Extracting The Truth From Buyers

Sales as a profession requires the skills of the sleuth.

Sales as a profession require the skills of the sleuth.  There is no information, false information, incomplete information, low-value information, and actual stuff worth knowing to parse.  The buyer has what we want and hopefully, we have what they want.  We need to go through a dance-like phase first, as we shadow the box around the subject before we can start to go deep in search of the truth.  The truth may be that we are not the solution for the buyer and a lot of valuable time gets wasted before we establish that reality.  We need to be better at getting the real facts on the table faster.

The selection of a buyer is where the trouble starts.  Salespeople are so desperate to get a conversation with a potential buyer, they are willing to overlook all the false flag indicators.  In modern business life, your phone calls made to absent buyers wither for a return.  Those emails you have sent are like fiction that never existed.  Silence screams back at you as you wonder why you can’t get in contact with the prospect.

This creates tension around skimpy sales funnels and looming deadlines.  Getting an appointment is felt to be better than getting nothing.  Somehow that gives the salesperson the hope they can wrestle the buyer to the ground and extract a sale out of them.  Any buyer qualifying process applied may result in a non-starter.  The potential deal is dead before we even get going and we can’t live with that thought, so better to meet and worry about the non-sale possibility later.

Which is better, seeing a bevy of non-buyers or one buyer?  Obviously, the one qualified buyer is going to be a better use of our time, than hanging around wasting everyone’s day with a non-fit between buyer and seller.  We all have one or two killer questions that indicate if a deeper conversation is either needed or not and we should be brave and ask.  All we have is time, so the more efficiently we spend our time with well-qualified buyers the better, no matter how desperate we may be feeling about needing to speak to buyers directly.

Having properly qualified the buyer, what do we do about the buyer not being forthcoming with information?  In a Japanese context, just wading in asking very detailed questions about all the weak points, failings, flaws, and shortcomings of their firm is guaranteed to be met with stony silence.  We need to set up the questioning phase.  As part of our credibility statement, we mentioned what we do, what we have done to help other companies, and suggested we could also do something for this buyer.  We do this in a halting, uncertain way: “maybe we could do the same for you?”.  The next sentence is vital.  “In order for me to know whether that is possible or not, would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”.  Without getting that permission, we will get nothing.

Even when we do receive permission, it doesn’t signify that the floodgates of freely flowing information have opened up so that we can do our job.  The issues we hear about may just be the tip of the iceberg.  We are usually not being made privy to the whole scenario.  We hear part of the story but not the whole thing.  This is a pain.  We are on a wild goose chase now for solutions that won’t fully match the need.  We don’t know that of course, so we confidently push forward looking for gaps we can fill and issues we can solve.

It is always a good policy to assume that what the buyer is telling us isn’t everything and that we are potentially fooling ourselves if we think we have a clear picture of the problem.  The temptation however is to go straight into “helpful” mode and start deriving solutions to the stated problem.  Especially so when you have been struggling to get appointments with qualified buyers and are feeling a bit desperate.

Better to hold our fire until we have dug deeper and have double-checked what we are being told.  We should ask to follow up questions about what we have been informed.  We should also assemble a number of issues raised and then have the buyer tell us which ones have the higher priority for them.  No point in trying hard to solve something which is of marginal value to the buyer.

We have to accept that perhaps we need to spend more time building trust with the buyer, in order for them to feel safe and comfortable to release the type of data we need so that we can be helpful.  The idea of doing the deal at the first meeting is basically an illusion in Japan.  It so rarely ever happens.  There is always going to be a need for a number of meetings and we should be prepared for that and be happy about it.  The more trust we can build, the more clarity we will receive about the issues the buyer is really facing.

We need to be harsh with ourselves when doing buyer qualifications.  We need to assume the buyer doesn’t trust us enough on the basis of one meeting, to share all the dirty laundry of their firm.  We need to dig deep and double-check our assumptions made on the basis of what we have been told.  Being skeptical of what we are being told is always a sound policy.  Take our time to build trust and get the real situation, because we are looking to construct a lifetime partnership with this buyer and our aim is not a sale – it is the re-order.  Always eyes peeled for false prophets of the tips of icebergs!

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