.
SDM: So how would they know which route would best get their goals met effectively?
BANK: I would have to put together the Buying Decision Team so they could determine what they need to figure out. Would you be willing to have a conference call with them?
SDM: Sure. Who do you think should be involved?
BANK: We only need the Head of Technology I think.
SDM: Well, with 4000 branches [represents at least 40,000 employees] I bet HR might want to be involved.
BANK: Oh! We always forget her, and when we finally bring her aboard she creates havoc because she demands so many changes. Good to bring her in in the beginning!
SDM: And do you have user groups to represent the 4000 branches?
BANK: Ah. Let’s bring in the representatives of the two user groups.
Four days later we had a conference call that included: the heads of HR, Branches, Technology, Retail Banking, Commercial Banking, Training, Internal Consulting, and Marketing. During introductions the President of the bank got on the phone! He wasn’t a decision maker; he didn’t have a budget; he wasn’t part of the project.
BANK: What are you doing on the phone, Mr. X?
PRESIDENT: I saw all you heavy hitters on one call and wanted to find out what kind of trouble you were getting into.
During the call the President kept objecting: “I’m not letting you folks do that!” “What a mess that will cause!” I intervened with Facilitative Questions that got them to collaboratively think about how to manage that issue and move forward. At the end of the call I was firmly on the Buying Decision Team. I had not mentioned my solution; there was not enough consensus among them for them to understand their needs. I helped my prospect assemble the right people in 10 minutes (might have taken him a year), and then help them recognize the issues they needed to contend with before they could consider buying or changing anything.
FACILITATING THE CHANGE AND CONSENSUS FIRST
For a month emails went back and forth. I kept posing Facilitative Questions to help them figure stuff out. Within the month, they had consensus, decided what they needed and how they would move forward – with the blessing of the President. They then paid to bring me to the UK – and THEN I gathered information from the right people – all of whom were present and understood their needs – and THEN I made a targeted sales pitch to all of the decision makers! Without my expertise, the buyers would have been bogged down with their change issues and internal objections and the sales cycle would have taken more than a year. If they were ever going to buy, they needed to do this anyway: This is the stuff buyers do outside of our purview; we’re just not usually there when it happens.
I facilitated and expedited their change in the area that my solution would fit. It would have been inappropriate to pitch during the month-long decision facilitation process – they had no idea what they were going to buy, if they could buy, or if they couldn’t do it themselves. I would have missed the opportunity to help them get ready to buy, earn their trust, and understand the full complement of needs they didn’t initially know they had. I had nothing to sell until they had something to buy.
My job – which took me just a few hours for a 6 figure engagement – was to first facilitate their ability to change, and then buy.
I’m not suggesting you give up information gathering or understanding needs, although starting here gives you a paltry close rate and wastes 95% of your time. I am suggesting that you first facilitate the complete decision path (some folks call this pre-sales) – and then use sales. Buyers have to do this anyway, with you or without you. You might as well learn a new skill and stop chasing the low hanging fruit.
I’ve developed Buying Facilitation®, which is an add-on to the sales process to help buyers understand and collect their pre-sales decision factors. It includes a different set of skills than sales, including Listening for Systems, and uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question. Contact me to discuss training, coaching, and consulting: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell at www.dirtylittlesecrets.com or Buying Facilitation®. Or read my newest book What? on how to hear others without bias: www.didihearyou.com.