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What Is Buying Facilitation®?

Believe it or not, prospect problems and product positioning play only a small part in customers' decisions to purchase or use your product. The majority of obstacles to product adoption lie in the behind-the-scenes decision-making processes that people and organizations face.

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:
  1. Solves problems that prospective customers face.
  2. Captures or "owns" a compelling position in the mind of the prospective customer.
Many, if not most, products fail on both these counts. I've explained how the best product managers acquire market understanding and apply marketing principles to address these issues. Nonetheless, even products that solve problems and are well positioned often fail, because buyers weren't able to deal with change management issues that precede the purchase of a product.

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:
  1. Identify the stakeholders that must buy into any purchasing decision.
  2. Identify the individuals, departments, and processes that a new solution would affect.
  3. Decide if they really need a new solution or can manage a workaround using convenient choices.
  4. Manage the relationships, internal politics, and historical baggage they will face as they seek buy-in.
  5. Formulate a plan to talk to internal stakeholders and assemble a buying decision team.
Sharon Drew's latest book, Dirty Little Secrets, has some great examples of the types of change management questions we may ask as we navigate prospects through their buying decisions:
  • "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?"
We ask these questions not to get the answers for ourselves, but to stimulate and help the buyer to find the answers she needs. In her training classes, Sharon Drew teaches the sequence of questions, which depends partly on the buyer's specific circumstances. (Incidentally, she is holding small public training programs on Buying Facilitation® in Austin and Boston this September.)

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.]


Mat said…
Great post.

As product managers, we absolutely must be considering Buying Facilitation®; especially in the enterprise market.

This topic obviously spans the PM and Sales roles, but as PMs we should be thinking through the typical buyer personas; stepping into their shoes and understanding their hurdles; enabling them with information that can help them build an internal business case.

Additionally, we should be enabling our sales force by educating them on the typical buying organization, citing the buyers, influencers, users, approvers, gatekeepers, etc.

Practical deliverables from this exercise could be formal buyer persona profiles, pricing strategies to meet the OpEX/CapEx positions of potential customers, ROI calculators, or win/loss analysis which includes a depiction of the buying process.
Roger L. Cauvin said…
Agree completely with you, Mat. Part of what great product managers do is gain an understanding of the different types of buyers, what makes them tick, and what challenges they face during the buying process.

But it's important to recognize a fundamental premise behind Buying Facilitation®: A prospective buying organization is a system. Sitting outside that system, no matter how hard we try, we will never fully understand its unique and idiosyncratic circumstances and personalities. Furthermore, there is no need to understand it. Instead, by asking facilitative questions, we help our inside agent - a buyer within the system - navigate the people, processes, and politics.

The model of product management assumes that we must know. Buying Facilitation® assumes that we need not know, at least not everything. To me, for this reason, the ways product management can leverage Buying Facilitation® are not obvious or trivial.

That said, Sharon Drew has suggested a product team (internal, not having anything to do with external buyers or users) can and should use "decision facilitation" to make product decisions. Just as a buyer has to navigate a system to get buy-in for purchasing decisions, a product manager has to navigate his product team to get buy-in for product decisions. Facilitative questions can help the product manager get this buy-in.

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