The Secret Lives Of Buyers

When I was a kid I was scared of bees; today I am scared of buyers.

More precisely, I am scared that I may not really understand the motivations of the buyer. When you sell to someone without understanding what drives them, you are going to get stung.

It should be simple. You present the benefits and ROI, they say yes.

Any idiot will take a $100 bill if you ask only for four 20-dollar bills in return.

Unfortunately, very few financial decisions are this easy. Buyers weigh three primary criteria before they make a decision:

1.    Benefits/ROI
2.    Risk
3.    Opportunity Cost

None of these are as obvious as they seem. First, they need to be balanced against each other to reach the best solution. Second, they will be measured differently depending on which lens the buyer is evaluating them through. For example, is the buyer concerned about the risk that the company will lose money or the risk that he will lose his job if he makes the wrong decision? Is the buyer focused on ROI to the company, or bringing an innovative solution forward that increases her likelihood of promotion?

The most common sales mistake that even greatsales people make: assuming they understand their customers' actual motivations.

They often fail to identify the four deadliest forms of buyers:

When Being Nice, Isn't
Some people just love to say yes. Even when they do not mean it.

Unfortunately, evolution has not yet wiped out those who are polite, but insincere.

Rather than look you in the eye and tell you "no," they will instead string you along to avoid the social discomfort of turning you down.

If you are selling to someone who is just giving you a hollow "yes," you need to create a comfortable atmosphere for them to express their real concerns.

Otherwise, you will hear the right answer right up until you miss your numbers.

The Disease of Middle Management
I have had the painful experience of interviewing hundreds of middle managers that hail from large, once great companies that have since lost their luster.

All too often they brag about the most ludicrous of concepts: the size of their budget.

The idea that the more money you spend, the more capable you must be, is a horribly perverse concept.

Managers that measure success by the size of their budget never seem to mention the return on their investments. This is the last person your company should ever hire, and a very challenging person to sell to.

If you are selling to someone who prides themselves on the size of their budget, selling a solution that will save their company money is an exercise in frustration.

Instead, you need to give them the ammunition to justify spending a premium on your product.

The Bigger the Company, the Smaller the Responsibility
Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more disconnected people get from the importance of spending company money carefully.

All too often, managers make decisions for personal reasons, at the expense of the company. They want to look smart and advance their career.

If your customer is focused on career growth, you need to adjust your sales pitch accordingly.

If his goal is to look like a hero internally, then you can't just deliver great ROI.

You need to make it look like it was his idea. Your sales pitch should be designed to do just that.

Risk is a Four-Letter Word
If necessity is the mother of all invention, then success is surely the father of all complacency.

The more money a company makes, the more risk-averse it becomes. Ironically, the very-risk taking that made it successful is viewed with a critical eye.

When selling to risk-adverse customers, it is often more important to reduce the perception of risk, than sell the benefits.

Getting to Yes
All four of these customer profiles are weighing the same three buying criteria, yet arrive at very different conclusions.

Therein lies the paradox of sales: ROI is not an absolute number, but rather a variable dependent on the perspective of the person you are selling to.

If you want to survive in this economy, you need to figure out how to deliver your customers the greatest ROI from their viewpoint.

Every idiot can calculate ROI, but only an idiot assumes he knows how his customers measure it.



3 comments about "The Secret Lives Of Buyers".
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  1. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., January 15, 2009 at 10:52 p.m.

    wow.... Mark, I don't know what to say, other than I am humbled and really appreciate of your comments.

    I'm really glad *someone* enjoyed it, as I got yelled at for calling people idiots :)

  2. Wendy Hidenrick from AwesomenessTV, January 15, 2009 at 11:35 p.m.

    I'd like to shower David with accolades for "plain speak." Being a media sales person myself, I have run into quite a few 'polite' media buyers here in the Midwest. Originally from the West Coast (Seattle) where people aren't as agreeable, I have missed my (Midwest) projections (quite) a bit in the past when I assumed things in my pipeline would come to fruition. Now I know better. The best people I have ever met live in the Midwest. I say that genuinely. And advice to create an atmosphere more comfortable to express concerns is good advice. However I feel the roots run deep in the Midwest, and only time will make the buyers here more comfortable with you. Having only lived here a year, I have a little ways to go.

  3. Mark allen Roberts from Out of the Box Solutions, LLC, January 29, 2009 at 1:24 p.m.

    Great job of capturing one of the big sales mistakes.

    I am often asked “well whose job is it to know the buyers?...sales right?” The answer is yeas and no. Yes sales must know the buyers. However the greatest impact occurs when marketing develops buyer personas for sales in advance.

    After completing a number of win loss calls (yes that means leaving your office and actually meeting with those dreaded things called; customers and prospects) they can group their findings and create buyer personas.

    Market leading organizations map the buying process and equip sales for key stages of that process. Having buyer personas and sales tools written in the form of how your organization solves the buyer’s unresolved problems is the key. Unfortunately, most companies guess, or assume they know.

    The result of guessing can be seen in my recent poll of salespeople. I asked a pretty simple question; what % of marketing tools do you actually use? When I asked this question a year ago the answer was less than 50%, today the answer is less than 25%.

    So for us sales guys out there, on our own in some cases, seek first to understand the unresolved buyer problem.

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