Why 70% of Your Market Waits For You

I’ve dedicated a good portion of my career to studying best practices in sales and marketing and am always on the lookout for improvements.

Whether I’m in the field on frontline experiences or buried in one of the hundreds of books, white papers and articles I consume, I’m always in search of nuggets I can share with my clients.

I took this knowledge and 30 years’ of experience and wrote, MERGE, a business book that lays out a repeatable, predictable sales process to simplify your pursuit of B2B complex sales.

In my new book, MERGE 2.0, which will be released later this year, I aim to educate my reader to identify the steps prospects go through each time they make a decision within their own process.

You can learn and apply selling tactics until you are blue in the face. But if you’re unaware of how your prospect decides or where in her process she is, making a sale is highly unlikely.

The main thrust of MERGE 2.0 tackles the prospect’s decision journey and teaches you how to help him or her move forward. I share years of observations, research data, and studies on prospect behaviors. I must credit MHI Global, CSO Insights, Corporate Executive Board and other august thinkers for pointing me toward the topic of buying and away from selling.

That resonates with me because I’ve had the advantage of working in the trenches selling and running organizations as a buyer.

A good way to see how a sales process works is to track the process you use yourself when you make a major decision. Think about your last major purchase─a car, life insurance, a vacation package.

Go ahead write out the steps you took to make the purchase. 

What issue or problem did you encounter and how did you fix it? 

Beginning Stage─Everything is Fine

When you first approach a prospect, based on your research, it is not surprising that a large percentage of them say I’m “happy with my current situation.” 

At this stage, many prospects believe they not only have no needs, but they have no problems either. In their mind everything is fine; no need to change anything.

I assume when you went through the purchase decision I asked you to write down, you started with this stage, albeit it might have lasted for a short period.

When I first learned sales years ago, I was taught that everyone has problems and needs. I just had to uncover them.

The bad news? I met lots of prospects who said they were totally happy. Prospects at this stage are extremely difficult to sell. The good news? Far fewer people occupy this stage than you think.

Research shows that only seven percent of the population is open to the idea of buying your products or services. This segment is dissatisfied with the current situation or provider and not opposed to change. But it’s not ready to buy right now. It’s not even too late for the three percent buying right now if you help them consider better options. Let’s visualize this state of the buyer breakdown:

The remaining 90 percent of the population falls into one of three categories. The top one-third is not thinking about making a change now. They’re not opposed to it, but just not thinking about it now.

Let’s say you sell healthcare insurance and you run a traditional advertisement in a magazine. No matter how creative your ad, it’s doubtful this group will respond.

The next third is the group that falls into this category, “I’m really not interested, I’m happy with my current situation.” 

The final third is definitely not interested. No matter how good your solution, they’re just not interested. Perhaps, they’re great clients of your competitor. Under rare circumstances will they think of changing.

Here’s Your Market

With this data in mind, seventy percent of your market is open to you at any given time.

Sixty percent of this group may truly believe what they have is perfect, but often it’s not. They’re simply unaware. And unconsciously waiting for someone like you to come along with a better offer. At least, like the bottom third, they’ll listen and consider a change, if it’s warranted. Because they haven’t encountered a problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, prospects stay in this category for a long time as product sales people come in and present the solution to the problem they don’t yet see.

In MERGE 2.0, I’ll teach readers how to lead their prospects to their products and services, not lead with their products or services.

Recognize and Acknowledge Stage

The recognize and acknowledge stage is the most critical phase of the buyer’s decision-making process. And I would say it is the most misunderstood by many salespeople. 

We learned from the early work at UCLA, by Dr. J.P. Guilford, on human intelligence, people deploy several different types of thinking to make decisions, and among the most important are three: cognition, divergence, and convergence.

Rational decision making always puts these three types of thinking in the same logical order: first cognition, then divergence and, finally, convergence.

It is the first phase, cognition, when the prospect will readily admit that, yes, he does have particular issues or problems that could be addressed with your solutions. Unfortunately, he will just as readily

state that, no, he does not want to do anything about these problems or issues at this time. He has other priorities to work on.

As a salesperson, what you want to look for at this stage is the prospect’s decision to fix or not fix the problem or issue. Remember, people buy when they want to fix, accomplish or avoid something. This motive is a critical point in the buying/selling process; the prospect has to acknowledge the problem and make the commitment to do something about it.

Can’t Move Forward

Salespeople tell me a good portion of their prospects is in the cognition stage. They have had great discussions, shared lots of information with each other, but the prospect is not committed to moving forward.

When I talk with buyers, two-thirds of them tell me this stage is exactly where they are in their decision-making process. They acknowledge they have the issue or problem, even some pain, however, the pain isn’t at the stage where it’s severe enough to do something now. No sense of urgency.

When you go back to the exercise I asked you to do with your own decision-making process, what were some of the things about your current situation that you didn’t like? 

In my personal example, it was to replace my set of golf clubs.

My current set isn’t perfect because if it were, I wouldn’t consider replacing it. I play fine with those clubs, but the set is almost four-years old. I could improve certain shots with new technology, especially with the longer irons.

As I look at my situation, which is like many buyers’ process, I’ve been considering new clubs for almost a year. A large percentage of prospects lock into this stage, where they know they have a problem but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

No-Decision Paralysis Stage

Two things keep buyers paralyzed in the no-decision stage. First, how big is the problem? I learned a long time ago, especially in complex B2B sales with lots of decision makers, people don’t fix small problems.

They just don’t have any sense of urgency if the problem or issue isn’t big. Only if the small problem grows will they move toward making a commitment to fix it. So you need to look for triggering events when you do your research.

The second reason is the fear of change. People fear change for many reasons. An HBR article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, gives us some answers.

In B2B selling, it’s the fear of loss of control, fear of the unknown and, as we have said in previous blogs, the fear your solution won’t work. People, when faced with choosing a familiar but unpleasant situation versus an unfamiliar situation, choose the familiar one because the unfamiliar situation may turn out to be worse. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” 

In MERGE 2.0, we’ll go into more detail on how you can help prospects see that the status quo is unsafe. In that way, you can begin to implant the notion of change as a good move.

“My product can improve your margins,” rarely works upfront in your initial conversations. What works is to focus on loss aversion. Loss aversion essentially says that people are twice as motivated to change a behavior or make a decision to avoid loss as they are to achieve gain.

So what is happening in your prospect’s organization, industry or environment that’s putting them at risk of loss? What loss do they fear?

Loss of autonomy.

Of all the possible fears in the world, humans share in common only five basic fears, claims author Dr. Karl Albrecht. Loss of autonomy is one. Understand it as a crucial layer in buyer decision making.

Dr. Albrecht defines the loss of autonomy as the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted. . . overwhelmed . . . or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control.

Some people strongly resist salespeople because, at a deeper level, they fear loss of control.

So you must respect this innate fear, and work around it, by helping your prospect early on in the process to see that the status quo is unsafe, and the gain you offer fulfills his definition of a solution.

I fear loss of autonomy. I don’t own the latest techno-charged golf clubs.

Bet the next time I don’t make par, I’ll jump off the cart and make my way to some new Callaways.

Because right now my status quo feels pretty unsafe.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

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