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5 Steps to Collaborate with Buyers in the Selling Process

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

When buyers buy something, one of two things must be true:

  1. They are required to buy.
  2. They want to buy.

In the former, they have no choice. Get sued, hire a lawyer. Buying = required. The lawyer doesn’t need to convince the buyer why to buy legal services in general, only why to buy them from them.

In the latter, the buyer has a choice. Buying = desired. They don’t need to buy, but if they want it badly enough, and have the money and authority to buy, they buy.

Since the buyer isn’t required to buy when sellers drive demand, sellers must be able to take their priority of making a sale happen, and make it the buyer’s priority to make a purchase happen.

It’s not that easy, though, because you’re nowhere near the buyer’s priority list when you start.

The key to moving up on a buyer’s priority list are desire and ownership:

  • Desire: They really need to want what you can do for them. 
  • Ownership: You need to take something that wasn’t even on their radar screen and get them to believe deeply, “I need to do something about this!”

Perhaps the most overlooked strategy for creating buyer desire and ownership is getting them involved in the selling process by inviting their collaboration.

Sellers who win the most sales collaborate with buyers almost three times as often as the sellers that come in second place. In almost every sales situation, collaboration helps.

How to Collaborate in the Selling Process

Here are 5 steps to engage buyers through collaboration:

  1. Prepare buyers to collaborate: Set a meeting that opens the door for collaboration. For example, you can set the meeting with the stated premise of sharing some ideas you think may be worthwhile to a buyer, but the ideas aren’t finished and you need their help to think them through. This opens the door for their involvement in the process.

    Then kick off the meeting with the right introduction and expectations, including asking them to dive in with thoughts and questions at any time.

    When you engage buyers, the idea is to invite them to be an active participant in a process, not someone who listens to a pitch and then decides “up or down” on buying what you’re selling.
  2. Wonder with the buyer: When sellers create their own opportunities, they often err on the side of over-pitching. The seller pitches, hoping to inspire the buyer. The buyer sits there disengaged, even when the ROI seems huge.

    The problem is often not in the impact the product or service can have on the buyer, it’s the psychological effect of not being involved enough in the discussion. Early on, ask the buyer to wonder with you about possibilities. For example, you might say:

    • So it’s happened like this at our other two client sites. Given what we discussed so far, imagine for a minute you implemented something similar, and it’s 6 months from now. What effects do you think you might see? What would the impact be? 
    • You mentioned that A and B are not issues for you, but C and D are. Imagine for a minute that C and D disappeared as problems. What effects do you think you might see? What would the impact be? 
    • This is why we think it’s possible that you could increase revenue 20% by getting your marketing engine firing on all thrusters. We realize, however, that as much as most company leaders would want this kind of revenue increase, they’d be skeptical that it would actually happen. Why wouldn’t this work here? What would the roadblocks be?

    Some sellers ask, when they hear us give this advice, “Doesn’t this introduce barriers to the sale?” It doesn’t. Odds are the company would want the improvements you say are possible, but they think the risks are too high.

    Get them talking about the roadblocks in their way and you can address them. Allow roadblocks to remain hidden and skepticism to fester, and the sale dies. You just won’t know why.

    When buyers answer your questions, you can share stories of how the problems they see have been solved at other places. You can also ask them, “Let’s look at that last roadblock. How could we fix that?” Many buyers talk themselves out of the problems as they start wonder about the solutions.

  3. Ask incisive questions: If you created the opportunity and asked for the meeting, it’s up to you to set the table, set the tone, and define the platform and agenda for the discussion with advocacy.

    But that doesn’t mean you don’t ask meaningful questions early in the selling process that force the buyer to think, that make the buyer uncomfortable, and get to the heart of issues. Examples:

    • Is inaction on the issue hurting your productivity and morale? 
    • If you know that you need to do something about it, why haven’t you all taken action yet? 
    • You took action and it failed in the past, but it seems like you’re considering doing something similar again. Why is it going to turn out differently this time? 
    • When I’ve seen similar issues like yours, such as A, B, and C, it’s usually a recipe for big problems like X, Y, and Z to eventually crop up. But you don’t seem terribly concerned. Could you make the case for me that X, Y, and Z won’t happen here?

    These questions are not puffball variety. They’re edgy. They’ll probably make the buyer uncomfortable. Good. If the buyer has great answers to your tough questions, answers that make you think, “Okay, you don’t need any help,” then good for you. Now you can move on to other opportunities. And good for them as you’ve helped them see why they’re in great shape already.

    If they can’t knock your tough questions out of the park, you help the buyer see that the status quo isn’t good enough. This means action is necessary.

  4. Shape the path forward together: Most of us don’t only sell one offering. Many sellers have flexibility in the service or product package, delivery, and mix they eventually craft.

    When the buyer has a hand in shaping the solution, they feel a sense of pride in ownership, and their commitment to seeing it come alive grows.

    You might say, “Given what we talked about, I think it would work well to do A, B, and C here, but I think we have open questions about some of the details. You mentioned before that X might get in the way of implementation. How do you think we could get A, B, and C done so that X doesn’t get in the way?”

    The buyer might respond with, “Well, it’s a sticky one. In my experience, the best thing to do is…”

    Note, however, don’t just ask the buyer how to move forward without defining parameters, “What do you think we should do from here?” is too open-ended. They might not have a concept of what to do, and they might pick something that isn’t the best choice for them. It’s usually best if you give them a vision of what you think is the best path, and then allow them to shape it with you.

  5. Give the buyer ownership of the idea: Take, for example, the last point. The buyer might say, “The best thing to do is this…” You might already know that, but don’t say, “Yes, I’ve been thinking that for much of the meeting.” Do this, and you snatch the idea away from them and claim it as your own. Instead say “I think that’s a good idea. In fact, I bet it will work.” This way you allow them to keep ownership of the idea. When they own the concept, it increases their desire to see it through.

Collaborate with your buyers in the selling process. Not only will you get on their priority lists and shape their agendas for action, but the likelihood they’ll take that action with you will skyrocket.

Topics: Sales Process