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.

1. ‘Offer appropriate data’. When you provide information (via a pitch, ad, presentation, marketing material, etc.), you are effectively containing your purchasing audience to those already seeking your product line. You have no value to those prospects who don’t know they are missing anything. By definition, once you offer information, only those prospects already in search of your solution will be interested - making you a commodity in a price war, Those who are comfortable in their status quo (even if it appears they are willing to make a new purchase) will get defensive as they won't be ready to change, and use your pitch and 'money' as an excuse.

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 had limited 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 questioning sequence. 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) and my seller based her opinion on her ability to fill in the blanks.

Using a premature 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, or an unrecognized need, 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 highlights 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 to an apparently qualified buyer. 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 adopting the solution, and that the appropriate people will know how to buy-in to the changes being requested of them.

Prospects must grapple with a complex set of internal decision-making before making a purchase. The need answers to 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? What happens with the people who are not in agreement? How will new hires be trained? 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?

Gathering specific information about needs is appropriate only after the decision to change and aligned internal decisions and decision makers gets managed. 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-considered before any new decisions get made. In other words, gathering information is but a small piece of the dialogue and is appropriate 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? And according to whom? To the person you’re speaking with? To the CEO? How do any of them know what each of them value? Or how they’ll know to shift current values for future values? What does a successful solution mean to their current operation?

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 their problem. Ultimately this expression gets used when sales people want the prospect to know that they really care.

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 only if prospects are helped in managing the complex set of decisions they need to make to get ready to change.

These days most sellers are attempting to ‘add value’, so everyone seems to care. But this type of caring currently takes place around fixing a problem in the area the 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; 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 may include purchasing your product) and not engender disruption. Hint: they need to do this anyway, with you or without you. So it might as well be with you. By using Buying Facilitation and teaching your prospects how to design their own solution, you won't have to:

  • "offer appropriate data" – the buyer will design their solution and tell you the exact information they need;
  • "gather information" – the buyer discovers how to resolve their own problem by managing their unique, idiosyncratic internal criteria;
  • "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 start the decision making process by managing their own unique and systemic needs. The solution they design will then match the internal criteria of their environment and they will then by able to factor in your product effortlessly, as part of their solution design - thereby reducing your sales cycle by 2/3.
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, adds value, closes much quicker, and avoids price wars. Not to mention finds you 3x more prospects. Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy.



Sharon Drew will be running a series of trainings in Europe soon, to offer the Buying Facilitation Method® and to teach our new Facilitating Buying Decisions program to new licenseholders. If you are a training manager and seek to offer Buying Facilitation in a mainstream program format to large corporate sales teams, or a mid-sized training company wishing to add new content to your offerings, please consider adding our program.
Program and registration data:


Sharon Drew will be doing a keynote address and running two breakout sessions May 19-20 at the Great Minds Live conference in Scottsdale Arizona. There will be other wonderful speakers, all approaching innovation and change from different angles, and it should be a very exciting conference. See info on:


The Ethical Sales Assessor™ is under development. It will use the Buying Facilitation Method® and the ethical communication standard first introduced in Selling with Integrity. This tool will assess the level of ethical communication sales reps employ with prospects and clients, in areas such as prospecting, closing, customer service, and managing the sales cycle.

The tool will ask Facilitative Questions to uncover all aspects of seller/client communication and will not only evaluate how ethically each interaction represents your company brand, but will also determine how a rep's communication skills may be undermining their results.

Following completion of the questionnaire you will be provided with a written assessment. We will also have upgraded packages available which may include coaching directly with Sharon Drew and follow up improvement assessments.

We have the following modules in development:

  • Ethical Prospecting Assessor,
  • Ethical Closing Assessor,
  • Ethical Customer Service Assessor,
  • Ethical Sales Cycle Assessor.

If you have a small sales team interested in trialing the first module for us, let us know:

As always, we are here to serve you. We thank you for your support.

Copyright 2006 by Sharon Drew Morgen. All rights reserved.