John O' Gorman

The Most Dangerous False Assumption In Selling!

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The Importance Of Knowing The 3 Types Of Buyers & Tailoring Your Sales Approach Accordingly

There is an erroneous assumption about how buyers buy that is surprisingly common in selling. It is a major impediment to success for those holding it. Yet they seem blissfully unaware of their error. Here we will test to make sure that this dangerous assumption does not effect you.

Are You Making The Most Dangerous False Assumption?

How you sell is based on assumption about the type of buyer you are selling to and more specifically how those buyers make their purchase decisions. It is a fundamental assumption – one that has major implications for sales performance/success. The consequences of getting it wrong are a miss match between buyer and seller and ultimately a lost sale.

Are You Affected? Take The Test!

To find out if you are in danger of misreading the buyer, or the buying decision take the following test.

Of the following 3 statements – which best describes how your customers buy? Is it number 1, number 2 or number 3?

  1. Potential clients do not buy things logically; they buy things emotionally and then justify their purchases logically.
  2. Potential customers are completely hard nosed and analytical – there is no room for impulse or emotion in their decision making.
  3. Potential customers are rational and analytical, but of course there can be other factors involved, such as; gut instinct, buyer prejudices and personal motivations.

The answer you picked reveals as much about your sales approach as it does about the true nature of how your customers buy. That is because the assumptions you make about how your customers buy inevitably influence the sales approach you adopt.

Do you adapt your sales approach based on how logical – emotional each buyer is?

If you assume that customers decide first and rationalize later then your approach will be different to the salesperson who sees his buyers as numbers obsessed and analytical. Getting it wrong can result in a costly costly misalignment or mismatch between buyer and seller.

The 3 Types Of Buyers

The above test is based on a simple yet powerful concept. That is the 3 types of buyers, as follows:

  • Totally Emotional
  • Strictly Rational
  • Balanced or Normal (falling in the middle, between the first two)

Because there are 3 types of buyers there needs to be three types of selling – one for each.

The Correct Answer To The Test

So what was you answer – 1, 2, or 3? And is it the right answer? Well everybody’s business is different, so obviously it depends. But in the world of complex or high vale B2B sales there can be little dispute about the fact that the majority of buyers are more logical and analytical, than intuitive and emotional. Also that there is a concerted effort in procurement circles to make it increasingly so.

Do you give the buyer enough credit for being able to make the ‘right decision’?

Yes buyers can in an instant instinctively decide whether they like or trust a particular salesperson and they must ‘feel right’ about any decision they are going to make, but there is no question that this is the age of the economic buyer and the cost-benefit analysis.

Yet it is surprising how often we hear Number 1 – ‘they buy emotionally and justify rationally’ as a description offered for buyers – it is even said about buyers in large multi-national organisations!

Are You Selling To Emotional Buyers?

It always ‘knocks us for six’ when salespeople describe modern buyers in the same emotional way as one might describe a hormonal teenage son or daughter. We shudder to think of the impact on sales performance of so clearly misreading the buying situation.

We believe mistaking the buyer for being driven by emotion and instinct has to be the most debilitating and dangerous of all assumptions in sales. Here is why:

  • If buyers are not logical and analytical how can any salesperson hope to build a compelling argument for the purchase and in particular one that will not quickly unravel if a buyer must justify the purchase to a senior manager, or procurement.
  • Assuming the buyer is emotional means that much of what we call selling is redundant. Such activities as information gathering, analysis of needs, calculation of costs and benefits or building of a business case all count for little or nothing as a result.

Why Do Sellers Underestimate Buyers?

Why are some sellers prone to underestimate just how logical the buyer really is? Well one of the key reasons is that buying decisions are increasingly taking place behind closed doors – sellers don’t get to see the real level of complexity as a result.

Another is that sellers are unaware of the rise of procurement’s power and the wave of procurement processes, policies and systems that has ensued. Perhaps some buyers are even happy to be underestimated by sellers.

The spreadsheet yielding, business case building buyer with an almost insatiable appetite for information, and a set of rules and procedures to follow is scary for the seller to behold. Perhaps that is why some sellers are in denial of their existence.

Meet The Logical Buyer

The top 8 reasons why buyers are more logical than you might think are as follows:

  1. Budgets have been cut with more purchases and projects competing for scare resources and mounting pressure to drive down/curtail spending and reduce supplier costs.
  2. Procurement is setting and policing the standard (and indeed targets) for ever more professionalised buying.
  3. Policies and procedures increasingly govern how buying decisions are made – they are designed to reduce, retard and regiment spending.
  4. Buying decisions have been wrestled away from the front line and now require sign off or approval from senior managers.
  5. Increasingly buying decisions are being made by cross functional buying decisions.
  6. Approved vendor and product lists, as well as procurement systems, limit the discretion of buyers to decide.
  7. Decisions are increasingly being reviewed post purchase, with managers being held ccountable for decisions made.
  8. Cost benefits analyses are increasingly required for large (as well as not so large purchases).

The advice is to start by assuming buyers are logical, or else you run the risk of dumbing down the buyer.

Buyers Are Rarely 100% Logical – Analytical

OK, so we have made the point that logic and analysis are the mainstay of modern buying and therefore selling (in the b2b environment). But to complete the picture it is important to acknowledge that instinct and feeling still have somewhat of a role to play.

Buyers are people not computers and that makes them vulnerable to the normal human foibles in respect of decisions made. Buyers can jump to conclusions, be selective in the gathering of information, or biased in its interpretation. Indeed there are a variety of ways in which even the professional manager or buyer is bounded in their rationality.

Buyers are not as rational and analytical as their procurement policies and procedures would suggest. Indeed as science clearly demonstrates the notion of the 100% logical analytical buyer is an illusion.

All our research shows that it is not a question of whether buying decisions are 100% rational, or analytical, but whether they are 90%, 95% or 99% rational/analytical and 1%, 5% or 10% emotional, intuitive, or impulsive.

In other words your answer to the test above places your customers and your sales approach along a continuum from rational to instinctive or emotive.


In the context of the 3 types of buyer, sellers must adopt a middle way – they must appeal to the instincts as well as the logic of the buyer. They must blend logic and emotion in how they sell.

One Response to The Most Dangerous False Assumption In Selling!

  1. Martin Lindeskog October 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    As an experienced purchaser, it is great to read a post on selling with a refreshing viewpoint! 🙂 I am a fan of the father of logic, Aristotle, so I label myself as a logical and analytic buyer. That said, I had emotional responses based on my value judgments during the supply chain management process.

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