Where Sales Trainers and Selling Experts share advice, tips, and techniques on how to become a sales champion!

Selling – One Decision At A Time By Sharon Drew Morgen

In today’s business environment, products and services are being designed to enable buyers to customize elements of their solution. From cars to tech, airplanes to designer jeans, the B to C market is being driven by individual tastes.

But the decision making leading to the purchasing choice is the same. Whether one person has to purchase a single item (buying a new pair of shoes), or a team has to decide to add team building to their skills, or a company has to determine whether or not it’s time to partner with a new vendor and offer a new product capability (Starbucks and the New York Times), it all comes down to the decision-making process: until or unless the decision(s) get made to do something different, to make a choice, or take an action, nothing will move forward.


Through time, sellers have worked from the belief that if you offer the appropriate data, if you gather the right information so that you’re ‘adding value’, if you know that your product/offering would match the needs of the buyer, that you’ll be successful X percent of the time. But let’s look closer at each of the elements I’ve mentioned.

1. ‘offer appropriate data’. Once you provide information (via a pitch, presentation, ad, marketing material, etc.), you will only connect with the group or demographic already seeking your product line. All of those prospects who don’t already realize they need your offering won’t recognize your value; you have no value to them if they don’t know they are missing anything. By definition, once you offer some sort of information, you are populating your prospect list with those people already in search of what you are talking about.

I recently heard one of my new sales people telling a prospect about one of the programs we offer. When I asked her why she was limiting the discussion to one program, she replied: “This is the one I think they need because X.” I called the man back, and went through the facilitative questions. Turns out he actually needed a different program, and would not have considered using the one that was pitched to him. My new seller was assuming the ‘right’ answer based on what she’d known from past situations that were similar. Not to mention that the buyer didn’t start out knowing his entire fact pattern (as is true when all buyers start the discovery process).

Using this line of pitch reduces your prospect list to those people who can align their immediate need with the image you are offering them, thereby leaving all of the people who might need something close, or something easily customized, out of the picture.

Also this approach puts you directly in line with your competitors, as folks seeking a solution will search for all products like yours. And, by definition, you are then undifferentiated from the competition and in a price war.

2. ‘gathering the right information’. The biggest problem here is that you gather biased information. You start from the assumption that your product might be a solution, and ask the questions that will give you the data that concurs with your suspicion (given you choose a specific, familiar demographic to prospect) and that highlight possible needs in the area your product can support. Obviously, a huge set of biases are built in here.

Say you’re selling a training course and you speak with someone who has a problem that you can solve. Gathering information would sound like this: How many people need it? What do they hope to accomplish? What have they used until now? What type of results do they want? What type of program do they seek?

But there is a bias built in here as well: the bias is that the entire group has already decided to make a change in their skill set (What stopped them from doing that already?); that everyone is on board with the proposed changes that would come from the program, and that the appropriate people will know how to buy-in to the changes being requested of them.

Prospects must grapple with a different form of internal decision making before they can reach a decision, and find answers for questions such as: How will participants know when they want to change? How do they decide that one form of training is better than another? Exactly how much are they willing to change? What happens with the people who are not in agreement? How do the new folks who join next month get melded in? How do they propose to maintain the skills over time? How can they integrate the old learning materials and accepted current behaviors with the new material to be learned?)

The time it takes people to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle; their status quo was built upon hundreds of small and large decisions that were made historically and would have to be re-visited before any new decisions get made. In other words, gathering information is but a small piece of the dialogue and actually is necessary only after the decision to change occurs.

3. ‘adding value’. What, exactly, does this mean? Value according to what? To the proposed solution? To the historic problem? To an initiative that most people are uncomfortable with? And according to whom? To the person you’re speaking with? To the CEO of the company? To the teammates that have helped the prospect remain in their status quo? And, how do all of those involved in the decision making know what value means to any or all of them? How do any of them know what each of them value? Or how they’ll know to shift current values for future values?

When you hope to ‘add value’, it’s code for saying that you want to make sure that your product will be right for your prospect – that it will solve a problem for them. Ultimately this expression gets used by sales people who want the prospect to know that they really care and that ensuring they get the ‘right solution’ is important to them.

But ask yourself this: why is the prospect attempting to solve the problem today – and not tomorrow or yesterday? Why haven’t they used their old vendor to solve the problem? Why don’t they continue to use their normal fixes so they won’t have to buy something new? What political/relationship issues will they be setting in motion as a result of any change – and how does this get evaluated?

True value can be added when/if prospects are helped in managing the decisions they need to make. These days most sellers are attempting to ‘add value’ also, so everyone seems to care. But the caring mainly takes place around fixing a problem in the area a product can solve – not in managing the change environment that has created and maintained the problem. And it’s this area that sellers can actually provide true differentiation and add value.

4. ‘matching the needs of the buyer’. Needs for what? There are several issues here: 1. the importance that the buyer places on ‘need’ vs. the value the seller places on ‘need’; and 2. what the ‘need’ is, exactly.

1. If the prospect had such an important problem, they would have resolved it already. Why haven’t they? What would they need to do differently to get the problem resolved (and your product purchased) tomorrow? Who would need to be involved with agreeing to a solution?

2. What, exactly, are the ‘needs’? It is never as simple as just finding a solution that resolves the identified problem; the identified problem itself is easy to solve. It’s about the relationships and initiatives and historic roles and rules that need to be managed, so when a solution gets put in place, there will be no chaos. The ‘needs of the buyer’ are actually a complex set of internal systems that need to be addressed so that when a decision to fix the problem gets made, the systems that have held it in place can support any necessary change.


Jeff Thull, who wrote Win the Complex Sale said: “The business of selling is not just about matching viable solutions to the customers that require them. It’s equally about managing the change process the customer will need to go through to implement the solution and achieve the value promised by the solution”

Selling has been about product for too long. The new sales paradigm requires sellers to lead buyers through their up-front decision making, and this can only happen one decision at a time. Each person, each team, each problem, each activity, each historic behavior, relationship, policy – each element that has created and maintained the status quo needs to be managed in some fashion before any change can take place.

Instead of selling product, teach your buyers how to make their buying decisions. Use the Buying Facilitation Method® to lead them through their sequential, historic decision making, so they can make new decisions (which includes purchasing of your product) and not engender disruption. Hint: they need to do this anyway, with you or without you as they can’t tolerate chaos. So it might as well be with you.

Then, you won’t have to:

* offer appropriate information – the buyer will design their solution and tell you the exact information they need;
* gather information – the buyer will know exactly what they need to address;
* add value – by leading the buyer through all of their internal issues that need to be managed and teaching them how to recognize, think, and change without disruption, you’ll be giving them true value well beyond your product offering;
* match the needs of the buyer – you’ll show them how to manage their own unique and systemic needs since their solution will have to match the internal criteria of their environment and so much greater than your product can offer.

Remember: your choice is to sell or have someone make a buying decision. It’s much easier and quicker to teach buyers how to buy – and it automatically differentiates you, ads values, and is cheaper in regards to time and effort.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of NYTimes Best Seller Selling with Integrity, and a speaker, consultant, and trainer. She is the developer of the Buying Facilitation Method, a new sales model that gives sellers tools to help buyers make their best decisions based on their own criteria. Contact her at: www.NewSalesParadigm.com or sdm@austin.rr.com.

* Share your thoughts on the above advice in the comments below…