By Sharon Drew Morgen, Founder, Morgen Facilitations, Inc.
Ok. You have a good product… a very good product. It’s different from anything else out there. Better technology, better branding, better packaging, and great marketing.
But you’re having trouble selling it. Well, not trouble, exactly: you’re meeting your numbers. But given the competition, given how much better your product is than the competition, you should have blown through your projections long ago.
And why is it taking so long to close? It’s a no-brainer: your prospects obviously have a need, like your product, and like you. The pricing is competitive. But it’s either taking months longer than it should, or they are choosing an inferior product (not necessarily cheaper), or not even solving their problem at all.
What’s going on?
The Problem is Not the Product… Is it you? The Product? The Pricing?
No, no, and no. You are great, your product is fine, and your pricing is not the point, no matter how much you’re charging (People don’t buy on price unless everything looks the same and price is the only differentiator).
The problem is the buyer. Oh! They aren’t stupid. Far from it. They’re smart, especially in this day and age. But the buyer lives within a more complex environment than they ever have before: they have more colleagues, more interdependent relationships with other business areas, and with other business partners. They have global partners and unrecognizable global competition. As a result, it’s actually taking them 30% longer to decide than ever before.
What does that have to do with your product, you ask? If it’s obvious they have a problem that your product can resolve, and they like you and the product, what is the problem?
Sales Is One Half the Needed Interaction
The problem is that sales has been a product placement tool. Through time, sellers have gone from selling face-to-face, door-to-door, because travel and communication was tough, to developing complex information-gathering models that determine exactly what the buyer truly needs and creating a customized, well-presented solution.
But it hasn’t made a difference how targeted your pitch, how appropriate your solution, or what brand of selling you’re using; you still close 7% of your prospects from first prospecting call to close.
That’s right; no matter what you’re selling, how expensive or cheap, how common or unusual, how big or how small – you continue to sell the same percentage from first prospecting call to close sale.
Why? With all of your new understanding of buyers, of product placement, of strategic selling, of strategic product placement, of branding/marketing tactics; with all of your demographic study, and differentiation, you still sell to only those people who are yours to sell to. Those people who would have bought your product whatever you would have done otherwise. You only will get what’s yours to get.
The interesting and frustrating fact is that your product will not differentiate you. And buyers are not buying your product. Buyers buy only when they are ready to solve a business problem. While buying a specific piece of software might be their best solution, they won’t make the actual purchase until they understand and resolve their buying criteria and manage the internal change that the purchase itself will stimulate.
You’ve always assumed that your product is what you have to sell. This might be true but it’s not what buyers are buying. Your product will be considered as a solution only if or when it will fit (and sit) efficiently within a buyer’s culture and won’t rock the boat when it’s put into operation. Just because it’s a great product, or because they need it/love it/want it, doesn’t mean the idiosyncratic systems within the buyer’s buying culture can make room for any of the shifts that the purchase would entail.
In sales, you’ve never been taught how to bridge the buyer-seller gap. What’s the difference between how/what you’re selling and how the buyer is buying? The difference between your product information and the buyer’s buying criteria?
You’ve always assumed that if you have it, say it, share it, and it fits, that the buyer should know how to buy it. But buyers don’t make decisions based on information. They decide when their internal systems criteria are managed so when they add a new piece of software, they won’t self-destruct.
Let’s take the focus away from selling for a moment, and consider the ‘system’. All people, all groups operate within systems (rules, relationships, initiatives, partnerships, beliefs, values, calendars) that they have already set up. And systems don’t like to change. They just are the way they are. Are they healthy? Not necessarily. Are they effective? Not necessarily. Are they happy? Not necessarily. But they are stable: each element of the system exists as part of the fabric of the whole.
Your clients and all of the multifaceted pieces of the world would prefer to keep doing what they are already doing if they could operate optimally without any additional effort.
That’s why they haven’t solved their business problem before now. Why didn’t they call you yesterday, or tomorrow? Or buy a different product before now? But they didn’t. They’ve sat with the problem until this moment. And they still aren’t buying in a timely way. Have you ever asked yourself why? It’s because before they buy, they need every person, every current software package, every initiative past, present, and future, that touches their needed solution, every past, present, and future initiative that might use your product – all of these must align around your product.
The time it takes buyers to understand and recognize all of the variables that need to be managed when something new enters their established culture is the length of the sales cycle. The buying process has nothing to do with your product!
Differentiate Yourself Through Your Sales Technique
Let me stop here for a moment and have a brief discussion of what you’re doing now.
Because your product is so good, and you understand the market so well (You DO, you DO), your assumption has been that when you understand what the buyer needs and your product fits (and has been presented professionally and you’ve been attentive), that they should know how to buy. But since buyers only buy when all of their unique systems elements have been managed internally, you knowing their needs is moot: they not only need to understand what their solution must entail, but all of the activities they must initiate before they bring in something new so they won’t rock the boat.
Historically, sales has focused itself on the presentation of information as a way to gain interest. Even the new forms of ‘trusted advisor’ sales formats still operate from the central belief that if the seller can figure out what a buyer needs, she/he’ll know what to pitch – that their role is to offer intelligent advice.
But how can an outside person truly understand what is going on within a buyer’s system? Oh, for sure the seller will accurately recognize what is missing that the seller’s product can fix. The seller is the ‘content expert’ of the product after all. But by the same token the buyer is the ‘content expert’ in his/her environment, and no matter what information the seller gleans, she/he’ll never truly understand that culture.
‘Sales’ continues to be based on product, product value, and product dominance. For some reason, making the shift to understanding that it’s a systems problem on the buyer’s end, at least as much as a transaction/information/presentation problem on the seller’s end, is a hard leap for sellers.
And sellers – including high-level partners in large firms – continue to use their role inefficiently. By leading a buyer through all of their decision variables, they can actually be doing great service to buyers rather than just being product pushers.
Why is it so hard to understand that people do not buy ideas or products because of their packaging? Or because they are ‘physically beautiful and emotionally compelling’? Or even because they need them?
Once buyers have recognized how they will manage change, then and only then – does product differentiation become important.
The best way to differentiate yourself is to become a true service provider rather than a product seller: use your interactions with buyers to lead them through the recognition and implementation of their decision-making. Teach them how to line up their decision criteria – even for low cost purchases there are criteria such as price, quality, vendor, and brand – and how to manage their internal variables.
Offer buyers the help they need in order to:
- Recognize and understand their systems and see if anything is missing (in the way of products, capabilities and communication).
- See how they can fix the problem with what’s there already.
- Understand how to manage the variables that will shift once a new solution is added to the system.
Whether the fix would involve a different vendor, or teams aligning themselves differently, or people being moved around, or partners being invited in to the mix, the buyer would have to figure it all out and come up with parameters for their unique solution before they bought your product.
Use your time with your buyer, no matter how brief it might be or how small the transaction, to help them recognize, understand, manage, and solve the disruption issues that will arise if they were to buy your product. Until they do, they won’t close the sale, will come up with objections, and will use price as a differentiator.