Besides understanding buyers' needs, it is also important to understand the current environment within which Buyers operate.  Here are the four buying Modes, in descending order of sales receptivity:

  • PAIN: "Help me."  Buyers are firefighting and seek relief from negative impacts. This is the most favorable mode. They're very receptive to discussions with relevant sellers, i.e., those who demonstrate a deep understanding of the problem that's driving the discussion, and who have credible solutions. They may not have a concrete description of the specific impact and costs, but they have a strong sense that it's too high. The Cost of Doing Nothing process and discipline will serve both buyer and seller well since it makes those impacts explicit and, done properly, results in the buyer expressing them in dollar terms .
  • EXPANSION: "Things are good, but I want to make them better."  Buyers focus on gain, improvement; they're also very receptive.  Example, An HR VP has reduced benefit costs by 8%, but wants to reduce them by another 10% so she'll be a hero to the CEO, who's been hammering all the VPs about cost control. Be careful. Her enthusiasm and implied urgency may mask the fact that this is considered merely a "nice to do" among other decision stakeholders who have higher priorities or face issues of greater immediate impact. The Cost of Doing Nothing discussion is critical here to avoid over-investing in an initiative that has insufficient impact to earn the support required to command a decision, action, and investment.
  • COMPLACENCY: "It ain't broke, so why should I talk with you about fixing it?" This buyer is not receptive to sales messages. Because he perceives no need, he sees no value in the discussion. Use the Cost of Doing Nothing process to gently probe and elicit concrete expressions of operational impact. The buyer may prove that Pain is just around the corner. Otherwise, walk away. (A related strategy is, as the title of the Harvard Business Review article puts it, In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers.)
  • OVERCONFIDENCE: "Things are far better than I hoped." Buyers are smug, on top of the world. They have almost zero interest in any sales initiative. Obviously, if you can engage them at all, The Cost of Doing Nothing process will give you a chance to expose latent or unrecognized impact that may change the buyer's perspective. Even if the buyer's view is accurate, and things are going great, the good news is that optimal conditions rarely last. Competitors will make sure of that. Overconfidence always cycles into Pain. Stay in touch and stay welcome by avoiding saying anything that could be construed as "I told you so" when things do go bad. No one wants to be around those who were witness to previous hubris.

It's not hard to recognize Buying Modes. Buyers seldom mask them. If you have a choice, approach Pain or Expansion mode buyers first, and cultivate them as Guides to Complacent or Overconfident buyers. Peer executives can say things to those buyers that we can't, such as "Things look rosy now, but wake up!  Look at the imminent threats if you don't do something."

Once you understand the conditions that tend to give rise to each of these modes, stratify your Suspect and Prospect list along similar lines, and use the insight to profile your optimal prospects.

Mike O'Horo

To learn more about how to apply these principles, review the Profiling Optimal Prospects and Cost of Doing Nothing courses in RainmakerVT.