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Customers Don’t Know How To Buy!

by David Brock on May 11th, 2011

One of the biggest mistakes sales people make is overestimating their customers’ knowledge of how to buy.  As a result, sales people miss the opportunity to support the customer in their buying process.  I believe this is one of the most overlooked areas in which sales people can create distinctive value, enhance their relationship, and start moving into the “trusted advisor role.”

Think about it,  for many complex B2B solutions, how many times in their careers does a customer make a purchasing decision?  If you look at major software solutions like ERP, Financial, CRM/Sales 2.0, Manufacturing, and other solutions—a customer will probably make a purchasing decision a handful of times through their careers.  Each decision will probably be separated by so many years that the issues and capabilities will have dramatically changed since the previous decision, so for all intents, they are starting fresh.

It isn’t our customers’ job to be knowledgeable about the solutions our competitors and we sell!  Their job is to perform in their function at the highest levels possible.  What we sell helps them do it, but they have so much more on their plates, that it is not their responsibility to understand the subtleties, nuances, and differences between alternative solutions.  When confronted with the issue, they want to know just enough to make a decision (but how do they know what’s “just enough.”)

In many complex B2B decisions, a number of people, each with differing priorities, needs, and agendas are involved in the decision making process.  Organizing themselves, aligning their interests, deciding on the process by which they will make a decision, and all the internal details are new to them.  They have to come together to make a decision on something none of them have a lot of experience in, taking time away from their day to day functions, …..   You know the story, you’ve seen the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.  You know how complex the internal political maneuverings can be.  (Sharon Drew Morgen talks a lot about this in her Buyer Facilitation approach)

Customers are so busy, they don’t necessarily approach the decision in a structured and disciplined manner—consequently they really may not know what they want to buy.  How many times have you participated in this conversation:

Salesperson (SP):  You’ve outlined 50 needs and requirements for the solution.  What are the 5 most important?

Customer (C), Impatiently:  They’re all number one priorities, each is equally important.

SP:  But what are the few most important, surely, several of these issues have to be critical to you?

C:  You know, I’ve really never thought of that, I guess the most 5 most important to me are….

Multiply this across everyone involved in the decision making process—it becomes even more difficult.

But what about professional buyers?  People in procurement and commodity managers are much more knowledgeable about the suppliers, about what to look for, and about how to manage the process.  But they face many of the challenges their peers face—they have too much on their plates—they have many commodity areas they have to manage, so their ability to spend much time in any single area is very narrow.  They also have to support and satisfy their own users and internal customers—people who aren’t knowledgeable about alternatives (and shouldn’t necessarily be), who have little experience with buying, who have differing priorities, and agendas, and who can make procurement’s life pure hell—both during and after the buying decision.  Professional buyers need help in being successful in their roles!

Let’s counter the challenges the buyers have in making a buying decision with the sales person’s experience.

While any customer may have a limited number of buying experiences for a specific solution, as sales people, we are involved in dozens of these buying decisions every year.  We see things customers do well, things they miss, mistakes they make, things they should be doing-over and over, every year.

Every day we are involved in working with people who are trying to buy.  We have great experience in understanding how to buy, and how to make the customer successful.

So as sales professionals, we are very knowledgeable about “effective buying processes,” and can create tremendous value in helping our customers with their buying process.  Yet too often, we miss that opportunity—we focus on what we are trying to sell, rather than focusing on how to help the customer buy.

We question to find need for our product, responding with a pitch.  We struggle to differentiate products and define their value, focusing on specific features, differences—and ultimately pricing.  We miss the opportunity to provide tremendous differentiation and value—helping our customers make their buying decision through facilitating their buying process.

Customers aren’t naïve, they know that we will be presenting things that position our products and company in the best light—but in my experience these are the smallest part of the issues that they face in their buying process.  Helping them understand who should be involved, helping them develop a process or methodology for making a decision, helping them to think about prioritization, internal alignment, how they get management support, and countless other issues.  All these create great value and differentiation.

Don’t assume your customers know how to buy!  Help them understand how they should buy.  Provide leadership and insight.  Set yourself apart from your competition and align yourself with your customers’ real needs.

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3 Comments
  1. Fabulous article. Great ideas to use in sales training and leadership development courses. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Fabulous article. Great ideas to use in sales training and leadership development courses. Thank you for sharing!

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