It's true I've dedicated many entries on this blog to pointing out that, to market and sell a successful product, you must develop it so that it:
- Solves problems that prospective customers face.
- Captures or "owns" a compelling position in the mind of the prospective customer.
Prospects wishing to purchase and use your product face resistance from internal stakeholders, buying processes that are burdensome and bureaucratic, and entrenched ways of doing things that a new product would disrupt. Why on Earth would a prospective buyer subject herself to all these risks and frustrations?
In short, sometimes the buying decision process is so cumbersome and politically difficult that buyers choose not to make a change or purchase. More business is lost to "maintaining the status quo" than is lost to competitive offerings. For a prospective customer, continuing to live with the status quo is often a much more appealing option than slogging through the pain of a buying decision and changing the way they do things.
If we concentrate solely on solving problems for customers and positioning our product in the market, we ignore the most important obstacles to product adoption.
Sharon Drew Morgen tells us how to pave the way for customers to buy and use a new product: Buying Facilitation®. I include the ® symbol because Sharon Drew coined the term and has registered it as a trademark. (At this point, you're thinking that you already know what Buying Facilitation® is, and that you're already doing it. Not likely. When I first began to learn about it, I mistakenly thought I was already doing it. By the way, Buying Facilitation® is not the same as SPIN selling or interviewing prospects.)
Buying Facilitation® is an addition and complement to conventional selling that helps buyers address the change management issues preceding any purchasing decision. It does so by helping them to deal with behind-the-scenes internal politics, processes, relationships that they will inevitably have to confront. While sales does needs assessment and product positioning, Buying Facilitation® comes before these activities and requires a different skill set.
We, sitting on the outside of each individual buyer's unique system, will never fully understand their buying decision processes and challenges. But with Buying Facilitation®, we apply a new set of skills to guide them through the steps they will have to follow to address the change management issues, before considering the pros and cons of our product. As Sharon Drew says, we play the role of "neutral navigator". Before buyers can purchase, they must get internal buy-in. They will do so with or without us. We can play a part by applying the new set of change management skills Buying Facilitation® embodies.
Using facilitative questions, Buying Facilitation® helps buyers:
- Identify the stakeholders that must buy into any purchasing decision.
- Identify the individuals, departments, and processes that a new solution would affect.
- Decide if they really need a new solution or can manage a workaround using convenient choices.
- Manage the relationships, internal politics, and historical baggage they will face as they seek buy-in.
- Formulate a plan to talk to internal stakeholders and assemble a buying decision team.
- "Can you tell me how you currently get your site designed and administered?"
- "How will you know that it would be viable to use an outside vendor when the current tech team has historically done all of the site design?"
- "What will the disparate groups need to know or understand to decide to work together?"
- "What will your CFO need to reconsider or know in order to allow in a new vendor when one of her reports is the tech manager?"
- "How will you know that the historic issue can teach us how to avoid the same problem as we move forward?"
By playing the "neutral navigator" role, we become a trusted adviser. Since we've helped the buyer navigate painful buying decision and change management issues, they are likely to include us on the buying decision team (as long as we stay neutral and focus on change management rather than sales). They may even choose our product automatically when they are ready to buy.
The person employing Buying Facilitation® is often someone resembling a sales person, but with an important new set of skills. How do you think product managers can incorporate Buying Facilitation® concepts?
[UPDATE: Here is Sharon Drew Morgen's legal definition of "Buying Facilitation®":
Buying Facilitation® designates very specific set of systems-based skills that help buyers (and anyone) navigate through the full range of their behind-the-scenes change management and decision issues – usually not need- or solution-related but based on internal relationships, politics, rules, etc. necessary for change: pre-purchase, pre-needs assessment, pre-solution choice…pre sales.]