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Before any B2B buyer makes a solution choice they have to make a decision to change/buy. The time it takes buyers to determine and manage their criteria for change and ready their organization to accept the disruption your software will surely bring, is the length of your sales cycle.

The sales model is a solution looking for a problem

One of the biggest flaws with the sales model is that we mistakenly try to convince prospective buyers that they can be more effective with our solution when they’re not certain of their criteria for change.

You may have the perfect solution, but if the buyer doesn’t know how to align all of the pieces of their internal operation so everyone will be happy to change, they will do nothing. It’s not just a decision about the problem your product solves, it’s about understanding and managing all of the people, rules, policies and procedures that contains and maintains the problem.

Sales and Marketing ignore the people who could become buyers

Most marketing teams and sales reps are well positioned for finding and educating buyers that have a “need” and are ready to buy. Unfortunately, 97% of the leads that they uncover may have a need but the prospective buyer can’t figure out how to manage the change. They’re not ready to buy.

They can’t tell you their “needs” because all of the stakeholders haven’t weighed-in on their requirements, there’s no buy-in for change or the full decision team has not yet been assembled. Whatever “needs” the prospective buyer does tell you are limited by their access to the decision team and how deep the team has dug into the status quo and understood all the changes required.

When I ask reps how they handle these situations, it isn’t clear that they have a strategy to deal with buyers that are not ready to buy. And it seems to me that they’re asking all the right questions at the wrong time or with the wrong person and the answers they’re getting back are causing the reps to immediately disqualify some potentially good leads, prematurely.

Prospects are stuck on HOW to BUY not WHAT to BUY

As a seller, you will never understand all of the issues that hold the status quo in place or all of the history and internal politics that have prevented buyers from solving their problem. Whatever is holding it in place is way more powerful than any solution you can offer.

The problem is these prospects are stuck on HOW TO BUY not WHAT TO BUY. And until they work through their internal issues they’re not going to buy anything. It’s not about their need or your solution and pushing solution content, product information or challenging their actions/behaviors isn’t likely to help them resolve their internal issues any faster. And in many cases just causes resistance.

These early decisions are never revealed in an active sales situation. The reps can tell you all you need to know about how buyers chose one solution over another and customers will give you great user feedback. But if you want to find out what internal issues buyers wrestle with and how they make decisions, then you need to talk to buyers.

You need to talk to recent buyers!

It can be a delicate conversation to get recent buyers to share their buying experience openly without feeling manipulated or pushed. Asking leading or open ended questions that seek answers that we want to hear, coax the buyer in a direction that is often biased and risk missing the full range of accurate responses.

It’s not that buyers are trying to lie to you – the problem is when you approach these conversations with a need to know information you can’t help but pose bias questions. And bias questions get biased responses. You end up restricting the possible answers to a confined data set and buyers offer bad or incomplete information that you mistakenly take for truth. The best, well thought out questions, cannot extract good data.

How to conduct a buyer interview without bias.

When we conduct these interviews on behalf of our clients, we use one scripted question to get the buyers to open up about what happened the day they decided they could no longer live with the way things were working and finally decided to fix it. “Take me back to that point in time when you first decided to fix (the problem) and tell me what happened?”

For the rest of the interview, we follow along with the conversation and focus on the buyers criteria for change, which shifts the bias from our need to know information to the buyer’s true discovery and decision process. We never use scripted questions.

You should plan to interview at least 2 recent wins, 2 losses, 2 no decisions and 2 deals that did not involve your company or solution. Record the interviews and analyze the transcriptions for decision patterns and common priorities across the interviews. Once you’ve uncovered the patterns, you’re well on your way to determining the decision sequence that your buyers are following. The insight is pure gold!

Every buyer goes down the same path in order to discover their own purchase sequence. The decision insights that you uncover will fit within one of the following 3 critical steps:

Step 1. What are the hidden elements that caused and maintain the status quo?
  • Buyers need to understand everyone and everything that created the current problem and would potentially touch the new solution. How they got to where they are now, what’s missing and how the problem is being maintained? What initial decisions and priorities got them to where they are and are those reasons still valid?
Step 2. How can they fix the problem with internal resources and workarounds?
  • Before buyers can add any external solution, they must first confirm that they cannot fix the problem with their current staff, familiar vendors or the suppliers they’ve used in the past. There are usually a range of fixes available for problems and their internal group will have priority to provide a fix or workaround to “manage” the problem.
Step 3. How can they get internal agreement and buy-in to proceed?
  • Buyers need to get buy-in from all of the people, policies, rules and politics that would be affected by the change. They have to unravel all of the history and previous decisions; align current relationships, jobs, roles and responsibilities; deal with the political maneuvering and hidden agendas and maintain business demands and expectations before they will fully understand who and what will be affected by the new solution.

The length of time it takes buyers to uncover all of the internal decisions that they need to make and determine any fallout to the company, relationships, people and policies that change will incur and how to minimize it, is the biggest drag on the sales cycle and often the root cause of a no decision. The process never begins as a decision to make a purchase.

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