First Person: How to Spot Buying Motivations on Sales Calls

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One of the reasons I was successful in sales throughout my 30 year sales and marketing career was that I asked questions and listened to the prospects' answers on my sales calls. Specifically, I wanted to know what problems they had that I could help with. But closing the sale required understanding buying motivations and figuring out which one(s) applied in each case.

You buy for your own reasons. Your self-image requires justifying your decision logically. If your prospects are looking to advance within their companies, they too must be able to rationally explain their decision. But underlying their decisions will be an emotional reason, even in business-to-business sales.

For instance, if the purchase will cause them to look bad in their own viewpoint, most people won't buy, even to save money. Before they will buy, you must answer their unconscious question, "What's in it for me?" (WIIFM)

Buying motivations

By understanding there are four overriding reasons for buying, you will naturally probe deeper during your sales calls to understand what is at work on each call. These are:

- Save money

- Make money

- Save time

- Fill some other emotionally compelling need

Save Money

I've known many sales people who were puzzled that the customer didn't buy when the purchase would have saved him or her money. True, some people only care about the money. But most people have more complex motivations.

When I had my small business in El Paso, Texas, our budget for a new car was really tight. However, I had an image to project of being a successful sales person. I refused to go with the cheapest car I could find. Because Ford offered financing, I purchased a Taurus. This looked to me like a professional car. Interestingly, that purchase has resulted in several cars in the years since.

Make Money

Once again, when you are certain that your product or service will enable someone to make money, you need to understand their motivations. Very few customers care only about making money. One of my favorite stories about this comes from a 'Mark,' sales person for one of my consulting clients. When I made this point, he shared his experience with me.

Prior to working for my client as a sales engineer, he was a project manager for another company. Mark had a salesman he enjoyed working with because the guy was always helpful. In this one instance, they needed an electrical component that the sales person's company didn't make. When the sales rep referred Mark to a competitor who had what he needed, Mark actually tried to find a work-around to use this sales person's products.

Save Time

In the early days of microcomputers, it was a challenge getting small businesses to invest in computers. One of the biggest motivations for that investment was software, like word processing, spreadsheets, and accounting because of the time savings. Having tried to line up a typewriter to correct a mistake, I spoke with conviction about the value of a word processing program.

Fill Some Other Emotionally Compelling Need

One of my favorite sales memories is of a small business owner who came into the Radio Shack Computer Center where I was a salesman. This was when the TRS-80 Model 4 cost $4,000.

He liked having the latest and greatest. He drove a Delorean and had a T-shirt that said, "He who dies with the most toys wins." I know his small business would use the computer, but his motivation went beyond saving time.

While closing business-to-business sales can be challenging, it becomes vastly easier when you understand your prospects' buying motivations. Use questions to confirm how strong the motivation is. If you address these issues well enough, often the customer will ask you to buy before your ask the closing question.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

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