From the Mail Bag: “Stupid Buyers”

What is a sales team’s likely response when their buyer involves a bunch of people in a sale who don’t know much about what they’re buying?

“These people are IDIOTS!”
[Paraphrased from frustrated sales people the world over, dealing with “new” buyers at their big targets…]

When big companies lay people off, the functions of those people get stacked on top of the already-full desks of other people. These new responsibilities most often don’t come with training, a manual, or any relevant experience on the part of the recipient. And these new job requirements just show up. Often times, one of these responsibilities is to be the buyer of products and services with which the “new” buyer is very unfamiliar.

So, what do these people do with their new responsibility? Most of the time they choose one of the following:

1. Do nothing. They don’t buy anything- they just put it off
2. Stick with the incumbent.
3. Buy from the lowest-priced vendor.

In the rapidly-shifting organizational charts of companies dealing with downsizing, ignorant buyers can be dangerous to your sales process for new accounts. Face it—there are a lot of options that are easier and safer than going with a new provider like you.

Getting these new buyers to sway away from the three easy options listed above will require you to adjust your approach. Here are some recommendations…

  • Focus on the big issue buying rather than feature and benefit. I’ve written before that the language of big buyers is the language of Time, Money and Risk (see our webinar and related blog post about “The Triples”). These buyers will have a better chance of understanding the business issue benefit than the departmental or functional level benefit. Stay in the world of Time, Money and Risk, and stay out of the end-point utility of what you sell.
  • Translation and simplicity always win. There is no sense railing against the ignorance of the buyer in this conversation. It’s not his or her fault that they’re in this discussion. So, the onus is on you to provide the translation of value and to simplify the benefits of the program. Strip out the jargon, peel back the acronyms. Use the analogies and stories to lay out a very simple and practical explanation of not only what you are selling, but what they are buying. Most of these folks do not understand the problem that they are solving in making this purchase, so you need to explain to them what they’re buying.
  • Greater need for salespeople to be experts in the customer’s business. The balance of proof is clearly in your hands. You need to be the person who can provide expertise in the customer’s business without making them feel stupid. Explain how the two industries (theirs and yours) have changed over time. Walk through the evolution of what buyers have looked for and why you are now, at this time, the best choice.
  • Doubts in your products/services are often doubts in themselves and their ability to buy intelligently. You need to address both. Expert buyers may doubt your claims and therefore choose not to buy from you. Inexperienced buyers doubt their own abilities to discern, so they stay with “business as usual”, and, in effect, rely on the expertise of the previous buyer. These “new” buyers need to have confidence that they are making the best choice and the safest choice. Your sales pitch has to focus on increasing their confidence that they know what the best choice looks like BEFORE you convince them that yours is the best choice.

We are going to be dealing with inexperienced buyers with a greater frequency in the future, not less. Market trends and drivers like SARBOX, board governance requirements, and the power of procurement departments will be forcing decisions into RFP/RFQ and RFI processes that are strong on process and weak on relevance.

Downsizing and streamlining will be piling more work onto managers and executives who have less time and functional knowledge in their areas of responsibility. In order to break through the easy choices of price, incumbent, or do nothing, we have to change our approach.