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Why Sales Fail

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(Note: This is an excerpt from my new book in progress — Why Sales Fail, or I�d Close More Sales if it Weren�t for the Buyer.)

Are your sales cycles longer than necessary?

Are you losing business to the competition when you shouldn't be?

Are you having trouble differentiating yourself?

Are you getting price objections when your product is clearly superior?

If you face any of the above, it's because you are using sales methods.

Do I have your attention? Good, because sales operates on a set of myths that perpetuate failure.

I am going to debunk these myths that have defined the entire industry for decades, if not centuries. Myths that have cost companies, salespeople, and clients unfathomable money, time, and success. Myths that not only advocate misguided sales methods but also design unproductive marketing and advertising campaigns and keep management from being able to forecast revenue. Myths that have kept salespeople from closing all the sales they should be closing.

The Buyer is Stupid

Let me begin with a story. My book Selling with Integrity was originally titled I'd Close More Sales if it Weren't for the Buyer. I mentioned this at the start of a sales training with a noted hardware provider. Everyone cheered and gave me a standing ovation. I was surprised; for me the title was so silly that I expected laughter. For me the title was equivalent to "I would have had an easier birth if it weren't for my mother."

These successful professionals were doing the stuff that sellers are expected to do: gathering data, understanding the buyer's "pain," learning enough about the buyer's needs to present a relevant solution, developing relationships, offering strategic ways to solve persistent problems, providing good service, following up, having a trustworthy product, being a great trusted advisor. Yet they were not getting the results they deserved, and they felt frustrated that given how well they understood buyer's needs and provided creative solutions (Truly they did!), that they gave such great service (They cared! They cared!), that they had such a good product (The best!), and that they assiduously followed up (After waiting just the right number of days!), they closed only a small percentage of their prospects.

Indeed, they were perplexed at the prolonged time it took to close and watched in dismay and annoyance as prospects often chose the wrong solution or — even more confounding — chose no solution at all.

So much wasted time. And so many lost prospects who would have closed if they knew how. There could be only one conclusion: the buyer was stupid.

"Maybe," I suggested, "there is something you are missing." They couldn't think of what it could be. They were smart, rigorous, and professional. They assumed the disappointing results were "givens" — that buyers made stupid decisions, didn't really know what they needed, didn't appreciate quality, had no loyalty, and weren't smart enough to understand a new product.

What if the Buyer Weren't Stupid?

And that's the problem with sales. Given the best sales skills in the world, given care and responsibility, a great product and branding, and talking to the "right" decision makers, you close only a fraction of your prospects. Telemarketing and scripted calls close 0.5% to 1%. Small business bankers close approximately 2% even after a year of face visits. Software salespeople close approximately 5% to 7%. But it's safe to say that there is a more or less 90% failure rate as a result of prospecting using available selling skills.

Yet you have continued to seek perfection over the years. You focused on customer care, then relationship management, and then being a trusted advisor. You've discovered buyer pain, marketed with neuromarketing, and targeted the "old brain." You've done solution selling and SPIN, gotten to VITO, and looked for the high probability.

You keep learning how to better yourselves with updated forms of pitching, presenting, prospecting, closing, educating, and handling objections. You've learned to put your needs second and profess to really care about making sure customers get what they need, even if it's not your product. You've hired seasoned professionals, assuming they'd be more successful — and then played musical chairs as you fired them for deficient numbers and hired similar people in hopes of greater success. You assume that if you provide the right information in the right way at the right time and brand yourselves fashionably, the buyer will understand why he or she needs to buy — from you.

Sales, advertising, and marketing are all based on product placement and perceived-problem resolution — a problem management model, if you will. The industry spends trillions on demographic studies, neuroscience studies of how the buyer's brain works, focus groups, and market tests. But all that achieves is higher probabilities for specific markets — not a way to manage or influence an individual prospect's decision-making capacity. You still fail to close all of the sales you deserve to close.

Regardless of the sales vehicle or skill, the industry or the price tag, the same basic set of beliefs about the "job" of sales persists, building in reduced possibilities (a more than 400% increase over your standard expectations could be the norm), 100 hours a month wasted using your bodies as prospecting tools, and months or years of positioning, strategizing, and waiting. Adding insult to injury, you hire four times more sellers than necessary because close rates are so abysmal that you have to hire more people to make up the numbers.

And what about the buyer? What if the buyer is getting less than he or she needs, paying more for it, and not getting his or her resolution in a timely way because he or she is just responding to the sales model? What if the buyer has the best will in the
world — truly wants the best vendor or solution or time frame — and still ends up with an inferior solution? Where does he or she go wrong? And why don't the very skills of "sales" help him or her get it right?

As of yet, few have questioned the model itself. You've just built in failure as being an expectation of the field and continued the frustration of finding new ways to do the same thing differently with the same results, developing better and better skills at doing the same wrong things better and better.

What is going on here?

Where Sales Fail

I'm here to tell you that you are wonderful, your product is great, and your buyers are smart. It's the model itself that is broken.

