Nothing is more frustrating for a salesperson than a potential buyer who, after acknowledging they need your product or service, decides not to buy. Why do they do this, and what can you do about it?

Remember that businesses buy products and services, in essence, to solve problems. They may have too much of something that is undesirable, or too little of something that is good.

In sales training, instructors stress the importance of not just discussing the features of an offering, but also its advantages and benefits. The mnemonic F.A.B. – features, advantages, benefits – is a useful memory jog for salespeople, and the skill of discussing all three is rehearsed in many training rooms.

This seems logical from the seller’s perspective. You are describing the reason why a particular feature is useful and the advantages and benefits it will deliver. However, for buyers F.A.B. is only relevant fairly late in the buying process. Advantages and benefits stem from features that are only accessible to the buyer after they have purchased and used a product or service.

Before deciding on products or services, buyers usually take time to clarify what they need. So we can see that the need arises very early in the cycle.

Given that businesses have many needs, though, how do they prioritise one need over others?

To address that question, it is first worth noting that there is another step for the buyer which emerges even earlier than need: the acknowledgment of a problem.

The need which addresses the most troubling problem usually wins the day. Problems are perhaps best thought of as the gap between the buyer’s present reality and their desired future. Before a business has a need, it has a problem – a gap.

So let’s summarise the scenario:

  • first, buyers have no problem;
  • then they do
  • then they know they need a solution
  • then they consider their options
  • then they choose between those options
  • and, finally, they receive the benefits for which they had hoped.

Here’s the catch: the buyer rarely skips stages. If they understand that they need your product but are not troubled about the gap between their present reality and their desired future, they will often decide not to act.

For the seller, this is a ‘double whammy’. Those buyers will often attend marketing’s events and read white papers, and then take up lots of the salesperson’s time but still not buy. So the seller incurs all the expense without gaining any revenue.

Sellers are often aware of the importance of problems and can school their salespeople to ask penetrating questions to reveal a buyer’s problems. How often, though, will this same seller run a marketing event and promote the virtues of their products or services without addressing the problems they solve? Does it sound odd to suggest a seminar focusing on the buyer’s problems and not even discussing the products?

We hope not, because the main reason most marketing tactics fail to create sales leads is that they fall into the rookie salesperson’s trap: they pitch the product rather than position it as a solution to a customer’s problem.

Your best marketing tactics should help potential buyers acknowledge a problem, and position you as someone with whom they should discuss that problem.

Get it right and the sale has a far better chance of proceeding.