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Our Customers Need To Do A Better Job Of Buying!

by David Brock on August 5th, 2010

A few years ago, I was talking to a sales manager.  He was expressing some frustration, “I’m doing my job of selling, my customers need to start doing a better job of buying!”  When you think about it, there’s actually a lot of truth to that statement — at least the “doing a better job of buying” part.

Our customers do a bad job of buying because they don’t know how to buy.  With the exception of purchasing professionals, it’s not our customers jobs to buy, they focus on doing their jobs whether it is building products, running an operation, providing IT support, whatever their function is.  They don’t know how to organize their buying effort, they don’t know how to define what they are trying to do, they don’t know how they should look at and evaluate alternatives.  Buying is something is a disruption to their normal work flow–they are already busy, often just trying to survive, now they have this new task — it takes time away from doing their normal job.  They probably recognize they need to change–they need to find a new solution, but they don’t know how to organize themselves to make a decision.  They also have to go through all that awkward stuff of managing a team, each with a different agenda, each with different views on what is needed, each with a different priority.  just coordinating the buying group, requires a lot of skill and time.

Customers worry about making a bad decision.  They are accountable to their management to do the right thing for the company.  They are held accountable for investing company funds well–they need to demonstrate their purchase creates a return for the company.  If they make a mistake, their management will be all over them, they may even lose their jobs.

Customers don’t buy very often.  In complex B2B solutions, they may purchase these once in their careers.  Think of it, a new piece of capital equipment–something that has a life of more than 5 years, a major new software system, outsourcing services, whatever.  Their lack of experience makes them apprehensive–both because of the “long life” of whatever they are buying, but they just haven’t looked at thse solutions very often.  They don’t know what’s out there, what’s good, what they should avoid.  Even if they buy more frequently, things are changing so quickly, it’s difficult for them to keep up.  Think of something that has become commoditized like PC’s.  The product life cycle of a PC is probably around 3-6 months.  So if I looked at PC’s last year, there have been 2-4 generations of new PC’s since then.  Everything that I knew about buying them a year ago has changed.

Procurement professionals help.  Their job is buying, they keep up with the products they are responsible for.  But it’s still difficult for them.  They aren’t making purchasing decisions on their own.  They are acting on behalf of people within the organization.  They have to make sure they understand and are satisfying the needs of their customers.  They face the challenge of helping manage the process, expectations and align the different agendas and priorities of their customers.

Finally, buying is about change—none of us like change, it’s always so difficult, it’s often easier just to keep doing the same old thing.

It’s no wonder that customers do a bad job of buying—after all their jobs aren’t about buying.  So they need help–and that’s where great sales professionals differentiate themselves.

See the peddlers don’t recognize that customers don’t know how to buy.  They blindly assume the customer is expert at this, they never ask questions to determine if they do know how to buy.  All they do is pitch their products hoping to dazzle the customer with Features Advantages Benefits, ghee whiz Technology, and large doses of Charm and Personality.  Peddlers are pitching their products but not solving their customers’ problems–one of which is “How Do I Buy?”

Great sales professionals recognize their job is to help their customers solve their problems–both operating their businesses more effectively and efficiently and addressing new opportunities.  Great sellers also recognize that part of solving customers’ problems is helping them understand how to buy–they work with the customer in facilitating their buying process.  They realize, that by helping their buyers buy, they are creating great value for their customers.

Are you helping your customers do a better job of buying?

(As a side note, my friend Sharon Drew Morgen worries about Buying Facilitation (TM) a lot.  I highly recommend looking at her site, and devouring her books and matierials.)

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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  1. This is probably the most annoying part of being a salesmen.
    Our customers have the same problems as we do!

    Everyone wants to put off a tough decision and no one likes change.
    How does this effect us in sales?

    It means that for every step forward you take in the sales process, you customer is doing there best to slow things down and if possible take a step back.

    Our job as salesmen is to take them by the hand and show them how insanely easy buying can be.

  2. Hi Dave, great post. You are absolutely right.

    It seems that the present market environment has propelled buying to a new level of sophistication. As sellers we are faced with the new realities of more sophisticated and evolving buying processes. Senior managers/buyers are driven by the need to prove a compelling business case to buying teams that are getting bigger and bigger.

    Regards from Dublin. All the best

    • John, thanks for the comment. Unfortuantely, it seems buyers are moving to greater levels of sophistication in buying than sellers are in selling. Sales can offer some real leadership and better align and contribute to buying though leadership. I know you are doing a lot of that in your work. Looking forward to the book!

  3. Jennifer permalink

    I agree. It’s our job as sales professionals to teach and help educate our customers on how to buy and giving us as the supplier visibility to what their demands and needs are so that we can ultimately plan and better support our customers.

  4. So true Dave. Sometimes I have to buy stuff for my company and am fascinated by the lack of questions and hand holding from the salesperson on the other end. Truth is salespeople need to show customers “the way.” They need to discuss the approval process and check off how each influencer in the process should be won over. To do that they have to build trust and not just be a pushy salesperson. “I understand what you are going through and how tough this is” can go a long way.

    • Chad, thanks for the comment—it’s great to hear reinforcement from the buying side! Regards, Dave

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