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Understanding Needs Does Not Close a Sale


Guest articles > Understanding Needs Does Not Close a Sale


by: Sharon Drew Morgen


This past week I placed 700 cold calls. That’s right. Seven hundred. Count ‘em. I have been seeking visionary sales training managers that have interest in licensing new program content (Buying Facilitation or Facilitating Buying Decisions) and it’s impossible to find visionaries through mainstream marketing. So I called. And called.

I learned a lot: 1. how I felt by 4:00 in the afternoon – exhausted, annoyed, mischievous, and vaguely victorious – as a telemarketer; 2. how sales leaders – VPs of Sales, Sales Managers, and Heads of Sales Training – perceive their level of success in relation to how they decide to add course titles; 3. how much willingness corporations have for exploring out-of-the-box material.

Interestingly, of the 200 people that I actually got to speak with, I heard the same thing over and over again: “We are Relationship Managers. We truly care about giving our customers great products, great service, and fair value. We take time to understand their needs before we introduce our products, and only offer product data if we think we can help.” All said with a somber tone to convey the basic belief that they teach the skills that exhibit care and connection, problem-solving and information gathering. I heard those sentiments close to 100% of the time.

Lovely. Except it doesn’t work. Each of them said that they were still closing less than 10% of their prospects (from first prospecting call to closed sale). Therefore, they must assume that what they are doing, and the commensurate results, is successful. So that’s what success looks like.

Relationships don't create a purchase

The real question is what is going on here? Wanting a real relationship with your customer and caring about their needs is like Mom and Apple Pie: you can’t argue with that sentiment.

But let’s get some reality here:

  1. if that plan of action were successful, they’d be closing a lot more than under 10%.;
  2. everyone is doing the same thing. Every. One. That means that everyone is being nice-kind-smart-caring-service oriented. That means that you are no longer differentiated. And if you can’t differentiate by being nice-kind-smart-caring-service oriented, what does that leave? Two things: a. price. If everything looks the same, the only differentiator becomes price. b. personal preference. You have to find THAT prospect that you hit it off with really well (i.e. your selling patterns match her buying patterns). Yet if personality is the deciding factor, you better go out and visit lots of people to find those whose personality is similar to yours.
  3. understanding the buyer’s Identified Problem is only a small fraction of the route toward a buying decision, and a secondary one at that. Not to mention that the seller will never understand the full range of unique, internal issues the buyer needs to manage before being able to buy. Problem solving questions certainly don’t teach the buyer how to examine those areas beyond the bounds of the Identified Problem that have gotten them, and keep them, where they are at and would need to be reconfigured before change can take place.
  4. an outsider will never, ever understand the full range of elements that buyers live within: before they can make a purchasing decision they must manage and shift the elements that created their status quo, or Identified Problem.
  5. sellers can’t have a ‘real relationship’ with a prospect. It takes time, history, activity, and agreement of mutual benefit. Everyone knows that sellers begin ‘relationships’ as a way to show the prospect that they are ‘nice’, trustworthy, able to sell product, and keep customers happy: there is no real ‘relationship’ – certainly not one at the prospect phase that would cause a prospect to make a purchase from you, rather than another vendor, unless your price is as low as your competitor and they like you better.

It's bigger than understanding the problem

To help you understand that there is a much larger picture operating here, let’s look at a prospect calling in with a very simple ‘need’ that would be defined as an easy sale.

Let’s say you sell desktop computers. The buyer is calling for data to possibly purchase one computer for an in-house group of techies. Seems like a simple sale. The buyer goes away and will call you back. Given it appears so simplistic, what is he waiting for? Maybe the prospect has a political decision as to where to seat the new recruit – with the others in the tech department? or to break ranks and put the new person with the department that he’ll be working with? Maybe it’s a logistics decision: the prospect isn’t sure if the new person will get the new desktop, or take an old one, and one of the older programmers will get the new machine as a perk. Maybe there is a budget decision going on: who will pay for the computer - the tech department, the user department, or the R&D department?

Are you getting the point here? Being able to sell the right computer at a good price and caring service is not the issue. Oh, certainly, it’s one of the issues that will help the final decision get made and help the prospect choose between vendors. But it’s not part of the foundational deciding factors. The prospect must first manage internal issues.

Even if you had some personal preferences to how they might manage their political, logistical, or financial decisions, you can’t make their decisions for them. Outsiders don’t have that type of power or credibility. Not to mention that even if the insiders shared the history of what has happened until the present, an outsider couldn’t manage the deep- seated politics and relationships that would need to be addressed.

