Sales and marketing gurus assiduously spread the self-serving myths that you can manipulate a customer into buying; that you can create the need; that it’s all about “persuasion” and “conversion.” CEOs and entrepreneurs can be fooled by these myths, to their great detriment. Interviewing thousands of customers about their buying process has thoroughly convinced me that very few buyers are susceptible to deception and manipulation. Everybody is wise to it. This is the first of a 4-part series debunking these damaging myths and setting the record straight. First we will focus on how customers decide to buy.

A need arises. One minute, the customer does not have a need. The next minute, he does. Something breaks. He runs out of something. He suddenly has a physical or emotional desire that he didn’t have before. Or, someone else says or does something that generates the need. He needs to accomplish or participate in something, and he can’t do it without a particular tool, equipment, software, method, clothing, ingredient, or raw material.

Yes, he might have seen an ad or tweet about something new, but he wouldn’t pay any attention to it whatsoever if he didn’t have an existing interest in the product or service.

Products succeed because they meet a real need the customer has. The innovation comes in how the need is met; but the need was already there.

Once the customer’s need arises, the buying process begins. It is shaped by:

  • The degree of urgency
  • The buying “tools” available
  • The buyer’s previous experience
  • How well the seller passes the buyer’s selection tests

The Degree of Urgency

A buyer’s need can be urgent, unhurried, or periodically recurring. We see these pace variations in our own buying behavior. The pace of any purchase is dependent on how badly we want it, how soon we need it, and whether we can afford it now or could wait until we can.

Sellers fail when they are out of step with their buyers. If the customer is not in a hurry, and the seller is, the buyer will be put off by the seller’s pushiness. If the customer is in a hurry, and seller is not, the buyer will go with a more motivated seller. The customer will assume that the seller’s “I don’t give a ****” attitude will permeate all of the things that would be important to the buyer, such as: the product’s quality, available supplies, service, documentation, and shipping and return policies.

If you are selling a “high-scrutiny” product or service, your buyers are usually unhurried, or at least very thorough. Your salespeople will be accustomed to a long sales cycle. However, these days, buyers are quite able to investigate their options and contact others who are already dealing with the company and its products, all before they contact a salesperson. By the time they contact a salesperson, these buyers are near the end of their buying process. They just want to resolve a few remaining issues.

The salesperson often doesn’t pick up on this near-readiness to buy, and will literally drag the buyer back to the beginning of the sales process. Big mistake. The buyer has been there, done that, and has no intention of reliving it. The buyer will resist, the salesperson will persist, and the buyer will bail out.

Salespeople need to be trained to immediately recognize where the buyer is in the buying process, and help the buyer to proceed from that point forward.

The Available Tools

Sellers tend to think of each new channel – the web, search, social media – as marketing tools. But they are really buying tools.

The most revolutionary thing that has happened to buying and selling is that buyers can easily find and contact “more buyers like me.” They can learn what those who have already bought have to say; they can contact other potential buyers directly via social channels; and, they can read blogs written by impartial reviewers. Marketing messages are no longer the “only” way that a buyer can learn about a product; in fact, marketing messages are mostly ignored because more trustworthy sources now exist.

These buyer discussion tools are social environments. There are standards of behavior. Sellers are expected to respect the buyers gathered there. If a seller steps over the line, he will be shunned by the buyers. For example, buyers can smell a fake review a mile away, and will assume that everything else the seller is saying is also a lie.

Failing to understand how buyers are using the new tools to make decisions can have a catastrophic effect on your business. The only way to find out how to successfully participate in these environments is to ask your current customers how they would expect or like you to participate, which I explain how to do in my book, Roadmap to Revenue.

Previous Experience

I’m currently in the market for a MiFi device. I know what I want: compact, unlocked, reliable, and fairly priced broadband that I can use in a number of countries. The problem is, I’ve used every cellular company’s data plans and devices at one point or another, and I dislike them all. I have personally found T-Mobile to be more helpful, flexible and reliable, but their long-term prospects are in doubt. And we are all angry about the “slowing down your signal” policy that all of the phone companies have instituted with their cellular plans.

I am not alone. There is no such thing as a virgin customer. We all have been led down the primrose path and disappointed many times.

Most marketing copy is breathless and glowing, written as if customers are new to the game. The disparity between the buyer’s reality and the marketer’s disregard of it makes buying tedious and distasteful for the buyer.

Marketers who actually interview their current customers before they write copy will understand who their customers are, how smart they are, and what their experiences and reactions have been. The resulting copy aimed at prospects – whose issues are the same – will be in sync with the buyer’s reality, and will answer all but the most arcane questions.

How Well the Seller Passes the Buyer’s Selection Tests

When the buyer first interacts with the seller’s content or salesperson, the tests begin.

Does this site look professional? Can I easily find what I’m looking for? Does the content (or salesperson) answer my questions? What do others think of this seller? How has the seller treated them? How has the product performed? Can the seller be trusted?

The answers to these questions either encourage the buyer to continue, or convince him that he will find a better solution to his needs elsewhere.


You will sell more if you understand – and don’t assume – how your customers decide to buy. What makes them suddenly want your product or service? It’s always a very specific trigger. You need to know what those triggers are. They don’t just wake up one day thinking, “I want to be more productive. I think I’ll look for a way to do that.”

It’s expensive to assume; it’s very easy to stop assuming. Ask your current customers – who think exactly like your prospective customers – using the proven method I teach in Roadmap to Revenue.

The next article in this series:

How Customers Choose a Product or Service: Debunking Common Marketing Myths – Part 2 of 4

The “non-product” factors play more of a role than you can imagine, a fact that most company managers ignore – to their detriment. We cover what these factors are and how to make sure you address them to the buyer’s satisfaction.

Read more: Most People Decide To Buy Within 15 Minutes