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“Customers Won’t Buy Until They Are Ready To Buy”

by David Brock on February 22nd, 2018

Recently, I had a discussion with someone, actually a polite disagreement.  I was advocating, “Disrupting customers’ thinking, getting them to recognize new opportunities, inciting them to change and buy.”

This thoughtful individual, was upset with my position.  Among other things, he made the statement, “Customers won’t buy until they are ready to buy.  We have to wait for them, then be prepared to work with them in their buying process.”

He’s absolutely right, customers will never buy until they are ready to buy.  But his statement made me think of the old Maytag Repairman commercials.  They were bored on their jobs because the machines never broke, they sat in their offices waiting for a call.

But, he’s missing a key concept.  We, sales and marketing, have a huge impact on influencing and shaping the customer’s readiness and desire to buy.  In fact, if all we do is wait for the customer to be ready to buy, we are doing them a disservice, and adding little value–basically becoming order takers.

Let’s take some “larger than life examples,” of disrupting customer thinking and inciting them to buy.  I’ll circle back, to how we, individually, can incite our customers to buy.

Take ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft.  There was no inherent need for customers to buy a ride sharing service, taxis, public transportation were serving the need.  But the ride sharing services caused people to re imagine how they got around and what they could do.  It incited them to look at getting around differently and incited them to buy.  It changed behavior in another way, by helping people imagine new possibilities.  For example, I normally drive my car to the airport and park it (It actually spends more time at the airport than in my garage.)  Now, because of the convenience and comparable costs, I often take Uber or Lyft to the airport.  (My car’s upset because all its friends are at a certain section of the LAX parking lot.).

Likewise, we can take many of the tools we take for granted, CRM, Sales/Marketing Automation, ERP, Financial Systems, and more.  Every company had methods to manage customer information, sales/marketing programs, etc, but these tools incited new ways to think about those functions and change.  Customers recognized the need to change, they started envisioning their businesses differently.  We incited them to buy.

Bringing this from very broad examples to how we behave and must engage our customers every day, typically the majority of our potential customers have no need to buy.  After all, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Sure, there are buying opportunities when something breaks, or when the customer runs out of something they need (say parts, staples, pads of paper, coffee.).

But the real opportunity to serve our customers, to create differentiated value, is not to wait until they have a need to buy, but rather to incite that need to buy.

Sales people are really agents of change.  Our job is to help our customers find opportunities to re-imagine their jobs, their functions, their businesses.  Our job is to help them realize there are new opportunities or better ways to achieve their goals/serve their customers.

Whether it’s a better way to run their manufacturing lines, a better way to design their products, a financial system that enables them to better manage and control the business, a component or embedded part that enables them to provide new functionality in their products, a new method that enables them to reduce their costs, or to improve their quality.

Until a customer recognizes the need to change, they will never start a buying journey.  If we wait until they are ready to buy, then we may have a very long wait.

Sure, very often, customers incite themselves to change.  Perhaps something’s broken, perhaps they attended a conference, perhaps as they were cruising the web, they got an idea.

But what about all those that should change, but don’t recognize the need or opportunity to.  Not because they are clueless of oblivious, just because they don’t know  or they’re too busy with what they are doing every day.

The mistake many of us make in thinking about marketing’s role in creating web sites, programs, content, is that until people start looking, until people start asking themselves, “Is there something we’re missing,”  they won’t pay attention.

If they are driving and a billboard with a solution that solves their problem is right in front of them, but they don’t realize they have the problem, they will do nothing.  If a perfectly constructed email or a brilliant white paper is sitting in their inbox, until they start looking, they will never see it.

Sales people have a responsibility to their customers and to their companies to get people to start to look, to get people to want to change, to give them a kick start on their buying journey.

Our customers will not buy before their ready to buy.  But we do them a disservice by waiting for that point.  We need to incite them to start their buying journey, then be there when they are ready to buy.


From → Transformation

  1. I think your both right! However, IMHO, I think your friend is more right.

    You can do all the inciting you like, clearly prove and demonstrate a multi-million dollar cost savings, exponential growth, much greater efficiency and productivity than they’ve ever seen before, but if the buyer and their decision team can’t figure out how to bring in your solution without disrupting the business or causing organizational chaos, they will buy nothing.