Let me begin by naming a few overarching myths that sales perpetuates:
  • Buyers buy because they are in pain.
  • Buyers recognize a need when they notice a problem.
  • Buyers buy on price.
  • Buyers buy on emotion.
  • Buyers need to have a "face" visit with a seller to develop a relationship.
  • Buyers buy from a seller they like because they like and trust him or her.
  • Good branding and great products will drive sales.
  • Being professional, doing great information gathering, and being a great trusted advisor will teach the buyer how to trust and choose a vendor.
  • Sellers need to understand the buyer's problem or "pain."
  • Providing and gathering the right information will enable buyers to make sense of their needs.
If the above were true, buyers would have solved their problems yesterday or make quicker decisions or choose the cheapest solution every time. But they don't.

As a result of operating based on incorrect beliefs, sellers:
  • Have sales cycles up to five times longer than necessary.
  • Get unnecessary money objections.
  • Assume that a 90%-plus failure rate is the norm (and build this inadequate projection into their budgets).
  • Chase prospects for months or years and then possibly lose the sale.
  • Assume that "pain + good solution + good service + good price + need = purchase."
  • Don't know they have lost the sale until it is too late to recover.
  • Work arduously in attempts to know all of the answers to ensure they sound professional, represent their companies well, and ensure they are seen as true professionals.
  • Spend zillions of dollars trying to figure out how to present and pitch information that buyers may not need in order to buy.
  • Don't recognize that buyers will never buy until they have spent too much time on them.
Sales has failed because it assumes that you can sell product by fully understanding the identified problem and positioning, pricing, and presenting your solution appropriately, using the most appropriate medium in front of the "right" people.

When I ask sellers why they lost a deal, they ultimately say (after first complaining about what a jerk the buyer was) that if they had done their job "better" the buyer would have bought.'s the seller who is stupid?

It's Always a Systems Problem

Given your skill set, you do a wonderful job. Truly. I've met very, very few of you whom I would call unprofessional. Across industries and market segments, from telemarketers to senior partners, I have found that you truly care about your clients and really want to do a good job. You somehow weather the daily rejection (also built into the profession) and keep on keepin' on. Each day you fight the good fight. You read more books on your profession than professionals in any other industry, always working harder to get that "edge" that will help you close the deal. Half a billion dollars per year are spent on sales training worldwide. You're a very, very professional group with ethics, standards, and commitment.

Yet, through no fault of your own, you haven't been taught the secret: that a buyer's identified problem — that problem or "pain" that you work so assiduously to understand and resolve — can't be fixed the way you've been taught to help fix it. You haven't been taught that sales should be a systems competency, that a buyer's identified problem is only a small piece of a much larger issue he or she is facing, and you've unwittingly been held in place daily by the company or team, history, rules, politics, and relationships.

Indeed, the buyer's identified problem is only the tip of the iceberg — the visible part of a much larger, unresolved set of issues. And having a product that will "fix" the perceived problem is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg: it treats the identified problem as if it were a relatively isolated event.

Systems thinking believes that nothing stands alone, that everything is somehow related, that nothing exists in a vacuum, that there are "key interrelationships that influence behavior over time. These are not interrelationships between people, but among key variables" (pg. 44, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge).

The Neuroscience of Human Relationships by Louis Cozolino says, "Our experience of the world is constructed around the notion of the isolated self...Yet...all of our biologies are interwoven" (pg. 3). Nothing stands alone. Nothing is isolated from the system that creates, surrounds, perpetuates, and constrains it. In other words, for a change to occur, the very elements within the system that created and maintains the problem must seek and then embrace the change.

Not an Isolated Event

Here's a simplistic analogy:

Imagine driving down a street and seeing a "for sale" sign on the house of your dreams — and then going directly in and buying it. Unthinkable! Your spouse would most likely object; your budget and funding would have to be considered; your time frame would need to be organized; you'd somehow have to manage an array of interrelationships (schools, playgroups, soccer practice, moving schedules, weather) that are unique to you and your living situation. Great house, great price, great location, you have the money, you need to move anyway…and your spouse might want to change jobs and need to relocate. Or you might be waiting for interest rates to drop. Or you might need to have knee surgery next month. Or, or, or...

When you consider offering a solution to a prospect, it's important to remember that all of the stakeholders and ideas and unspoken biases and hidden historic events and policies and rules that reside within the prospect's company, team, or family have conspired to create, maintain, and perpetuate the identified problem.

Therefore, what is perceived as the prospect's identified problem is merely a highly visible segment of a much larger problem within the buyer's culture — like having historic money issues that would preclude you from easily getting a loan for that perfect new house. Add to the challenge the fact that the problem has become part of the fabric of the system and will continue to maintain itself daily (and will resist change) until something else replaces it that the entire system buys into.

This tangle of interdependent components (sometimes invisible even to the prospect) creates an identified problem that needs so much more than just recognizing, understanding, or resolving. And because your product probably does resolve the visible part of the identified problem, you dangerously assume that your product could be the prospect's solution, leading you to continue the "push" strategies invoked by sales.

