Screw the Sales Process. Study the Buying Process

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We spend way too much time in our companies designing, measuring, and enabling, the Sales Process.

Every time you hear those words (Sales Process), I want you to ask a question: Wouldn’t it be more useful if we talked about the Buying Process?

Does this difference – between Sales process and Buying process – sound like hair splitting?

It’s not. You can make up a Sales Process. You have to talk to actual buyers to map the Buying Process. When you do that, everything will change.

– Alan


17 responses to “Screw the Sales Process. Study the Buying Process

  1. good point. it is easy to interchange the two processes but in reality they are different.

    the more you can learn about what goes through a customers mind during the buying process the better you can plan.



  2. “Roger” that. To maximize sales effectiveness, you need to apply both. Too often sales executives are focused on developing a repeatable sale process — paying little attention to how customers make buying decisions. While a repeatable sales process is key to scaling sales operations, the tougher (and more interesting) job is to identify a buying process. In fact, understanding your market’s buying process is (should be) a prerequisite to any sales process worth its salt (or quota). After all, how can your sales process effectively address customer needs without first understanding them? A well designed sales process “matches” your customers’ buying process.

  3. Understanding the buying process is not just an issue for the sales organization, but for the company as a whole. Very often it will have significant implications – requiring flexibility of thinking & operational processes – to accomodate customer’s buying processes.

    e.g., JIT/VIM purchasing frameworks….

  4. kevin sample

    Check out Neil Rackham’s book “SPIN Selling” for a good research-based treatment of the buying process.

  5. Hmm, sounds suspiciously similar to what I heard in a session at ProductCamp Austin yesterday 🙂

  6. Thanks for these comments. Despite our violent agreement in this corner of the blogosphere, I don’t see this idea being incorporated into very many sales or PMM functions. The industry needs to reorient itself, gents!

  7. I Agree. If this is Incorporated. We can realize better output by putting in the efforts in the right direction

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  9. I agree that understanding the buying process is very important. However, there are 2 aspects of the buying process that buyers will not discuss openly unless addressed directly:
    1. buying priorities
    2. buying criteria
    Buying priorities can be assumed, generally, as:
    A. Will this solution meet my REAL NEEDS?
    B. How risky is this solution?
    C. will this company ( people) be good to work with?
    However, determining buying CRITERIA is a different matter. Without knowing the buying criteria–there is no way to understand REAL NEEDS–and, once you know it, you may have to convince the buyer to change it–which is a little more difficult than learning it.

  10. One thing that product management and sales are just barely beginning to comprehend is that it’s neither possible nor necessary to fully understand the buying process.

    More important (at least for sales) is to learn to facilitate each buyer to assemble a “buying decision team” and navigate the unique and idiosyncratic systems that must buy into, and adapt to, the change that a sale will entail.

    Check out Sharon Drew Morgan’s “buying facilitation” for details and explanations:

    • I don’t think anyone suggests it can be fully understood. I do like the idea of buying facilitation! Thanks for the link to Sharon!

      • Yes, but the point is one of emphasis.

        Should the emphasis be on understanding the buying process, or on learning how to help the buyer navigate it (without sales, product management, or anyone else outside the buyer’s organization even knowing what it is)?

        For example, your blog entry mentioned talking to buyers to “map the buying process”. In buying facilitation (R), you don’t map the buying process. Instead, you make it easier for the buyer to understand and navigate it.

        • I see your point. Not sure if the difference is semantics or substance. I’ll be in touch with Sharon. I can’t tell you what the process will be, but I think it will be easy to understand and navigate the conversation. 🙂

  11. Take a look at my blog post today, about how Buying Facilitation(R) and Sales work together as a one/two skill. Sales manages the needs assessment/solution placement end of the buying decision. It does nothing to help buyers manage their off-line, behind-the-scenes decision issues they must address privately to get the necessary buy-in for any change (i.e. a purchase).

    The ‘buying process’ issues that many of you are speaking about are based on how you assume they choose a solution, but don’t manage all of the stuff that comes well before, and sellers aren’t privvy to.

    My Buying Facilitation(R) model is a decision facilitation model – not a sales model, although it works alongside of sales as a front end – and helps buyers manage their own buying decision process. We cannot be there with them when they have their private discussions or political battles. But Buying Facilitation(R) will give you the ability to be an unbiased change agent, navigating them through their internal struggles as they inch their way toward determining if a purchase is necessary.

    My email is I wrote a blog post today about this:

    • Hi Sharon – thanks for your note. I’ll add you to our blog roll. I like the way you frame the idea – sales as facilitation. This aligns well with the new world where information is free. I’d like to understand that a little more clearly. In my own practice I interview buyers after decisions are made, and they reveal a great deal about the process they’ve gone through. My clients find this information very useful in future engagements, because they learn what’s happening behind the scenes. While each situation is of course unique, a lot of patterns can be drawn.

      I also have success as a third party with “stuck” or “push” deals. I interview the buyer (or captain of the buying team), and understand where things are at. I really am acting as a facilitator (one who “makes things easier” for both sides of a negotiation). I don’t push a sale, but I do look for what’s getting stuck, and how it might become unstuck.

      I’d love to speak with you further about your model. Maybe you would join us on a podcast episode! Thanks for being in touch. – Alan

      • I’m glad the two of you are connecting. Alan, speaking from my own experience, it’s difficult to switch to Sharon Drew’s mindset.

        In particular, facilitating a buying decision isn’t a matter of sales or product management, who stand outside the purchasing organization, understanding and navigating the internal processes and stakeholder.

        Think of a buying facilitator as someone who asks a buyer the right questions. The purpose is to help the buyer do what’s necessary behind the scenes to identify the change points that would need to occur in the system and assemble the right buying decision team. The buyer is the agent best placed and most qualified to do this work; sales may never know – and doesn’t need to know – all of the answers to the questions and everything the buyer did behind the scenes.

        • Yes, I agree with this approach. I tend to act in this buyer facilitation roll when I interview “stuck” buyers … the symptom is that the buyer won’t phone my client back. So I call as a third party, interview the buyer, and try to help them and my client find the stuck spots. Sometimes the buyer has moved on and we are out of contention. That’s fine, we learn what we can and adjust the pipeline/forecast. But often, things are just stuck, and I become a facilitator.

          I had one buyer call my client up and call me the “analyst” … as in, get on the couch! They are moving forward now after having been stuck.

          So I love the idea of buyer facilitation, and realize that’s what I’ve been doing in practice. It IS hard to teach a sales person this stuff though … when you say it’s hard, I can see it being very hard for traditional sales people.