Going for the Relationship, working at Problem Solving, and Understanding Needs doesn’t manage the buying decision process, although those skills will help with the final closing process. First your buyer must manage their internal issues and get buy-in. Otherwise, even bringing in something simple like a new computer can cause disruption. And the time it takes buyers to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle.

Of course you care about your customers, but I think that means something different. For me, caring about your customers means helping them solve their business problem more efficiently. That’s all they want. They don’t want your relationship. They don’t want your product. They don’t want you. They merely want to solve a business problem.

Helping buyers attempt to resolve a problem by Problem Solving and Relationship Management and Understanding Needs is your way of Placing Product. It’s not caring about your customer.

Helping buyers choose you

Surely there must be easier ways for buyers to choose you than to try to convince them that you, better than the others attempting to do the same thing, are their Relationship Partner.

Sales, as a model, has been used to Place Product and Problem Solve. The means to do this has been to Understand Needs. You’ve gotten extremely good at doing these things and your company has done a great job giving you good, branded, well-positioned and priced product to sell. But you are still closing only a fraction of the sales you deserve to close.

Why not use sales as a means to support the buyer’s decision making?

Until now, having unbiased tools to help your buyer manage their own internal, idiosyncratic, systems-based decisions (that have actually created the Identified Problem as it appears) has not been part of the sales model, nor has it been in the consciousness of the industry. The entire industry has assumed that if a seller can find the right prospect, with the right problem that fits with your solution, there should be a match.

You have been trained to ask great questions to Understand the Problem, but you fail to recognize that you are asking biased questions as if the Identified Problem is an isolated event. It would be like asking what the person in the computer example above what she would do with the computer or how much memory is needed, but not asking how she’d know to choose one provider over another given that competing products were so similar.

With just a few Facilitative Questions up front, you can easily direct the buyer to all of his decisions, prior to discussing product or needs. Now, you

can’t go any further than the data you are being given. And let’s face facts: your questions are biased toward solving what your product can resolve, and your questions don’t help the buyer recognize the full range of issues they encounter every day within the system they live within (the people, policies, relationships, strategies, vendor criteria, etc.).

Facilitate the decision process before offering solution

Buying Facilitation codes the process that buyers must go through as they make the necessary decisions to seek an external solution. It’s not problem solving, product placement, or understanding needs. It’s decision facilitation and a different part of the sales process to the one you’re currently focusing on.

Until or unless a buyer can recognize and manage their internal elements that created the problem and that hold it in place, they cannot make a purchasing decision. It would be like giving a youngster a brand new car the day following a drunken smash-up: until you all get to the root cause and learn how to manage the Identified Problem through change, any attempt to resolve the situation would create more disaster. And finding out what type of car the kid needs is moot until that happens.

Buying Facilitation will give you the vehicle to be a real Relationship Manager. What elements created and maintain the status quo? What is keeping it in place? What has stopped it from being resolved already? Who needs to lead the internal ‘pack’ toward the new behaviors or decisions they will need to make to adopt something new? The buyer needs to know the answers to these questions. You don’t.

The most difficult thing for you is to recognize that the prospect needs to Understand the Problem. You need to act as a neutral navigator through their examination process at the front end of the sales process. First support the buying decision, then problem solve, understand, and place product as you support the product decision which will naturally follow.

You knowing how the problem got where it is now will not help the buyer make the internal shifts necessary toward resolution:

You can’t make the buyer’s decision for him;

You don’t have the internal relationships, the history, the team trust to effect change.

You are an outsider, and until you are hired by the prospect, you will never fully understand anything more than the area immediately around the Identified Problem.

You won’t be able to tell the CEO that he hired the wrong people, or needs to shift departments heads, etc. unless you are an Executive Coach and are paid to do this;

You won’t be able to address the entire decision team and get them to change direction, disconnect relationships, or fire the current vendor unless you are an internal change-management consultant getting paid to do this.

Unfortunately for you, the buyer just has to do this part alone. But you can help define the structure of the process for them. Not to mention that the buyer will have all of the answers and then be able to make a purchasing decision in half the time, without a price criterion. You helping the buyer know these things for himself will encourage the trust you have been seeking by Problem Solving, Understanding Needs, and Placing Product.

Add Buying Facilitation to your skill set. Start with the ebook Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions as a way to understand all of the decisions buyers need to make before they’ll buy. Consider taking a training that will teach you how to help buyers make and manage their decisions. Then add the new skill to your sales model. It will give you the ability to manage the sales cycle as an outsider who has both the skill and care to be a real Relationship Manager.

Would you rather sell? Or have someone buy?


Contributor: Sharon Drew Morgen

Published here on: 20-May-07

Classification: Sales



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