“Why do people buy?” is an important question many sales professionals ask. A lot of research has been done on the psychology of buying behavior. Professional marketing tries to make use of such knowledge and adapt their campaigns accordingly to achieve the most effective sales pitch. A question less often asked is, “When do customers buy?” Charlie Lang, executive coach and trainer at Progress-U Ltd. has some answers.
Sales people are often puzzled by the sometimes long duration of the sales cycle. Sales forecasts often fail because they are based on a sales person’s judgment of how close the customer is to making a decision. Why does this feeling so often prove to be wrong? Do sales people generally have bad intuition?
Having worked in sales management for more than a decade and having had the opportunity to work with outstanding sales professionals and sales trainers, I made an important discovery that confirmed my year-long observations and provided me with the insight to make sense of what was happening.
Particularly in business-to-business (B2B) transactions, sales people usually talk to only a very small portion of an entire decision-making system (DMS). They believe that the person(s) (I call them here ‘interlocutors’) they are talking to fully understand their buying process and would be able to make a buying decision. Hence, they rely on the statements of their business partners to make a judgment on the duration of the sales cycle and the probability to be successful.
However, reality is somewhat different. The interlocutors usually do not fully understand the purchase process. Also, they are in most cases only a part of the DMS and may have only limited influence. As a consequence, the statements made by the interlocutor to the sales people are either very vague (in case the interlocutor is aware of his limited influence and knowledge) or simply his personal opinion (in case the interlocutor truly believes that the decision is made by him alone, ignoring the existence of a DMS). Of course, there are rare cases in B2B transactions where only one person is in charge of the complete decision-making process. However, this is more of an exception rather than the rule.
So when do customers really decide to buy? There are two major triggers:
1. The DMS reached a sufficient comfort level with the decision.
2. The DMS is under high pressure to make a decision, i.e., if not making a decision threatens to create worse consequences than making a decision.
As a consequence, if sales people are able to support their interlocutors in helping the DMS reach a comfortable level with the decision to buy, they can:
– Greatly reduce the duration of the buying cycle (there is actually no sales cycle)
– Greatly improve the probability of getting the business because the buyer will recognize the seller as a true consultant
– Greatly improve the accuracy of their forecasts
Consequently, the task of any seller is to learn the principles of purchase support and how s/he can help the interlocutors manage and influence the purchase process of the DMS more effectively and efficiently.
Copyright (c) 2006 Progress-U Ltd.