    These prospects are stuck on HOW TO BUY not WHAT TO BUY. And until they work through their internal issues they’re not going to buy anything. Pushing product and solution messages or challenging their actions and behaviors isn’t likely to help them deal with these internal business issues any faster.

    Your right! Inciting, fuels their desire but internal politics, historical decisions, cultural norms, workarounds, staffing, roles and responsibilities overwhelm the decision team and urge them to take the easy road – no decision. The pundits paint this as some dark mystery but the no decision is always wrapped in these internal system elements.

    What I find interesting, is that most sales reps and marketers have the knowledge, history and experience to work with prospects that are not yet ready to buy and can help them get the right voices on the decision team, recognize what’s holding the problem in place and get buy-in to move forward.

    So why don’t they do it? Sales has quarterly targets and really can’t waste time working with a prospect that’s not willing or able to buy anything for the next 6-12 months. And marketing passes a lead to sales, puts a tick on the “leads generated” scoreboard and happily moves on.

    What I do know, if someone in the organization doesn’t help these potential buyers make a decision, worst case sales ends up rejecting a perfectly good marketing lead (which doesn’t help marketing) and best case the reps extend the sales cycle while they wait for the prospect to find their own way through their internal issues and hope that they come back to them some day ( which doesn’t help sales).

    I think your both right but if the buyer can’t make a decision, there’s nothing to buy.

    • Gordon, I think we are in wild agreement.

      One of the key issues we see, as well as folks like CEB, is customers don’t know how to buy. So sales has the responsibility to facilitate that buying process.

      The mistake too many in sales make is that we focus on only one aspect of buying and not on the whole. We need to incite them to buy, we need to facilitate their buying process, we need to be there when they need to buy. Focusing on any single area will not drive success.

      Thanks so much for expanding the discussion!

  2. Let me ask you a hypothetical question:

    Let’s say you are selling the device recently announced by NASA. It’s called Kilopower, and it is a compact nuclear reactor capable of reliably generating power on a small scale. Newsweek Magazine says NASA’s mini nuclear reactor can power an average-size American home for 10 years!!!

    Let’s pretend power from the Kilopower compact nuclear reactor is significantly cheaper than power from the local utility and is priced at only $100 per year. Because of the enormous cost savings, everyone will obviously want to buy one. right?

    – No one will care about the safety of Uranium fuel
    – No one will care about nuclear waste disposal
    – No one will care if there are nuclear repair services nearby
    – Low cost is all that matters

    If you study disruptive technologies and/or the adoption patterns of a mainstream population you will find the majority of people are not focused on fabulous cost reduction (like early adopters and product vendors) or on creating energy independence. The mainstream population is focused above all on “what happens if something goes wrong?”

    So why would a salesperson waste his/her time trying to teach a customer “how to buy” when the fundamental psychological preferences of 80% of the population (aka the mainstream) are not interested in high-risk discontinuous innovations?

    If you don’t like my NASA example, use the example of electric cars. Plenty of benefits of all kinds, but less than 1% adoption.

    It’s easy to talk about “sales” as the gatekeeper of buyer behavior. But the real barriers to adoption are in the lack of industry standards, the absence of a supporting infrastructure, or the inability of a vendor to lower perceived risk using intangible product attributes.

    • Warren: Customer adoption curves are pretty well known and have been popularized for over 20 years in references like Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing The Chasm. So one dimension of our targeting and ICP has to be focused on customer risk profile. For example, if we have a product focused on early adopters–we would never be prospecting outside that profile. The risk those target customers will be willing to take and the value they expect will be different from late adopters. How we engage, how we create value, how we incite people to change and how we facilitate their buying process will vary. The meaning/impact of “what might go wrong,” is very different across that continuum. Even the issue of “fabulous cost reduction” will vary (BTW, typically I don’t see “fabulous cost reduction” as the key issue with early adopters. It may be an issue, but not typically what drives them.

      So in defining our ICP, we have to be sensitive to solution maturity and customer maturity as part of our targeting. We can still incite do change, facilitate buying in each of those, but it is different depending on the maturity levels.

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