But by then you're not only facing unnecessarily long sales cycles; you're also facing a resistance problem. That's why you end up getting objections, excuses, confusions, time delays, contact problems, and decision issues and closing such a small percentage of your prospects.

Sales Can't Discern Systems

As you can see, it's quite simplistic to think that your care and professionalism, product, or any external solution coming in at the wrong time — even when the identified problem seems to seek a resolution — can resolve this. Of course some prospects show up and buy. I call this the "lucky stripe" — that magical place where everything shows up just right and you close a sale quickly. This happens because the prospect has already managed his or her systems decisions.

Make no mistake: this resolution of systems components needs to happen anyway — with you or without you — and the time it takes buyers to accomplish this is the length of the sales cycle.

The entire model of selling is based on wrong assumptions. Buyers don't buy when they discover a need or have pain; they've been living with that for a period of time. They buy only when they have defined their own internal questions, resolved and discovered their own unique paths through their systems issues, and figured out how to bring in change without disruption. Once this occurs, they will know exactly how to buy from you, and they will actually need your sales skills and product knowledge. But until then, the sales model potentially slows down any comprehensive resolution.

Sales fails because you are pushing, pulling, influencing the area surrounding the identified problem, and handling just the tip of the iceberg. Sales fails because it assumes that great products and well-positioned data will teach a buyer to buy. And sales ultimately fails because the system will fight change until all internal systems elements are managed. Sales must become a systems resolution event — not a problem management model.

Success is Possible

It is indeed possible to help buyers manage their buying decisions. To do this, you will have to learn an additional set of skills — new ways to listen and new things to listen for, new types of questions to ask, new curiosity, new focus, and a new way to enter the seller-buyer interaction.

Your results will be profound. You will:
  • Have much, much shorter sales cycles, as buyers will be able to make all of their necessary decisions much more quickly.
  • Have a much broader range of prospects, including folks who weren't seeking a solution but need your product.
  • Be able to discern the difference between a real prospect and someone who needs to be dropped (even on the first call).
  • Quickly become part of the buyer's decision team and lead him or her efficiently through critical systems decisions.
  • Differentiate yourself from the competition because you are facilitating the real issues, helping to resolve the core problem rather than the identified problem.
  • Hear no objections, as there won't be anything to object to.
Adding this front end to your current sales approach will give you a shorter sales cycle overall. Remember: the buyer has to do all this anyway; he or she might as well do it with you. Doing it with you will save time, differentiate you, and create a lasting bond. And your buyers will have found their own answers, melding your solution with the solutions they design.

Change the game. Selling and buying are two different activities and handle the two distinct phases necessary for a buying decision: the buyer-led systems management phase and the seller-driven product placement phase. Do you want to sell? Or do you want to have someone buy?

About Morgen Facilitations Inc.
  • Are you seeking to add new skills to the sales training you're offering your staff or clients?
  • Do you have an interest in running new sales programs that work from the basis of servant leadership, systems thinking, and values?
  • Are you seeking new ways to help clients differentiate themselves, help their buyers make more effective and efficient buying decisions, and become true valued partners in their prospecting and selling interactions?
If so, we would love you to consider working with us to become a licensing partner and offer Buying Facilitation Method® training programs to your current training offerings. We are now very actively seeking small to mid-sized training companies with clients who seek additional training in innovative selling skills — skills not available in sales training until now — to join our growing international collaboratory.

Our Facilitating Buying Decisions Program

Our Facilitating Buying Decisions program is quite unusual. It's a learning-based environment (as are all programs designed by Sharon Drew Morgen) and models the decision facilitation material, teaching learners how to recognize what they need to learn and how to incorporate the new material into their existing skill sets.

Indeed, due to the course's design, the Facilitating Buying Decisions program can be reoriented to any other form of collaborative decision-making training, such as training in negotiation skills, coaching, management, customer service, or change implementation, for use in any industry, price point, or market segment. Because our material is a skill set based on a decision sequencing that Sharon Drew Morgen developed, any buying environment that requires a new decision would be an appropriate use of the material. For example, we've trained companies selling major services — large, multimillion-dollar international tax solutions with a Big Four accounting firm — as well as a major cosmetics company selling lipsticks over the counter. It's a decision-focused model rather than a product-oriented model and sits on top of sales as we've known it.

Licensing Terms

We assume you will continue to train using other programs and merely add our facilitation programs to your list of offerings. Therefore, our charges include the licensing program training fee and a use-only fee (a portion of the licensing fee you charge your customer). There are no franchise fees and no monthly fees.

Marketing Support

Sharon Drew Morgen will help you market the programs, speak with prospects, design new programs, offer webinars and technology, and do whatever it takes to ensure that you become successful. Collaboratory support includes annual meetings, conference calls, and a group blog to share stories, get questions answered from the field, and international references. We will only license people in non-competitive arrangements, thereby limiting the number of license partners to a committed few.

If you wish to discuss this with Sharon Drew Morgen personally, please spend a bit of time fully understanding the program, the method, and the training model, and then contact her at
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Popular tags:

 sale  providers  sales training  Morgen Facilitations Inc.  systems thinking  pain  prospects  data  conflicts  buying facilitation

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