John O' Gorman

Should You Ask ‘What Is Your Buying Process?’

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Ask About Buying Process

Most salespeople don’t know enough about how the purchase decision is going to be made. When this realization dawns, attention turns to finding out more about the decision making process.

This is all new territory however and salespeople are unsure just what questions they should ask and when.   Typically, salespeople wonder if asking ‘what is your buying process?’ is a question that will either startle, or draw a blank stare from the buyer.  Will buyers relate to the term ‘buying process’ and even if they do will they be prepared to reveal the inner secrets of how they buy to a ‘nosey salesperson’.

A better way of enquiring into the buying process is a question such as; ‘What are the requirements you face in making the decision and getting it sanctioned?’   You may want to round out the question by explaining why you are asking with; ‘perhaps there are things that we can do to help you in getting a decision.’

Of course, salespeople know that learning about how the decision is likely to involve many questions and that all these questions cannot be asked at once:

  • ‘What are the steps that you need to complete in order to make a decision?’
  • ‘Are there any particular information, paperwork, or other requirements to be met?’
  • ‘Is some form of business case required?’  ‘What will it look like?’  ‘What level of financial analysis will be required?’ etc.
  • ‘Who will need to be consulted and involved in the decision making process?’
  • ‘Who must ultimately sign-off the purchase?’

We asked a group of 40 salespeople just how long does it take to get to know the intricacies of the buying decision in any opportunity that is being pursued.  There was agreement that it took many weeks, even months.  In particular, salespeople suggested that buyers can be slow to reveal their decision making process to the seller, except where there is a level of trust built up.

Other salespeople hinted that some buyers may even go so far as to mislead the seller regarding aspects of the buying decision.  This is a particular risk when it comes to revealing who is involved in the buying decision.

It arises because buyers can be reluctant to declare open season by the salesperson on his/her colleagues, or where the buyer is reluctant to acknowledge that their power, or influence over the decision is a lot less than they would like the salesperson to believe.

On the other hand, buyers will admit that they can be slow to reveal the intricacies of the buying decision making process.   That is because they fear that the salesperson will use that has been revealed in order to sell more effectively to the buyer.  As some buyers will point out ‘knowledge is power’ – passing on knowledge of the buying process to the salesperson may affect the balance of power in the buyer-seller relationship.

All this suggests that the salesperson must combine caution and determination in uncovering the buying process.    The seller can ask all the right questions, but unless and until the buyer believes that the information is being sought for the right reasons the answers are likely to be slow in coming.

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