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Why, How, Who, When, And What

by David Brock on October 17th, 2014

There’s a huge difference between what our customers go through to buy and what most sales people do in trying to sell those customers.  It’s this difference that causes much of the disconnect between customers and sales people.  It’s recognizing this difference and engaging customers in their entire buying process that separates great sales people from everyone else.

Loosely, I characterize the buying process as Why, How, Who, When,  and What.  I’ll pause for a moment,  you’ll have to give me a little literary license as I describe this.  I know I’ll get comments saying is should be another variant of these words, but I’m asking you to focus on the concepts in this discussion.

The Why is what starts a buying process.  The Why really focuses on the “Why do we need to change?”  The why is about the disruption of what the customer is doing now.  It addresses opportunities the customer may be missing, opportunities to improve operations, to reduce costs, to improve efficiency, to improve effectiveness, to improve revenues.  The why forces the customer to focus on the consequences of not changing.  In this stage, the customer also focuses on defining the desired outcomes or results they would like to achieve.

Until the customer recognizes and addresses the Why, they never enter into a buying cycle.

The How addresses the process of How they will organize themselves to buy.  Who is an integral part of this. Who needs to be involved in this process?  How do we get the right people involved in the change process, How do we align different agendas and priorities, how will they get the approvals necessary, how will we define and scope the problem and the solution, how will we evaluate alternatives, and so forth.

The When focuses on When the customer needs achieve the desired outcomes or the results they seek to achieve.  “We need to see a 25% improvement in profitability by XX date.”  “We need to have the new factory in operation by YY Date.”  “We need to have the new product on the market by ZZ date.”  The when also focuses on the sequence of things that must be done by certain dates to

The What focuses on What the customer is going to do to achieve the desired outcomes.  What encompasses a whole bunch of stuff.  It includes, what changes they have to make to achieve their desired outcomes and goals.  These include business process, organizational, people, possibly cultural, and other things.

It also involves the what solutions they need to put in place to help them drive the results.  This is usually where sales people focus their attention.  They focus on presenting their solutions and convincing the customer to select theirs.

But it’s even worse.  The customers are engaging sales later in this part of the process (the what solution) phase than ever before.  They are doing their own research, they are narrowing choices.  So the amount of time sales is involved and the opportunity we have to influence their buying is increasingly becoming marginalized–as it should be if all we do is focus on the “what solution” part of the buying process.

So buying involves a whole lot more than what most sales people think.  Typically, we are involved near the end of the customer process–after they have done the most difficult work.  There is very little we can influence at this point–and very little value that we can create at this point.

This is also where a lot of our prospecting goes way off base.  We typically call customers blindly addressing the “What,”  (What ERP systems are you currently using?  What copiers are you using?  What payroll system are you using?  But the customer hasn’t even addressed the Why, How, Who issues yet.  So they aren’t ready or interested in buying.

Great sales people recognize there is a whole lot more to buying than selecting a solution.  They get involved in helping the customer with the whole buying process.  They recognize the most difficult part of buying is not the product selection.

Great sales people recognize the customer may not be addressing the Why issues when they should.  They engage the customer before a buying process has even started.  They constantly engage the customer in thinking about the Why or even creating the why through powerful ideas and Insights.

Buying involves so much more than addressing the issue “What do I buy, which product do I select?”  If you want to maximize your ability to engage the customer and create differentiated value, realize the greatest opportunity is in helping the customer with their entire buying process.

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4 Comments
  1. Great assessment. We are getting ready to implement Challenger at our company for this very reason. We have great content, but it doesn’t have the commercial insight that is necessary for our sales team to get to the Why and How. In selling technology, it seems we have to sell to not only different levels of the organization, but different personality types (introvert, extrovert, etc.) and in so doing, the more we can understand the Why and How the better experience we can provide our prospects. The worst thing we can do is ask someone, “so tell me about your cloud strategy”. This will get you hung up on, rejected or sent to junk mail quicker than anything else.

    Truly enjoy your sales perspective, keep up the great insight!!

    • Thanks Patrick. You raise so many great points. Too many organizations are drowning in content, but it’s the wrong content. Changing content to make it relevant both to where the customer is in their buying process and the various roles of people who are involved is critical. Understanding the behavioral type is also important in maximizing our abilities to connect with the customer. It’s important to recognize that our own behavioral type “colors” what we hear and how we respond. Thanks for joining the discussion Patrick!

  2. Dave,

    Nice post, it reminds me of Kipling’s poem: “I keep six honest serving men, (they taught me all I knew), their names are What and Why and When, and How and Where and Who.”

    It’s also important to realize that Why is the most important of all, because it will determine who gets involved, what they do to address the Why, and how fast they move to do it. I believe the great salespeople are the ones who understand–and often influence–the Why.

    • Thanks Jack. The why is the most important–but too often we completely miss it skipping to and focusing on the what. That’s why we fail to create the greatest value for the customer or to engage them as they would like to be engaged.

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