Try Walking A Mile In The Buyer’s Shoes!
Salespeople know that they must understand the buyer’s needs before proposing their solution. To do so they are advised to ask better questions and above all to talk less and listen more.
However the challenge is that to really understand the buyer’s needs requires a lot more than a few questions and a little bit of listening.
To get an intimate understanding of how the organisation will buy requires great skill on the part of the salesperson. It requires that the seller is invited inside the buyer’s camp – something that is increasingly rare and requires transitioning from salesperson to trusted advisor.
Do You Have The Full Picture?
Indeed, to understand the full complexity of the purchase requires that the salesperson ‘walks a mile in the buyers shoes’. Otherwise they are at a disadvantage in terms of being able to recommend a solution.
Reading news reports of the banning of bull fighting in certain parts of Spain, brought to mind a proverb with much relevance in this context:
‘It is not the same to talk about bulls as to be in the bullring!’
The reality on the ground in the buying organisation is more complicated than the black and white of the analysts report, or salesperson’s factfind. Buyers tell us that most salespeople don’t really understand what is going on in the buying organisation. In many cases they simply cannot, given their level of knowledge, experience and skill.
From The Outside It Appears Deceptively Simple
To the salesperson the buying decision is a relatively straight-forward one, particularly for those with a strong belief in their product/solution. To the buyer the straight-forward solution often indicates that the salesperson does not understand their needs.
That is why buyers often cast a jaundiced eye over the analyst statistics, magic quadrants, and best practice guides waved before them by vendors. As one buyers said to us recently ‘there is the ideal world and the real world and the two are quite different places’.
He continued ‘buying in large organisations requires reconciling contradictory and sometimes conflicting demands, it cannot be divorced from past decisions, or present day politics, or personalities… increasingly it requires making the best of what you have got, rather than starting with a clean sheet, or a green field.’
Buying Can Be Messy
The problem is that by digging beneath the surface the average salespeople can easily end up more, rather than less confused. That is because the buyer’s real requirements are often messy and sometimes contradictory.
There is a maze of internal, as well as the external drivers, both spoken and unspoken, that shape the purchase agenda. These include:
- Competing projects and alternatives
- Complicating factors
- Trade-offs and compromises
- Compliance requirements
- Sometimes-conflicting motivations, including politics and culture
Buying decisions are bound up with trade-offs, compromises and politics that the salesperson typically does not see. The buying decision often gets messy, before it becomes clear and that is particularly why it is important for the salesperson to become involved early in the buying cycle.
Selling When You Don’t Have The Full Picture
Recognising that buying can be messy, salespeople have learned to replace the sweeping statements about needs or benefits in their sales pitches, with questions. That means asking, rather than telling buyers what they want and need – something that is particularly important at senior levels. By doing so they elevate themselves from the role of seller, to the role of coach.
Buyers tell us that sellers who make bold sweeping statements about the buyer’s need for their solution, too often don’t, or can’t see the full picture. Let’s face it – most buyers know better than the salesperson what will work in his, or her organisation, given its own peculiar history and politics. They also know what will jar with its legacy of culture, structures and systems. All this means that coaching rather than selling is vital.
John O' Gorman is a Business to Business sales coach, Director of The ASG Group and co-author of the ground-breaking book, The B2B Sales Revolution. John works with sales teams and sales managers across Europe to accelerate sales using the sales performance solution; SellerNAV.
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