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Selling Is The Easy Part, It’s The Buying That’s Difficult

by David Brock on August 9th, 2011

I was reviewing a sales situation with a client.  He knew exactly what he needed to be doing.  He had a good understanding of the customer’s needs, he knew who he was competing against, he had clearly mapped the critical things he needed to do.  I asked him what concerned him most.  He responded, with some frustration, “The customer just can’t seem to get their act together, they keep slowing down my sales process!”

He went on to describe how disorganized the customer was.  The user wasn’t moving forward as fast as they could–the day to day distractions of their “jobs” kept them from focusing on what they needed to do to make a decision.  The IT people wouldn’t even make the time to listen.  They were overwhelmed with their current projects, they didn’t want to add another.  Whenever the salesperson tried to speak with them, they’d reply, “Come back in 2 years.”  The CFO was interested in the solution, it could save a lot of money, but he was busy with a lot of other things.  He was waiting for the users to come forward with the proposal and business case.

The more we spoke, the more frustrated he got.  He said, “I’m doing everything I can.  I doing my job selling, they just aren’t doing their jobs of buying!”  He was very clear on what he needed to do to sell, but he wasn’t helping the customer buy.

I tend to find this situation pretty frequently.  Just look at a pipeline and look for the stalled opportunities.  If they’re well qualified opportunities and stalled, it’s probably the customer doesn’t know how to buy.  The challenges of their “day jobs” distract them from buying.  They’re so busy just managing through their days, even though the new solution may make their lives so much easier and potentially make them much more efficient, they don’t have the time to focus on buying.

Or in complex situations, the different groups and people involved don’t seem to be able to get together.  They have difficulty aligning their interests, they each have their own agenda and objectives, they have varying priorities.  They struggle in getting together to decide on what to do next, what vendors to consider, how they should move forward.

As sales people we know how to sell, after all we’re doing it every day.  We know our sales process and we know how to execute it with precision.  We do it dozens to hundreds to thousands of times a year.  We get very good at selling.

But for customers buying can be very difficult.  Unless they are in procurement, they don’t buy very frequently.  They don’t know how they should be buying.  They don’t know the steps they should be going through.  They don’t know the people they should involve.  They may not understand how to catch management’s attention to get the necessary approvals.

They may buy once every few years or for very complex systems, perhaps once in a career.  Even for the simplest things, it’s not easy.  I buy PC’s 2-3 times a year, for new people or replacing old PC’s.  Every time, I have to re-educate myself, I have to look at what’s changed in the PC market, and figure out what’s best for the next couple of years.  I have to learn what to buy every buying cycle.

There’s another dimension to this.  As sales people we focus on the issue of “what they should be buying.”  We focus on proving our solution is better than the competition’s.

The customer has it tougher.  For all the reasons mentioned above, the challenge of what to buy is much less than the challenge of “how to buy.”  Or even sometimes, they have an issue with “why.”  As sales people, we’re not helping them with this issue, we continue to go in focusing on the what, perhaps a little on the why, but seldom on the how.

As sales people, we get frustrated with the slowness and delays of our customers.  But, perhaps rather than complaining about it, we should look at a different approach.  We should be spending more time working with the customer on the why and how to buy issues.  Once they know how to do those parts, the what to buy becomes much easier.

If we just remember, the selling is easy, it’s the buying that’s tough, then focused on helping our customers with this, we might be much more effective.

Take a few moments.  Look at your stalled deals.  For each one, figure out, “How can I help make the buying process easier for my customer?”

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6 Comments
  1. Great article.

    One thing the majority of salespeople leave out is the *Who.* The Who? Yes, we need to focus in on what makes our customers tick. What are their behavioral styles and motivators. Who are they?

    It’s almost never about the product or the price. Business is way too competitive.

    To be different, focus on your customer as a person and they’ll give you the road map of the sales process for *them.*

  2. Great post David. Getting the attention of the prospect is not easy, as sales people we should understand how to catch our prospects attention. Thanks for the discussing it.

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