What is a Buying Decision?

    January 9, 2006

Sounds like a simple question, right? Sounds like all prospects have to do is to see they’ve got a problem, find a good solution (your product, hopefully), and plunk their money down.

Oh, if it were so simple.

When thinking about what a decision’ is, you must first understand the complex nature of decisions. The field of decision sciences focuses on assessing the factors involved in what an acceptable solution would entail. Indeed, it’s a linear, fact-filled approach: what do they need, what is missing that causes them to need to do something different from what they’re now doing, what does a new solution need to do what will they be able to do with the new solution, and how do we go about choosing a way forward.

But actually, decisions get made within very complex systems that involve far more than a problem, a need, and a solution. Let’s have a look.

The only decisions that get made quickly are for small personal items – like when we’re out of face cream. Then we only have to decide when to go to the store, and if we want the same brand.

But even if it’s something seemingly simple, like a new computer, or chair, or desk for a new employee, the decision involves so much more than just purchasing a computer or chair or desk. It involves:

choosing a vendor (a new one? The old one?),

knowing how to know what brand, type, or model would be appropriate,

melding the user’s criteria with the spoken or unspoken company/group criteria,

financing (where is the money coming from),

the user’s idiosyncratic criteria,

the company’s needs (or family’s needs, etc.) in general and in specific,

political/relationship-oriented fallout from the decision.

As you can see, it’s not simple.

The most difficult thing for an outsider – especially us sellers, who are very familiar with the type of problem exhibited by the prospect – is that there are aspects of buying criteria that sit within each buyer’s culture that a seller will never understand. And these aspects are different and separate from the problem that seemingly needs your solution.

As sellers, you’ve been trained to understand the presenting problem in all of its aspects, and to recognize exactly how your product can solve it. How does your product differentiate from the competition? How can you make the prospect comfortable enough with you to choose you? How can the pricing stay competitive and yet still be fair? How does the buyer want you to present or pitch the features and functions? How can you ensure that you position the product info to match the needs? How do you ensensure that your product is indeed matching needs?


And yet, none of the above – NONE of the above – matter one whit to the buyer. All of the above is based on your need to sell and your selling patterns.

Until or unless buyers recognize, align, and manage all of the internal elements that have created and maintain their status quo, they will take no action. Do they need to resolve a problem? Yup but not enough to possibly cause chaos.

I once ran a pilot training program for a well-known insurance company. Their results were phenomenal – a 400% increase in sales in the first month. But they had to stop the pilot because of the systems dynamics that that type of change created: .other sales folks were jealous of the coaching care my participants were given; my students were set to make much more money than their peers; managers spenttoo much time doing coaching; managers didn’t know how to predict closing ratios; more support staff were needed to help with the increased activity; the sellers weren’t prepared to spend so much time in the office rather than in the field.

While the initial problem was addressed , they weren’t able to manage it when it happened. The underlying belief was that an increase in sales’ meant no more than 20% in a year. They had to pull the plug on the pilot in order to regroup and manage theinternal systems issues that surfaced when the unexpected results and activities played havoc with their stagnant internal systems.

Did I have a great solution for their problem? Yup. Was it the right solution? Possibly, but they didn’t know how to align their internal culture to make room for one that was different from their norm.

Indeed, buyers would rather continue having a problem, do nothing, and be in pain rather than face causing internal chaos and disruption.


There are a number of facets of a system that have bought into, created, maintain, and actually support the status quo. I have discussed these many times over the years. I’ve also written a whole book on them (Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions) so I won’t go into them here. But suffice it to say that the identified problem – the one you see, that your product resolves – is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Our jobs have to be redefined. We are no longer needed to pitch data about our product since buyers can get that from the net. It’s not even important for us to be seen as product suppliers. Our clients have a much bigger problem: they don’t know how to make decisions, given their complex set of deciders. How can they gather, understand, and address all of their internal deciders and make sure they are all on board with a solution – and helping with the solution design where appropriate – in order to ensure that there will be minimal disruption once they adopt a solution?

Sellers please note: you will never, ever, ever (did I say never?) understand all of the elements that go into a buyer’s decision. You are an outsider. Get over it. It’s arrogant to think you can understand, as well as arrogant to think that it’s your job to do so. You can waste a lot of time trying to understand, or you can use your relationship and understanding of the larger system that buying decisions get made within, and teach them how to manage the system that they are facing.

And, providing data will not get buyers to buy. If that were true, you would have closed a lot more sales. What we find when sellers use Buying Facilitation, they either don’t have to pitch at all, or the pitches are so customized that no material they have on file will fit. Remember that when you do finally pitch, you’re only addressing the solution design that the buyer has defined.

To sum this up, you must think of sales in a new way – not as a way to place product or take care of a need, but to actually support your buyer in understanding, recognizing, and aligning all of the elements they need to address before they can bring in a new solution.

Should you wish to learn more about this, go to www.buyingfacilitation.com and purchase my ebook Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions