Tafaro & Associates

“Enabling Your Buyers’ Decision-Making Process”

One of the best books about selling is Conceptual Selling written by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman in 1987. In the book, the authors refer to work done by psychologist J.P. Guilford that very much applies to decision-making today. Guilford suggests that in making rational decisions buyers use different types of thinking, among the most important being: cognition, divergence, and convergence. He makes the point that rational decision making always puts these three types in the same order.

Cognitive Thinking: Buyers seek to understand the situation. It gives buyers the information they need to know about the kind of problem they are facing. Cognitive thinking doesn’t seek solutions; it merely provides a fix for the current situation.

Divergent Thinking: Buyers consider alternatives. This type of thinking allows the buyers to survey various solutions that may be available.

Convergent Thinking: Buyers make the decision. Having surveyed their options, they converge on the solution they deem to be the best.

Miller and Heiman emphasize the importance of understanding that this type of thinking happens in a flow of thought rather than in distinct phases. Most of the time is spent assessing the situation. Salespeople who disrupt the natural flow of the thinking process by trying to move a buyer to convergence, without allowing him or her to work through cognition and divergence, deprives the buyer of choice. Buyers love to buy but hate the feeling that they have been sold. When this happens, they become confused, angry and resistant.

Since most buying decisions need-based, if a buyer is willing to discuss the fact that a potential problem may exist or admits dissatisfaction with the current situation, a sale can potentially occur, and the salesperson must work to help the buyer identify their “solution image.”

Through proper questioning, a salesperson must first take the buyer through a rational process by helping him/her diagnose the problem, and then work to determine what is causing it to exist – cognitive thinking. Once the buyer understands the impact of the problem and what is causing it to exist, the salesperson then facilitates a process of exploring various options to solve the problem – divergent thinking. A “solution image” occurs when the buyer can visualize the actions that need to be taken to address their need or solve their problem.

No two buyers buy the same product or service for precisely the same reasons. It’s not the product or service that breaks the sale but the buyer’s subjective view of what the product or service will do for them.

Here is a flow of questioning to illustrate the points above:

* Tell me about why you came to us today and what you’re trying to achieve.

* How do you accomplish this today and what are the issues with your current way of addressing the situation?

* What’s the impact on your business?

* Let me show you how we have helped others address this situation.

* Can you see the benefit of this approach vs. your current approach?

* How would this impact your organization?”

There is one additional and significant point. Any accomplished salesperson can execute the concepts above, but the great ones understand that the ultimate buying decision is a personal and emotional one. The rational process above will lead the buyer to his/her solution image, but the buyer will do business with the salesperson who understands that he/she also has personal needs that must be met. These personal needs are based on values, attitudes, risk tolerance and need to be met to ensure the buyer is confident and ready to move forward.