Buying Decisions: The Implicit Vs. The Explicit

Updated: June 29, 2009

When I began talking about ‘helping buyers buy', or ‘decision facilitation' in 1988, people thought I was a bit eccentric, to say the least. "I help buyers buy too," I used to hear. "I find out what they need, position my solution in a way they understand that it will resolve their pain, and give them a good price." And this has basically been the accepted norm throughout the history of sales. Except, of course, sales fails 90% of the time. So something is broken that we don't really talk about.

What has finally become obvious (and I'd like to think that I had something to do with it being so obvious) is the yawning gap between the Implicit buying decisions buyers must make on their own, and the Explicit ones that sellers play such a large part in helping them make.

The Explicit decisions include everything to do with fixing the need (I call it an Identified Problem - certainly not ‘pain' cuz they would have fixed it already if it were ‘pain'): making sure the issues are resolved and work far more efficient, possibly even Excellently; that the decision makers are happy and make sure the solution fits well and is affordable with minimum risk; that the sellers are available before, during, and after to manage the implementation, the fit, and making the buyers comfortable with their choices. Once the Explicit decisions are made, the solution is purchased.

But if that were all it took, we'd be closing a helluva lot more sales than we're closing. The problem is the Implicit decisions.

What happens when the guy in the next department doesn't want to collaborate - and you share one tech team and budget? What happens when there is no precedent for bringing in an external vendor? How does it get managed when the Senior Manager wants a solution and has the budget for it, but the team doesn't want anyone to come in. What about when the current vendor has been around for a decade, works in every department with great professionalism, and everyone wants this vendor to just design something new rather than bring in a new vendor? And what about the work-around that's been managing the Problem Space until they choose a better solution - does Fred in Accounting get fired because the boss is bringing in a new accounting package?

Buyers have managed these decisions on their own while we wait. There is really no way that an outsider - even a smart one - can understand all of the unconscious, historic, hidden, mysterious, and highly personal decisions that need to get handled before buy-in can occur. Sales has had no model to help buyers manage these implicit decisions. One of the ‘dirty little secrets' that I talk about in my upcoming book (The Dirty Little Secret: why buyers can't buy and sellers can't sell and what to do about it) is that the buyers have no idea how they are going to handle these decision issues either, if for no other reason than they don't know what they are going to find when the start picking up the rocks. In other words, sales enters the buying decision cycle far too early.

One of the problems is that because the buyers don't know the exact route they need to take, and sellers can't know these personal and idiosyncratic systems issues, no one really knows how to manage the Implicit decisions. I've coded the system behind how decisions get made in systems (cultures, environments) and can lead folks down their decision cycle generically so they can pick up the pieces they need to address along the way and bring in the right people. Very often, they can figure this out immediately with me, rather than taking one month or one year, and deciding to bring together their buying decision team for a phone meeting (or whatever) within a week of our first conversation. And we do this consistently, time after time, in every industry or size of sale.

Buyers have to go down this route anyway, and goodness knows we sit and wait for them while they figure it out. This fact alone is the cause of the huge delay in the sales cycle.

I'm not competing with sales; I'm adding a new piece - a front end, if you will - to the typical sales model. It's not about gathering data. It's not about understanding the buyer's needs. It's not about ‘being there' when they are ready (Buying Facilitation teaches them how to be ready). It's not about becoming a trusted advisor or a relationship manager.

It's about being a decision facilitator and taking a leadership role to help buyers walk through the Implicit stages of their buying decision process BEFORE they are ready to answer questions about their Explicit needs.

Let's start using a two pronged approach to sales: first help buyers walk through their unconscious Implicit decisions; then they can walk with us through their conscious Explicit decisions. Because by not doing this we're losing a lot of sales, spending too long in the sales cycle, causing objections (yes, we cause our own objections) and NOT serving our buyers.

So, do me a favor: start thinking of sales as a two-phased process, and the sales models we've been using for decades handle the Explicit decisions. And Buying Facilitation(R) - which is NOT SALES but a decision facilitation model that handles buy-in - can handle the Implicit. After all, would you rather sell? or have someone buy? They are two different activities.

I've been teaching this stuff for over 20 years, and we have had quite extraordinary results (remember that it's NOT SALES) with many global corporations in every industry.

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