Help, I don’t know what I’m doing!


Have you ever purchased something for complex and found yourself way out of your depth? Many concerns often come to mind:

  • I know what you need it to do, but have no idea what I need to do it?
  • Ah ha, found it, but what are all these extra ‘features’ for – do I really need them?
  • So many brands – which one? which model? Which colour?
  • Damn it, what else am I going to have buy to get this thing to work?
  • OMFG, I feel stupid – this sales person is rattling off a bunch of acronyms and talks in a language which may as well be Klingon
  • Do I need to future proof myself as last bloody time it was obselete by the time I got it home!
  • WTF – THAT’s the price?!?!?!
  • Am I just going to get this home and not use it? Again!
  • I’ve had enough, I’ll just get this one

So, what do you do? People will now usually engage in two main things to reduce this buying angst –

  1. They’ll research the product online and
  2. they’ll seek social proof as to which option to select.

Seldom do we seek in store advice any more, as unfortunately, this advice is often limited (ie to a specific product or range of products or generalist) and we just don’t have confidence in it as a result. We are more comfortable doing the research ourselves, despite the limitations of our knowledge. Also, seeking social proof has it’s limitations as it is subjective and specific to the recommender’s situation and their knowledge of what they needed (and your requirements).

Conversely, my daughter is enamoured with YouTube – following an accident that resulted in her being bed ridden for 14 weeks, she started surfing life hacks. The interesting phenomenon here for me was suddenly being painfully aware of the fact that many of the things I had been doing and using in my life, I had been using incorrectly (or not to their fullest). No one had taught me how to do/use these things….so as a result, I was missing out.

Sometimes our clients don’t know what to buy, how to buy it or even use it, they simply know what they need it to do.

Why do we assume those in business are any more adept at buying? Simply because they are in business? In sales, why do we sometimes (and unfortunately often), sell the client what they’re asked for with a blind assumption they were knowledgeable enough to know what they need? If this was, or is, the case, this is exactly where AI and self-service selling will replace the traditional sales person. We’ll just have a series of questions and the product will fall out the bottom.

Some clients don’t actually know what they’re doing when they are buying. No one has taught them how to buy in general – so they draw on their experience. More importantly, they haven’t had any specific training or experience in buying your product/service in many cases. You can often see this on the vendor side of RFP’s where the ‘value add’ often has has to be shoe horned in to the conversation as the specifications are frequently just feature and price based – even for services. Vendors are left shaking their head thinking ‘but there is so much more we can do’ and working out how to work it in to the proposal and get it valued.

For some clients, they just don’t purchase complex products/services regularly enough or their specific request is unique/one off to allow them to draw on prior experience. As a result, they fall back on what they can understand – features/price. Some clients just don’t have the time in the buying process either because the problem they face is large and they need to deal to it. As a result, they can panic purchase.

Some clients are looking to buy when they don’t need to – what they have now is perfectly suitable, they’re just never been shown how to use it properly (this may be an intangible, like a skill or knowledge, or tangible like a product). Unfortunately, where up-sell and cross-sell incentives exist, this can be far more common than you’d think with people being sold ‘extras’, without the knowledge of why or how it is useful.

Finally, some have been taught poor buying habits (like negotiation skills) through the poor sales advice they’ve had in their past. Take price arguments as an example – is that client yelling at you to reduce the price really an a’hole? Or have they just learned that this is how they get action from you? Are you the a’hole? Is that client who doesn’t wish to see you actually happy? Or have they just learned that seeing you is a waste of time as you don’t add any value to their day?


As a sales professional, it is important to understand your role is mostly about understanding why the client has entered the buying process. Very few do it for fun – most do it because they have a challenge to overcome or opportunity to realise within their business. The challenge may be as simple as they need something to write with, or as monumental is fending of a competitor drive in to a core segment of their market. But why they are buying is key.

Understanding what product/service they need isn’t enough – understanding what they need it to do is paramount.

This is where many clients need more help than you can appreciate. This is also what shapes their buying process. Yes, and in some situations, not to buy something is an outcome once you know this. Yes, I said it. Sometimes, in sales, helping a client make a wise decision means convincing them NOT to buy something. They simply may not fully understand how to use what they already have effectively (remember those features they didn’t no were useful before?).

The key thing to remember is you spend all day every day with your products/services – you know them intimately. However your clients don’t. As a result, they usually don’t even know how to buy them effectively, if at all sometimes. Help them through this process – that’s why you’re a sales professional.

There is also another trap you can fall in to – a seemingly knowledgeable and/or educated client. This can also play out for long term relationships where comfortable and familiarity set in. The trap of corner cutting. Fast thinking. Bias and assumptions. Where we think or believe we know what they need, so skip steps or overlook questions as a result. We deliver sub optimal solutions because we don’t follow a thorough process.

As an example – we’ve all seen situations where a client has the correct product but as a result of not knowing how to use it properly, they feel it is the wrong product. Then they complain and someone comes out and show them the right way to use it? What if they didn’t complain. What if a competitive walked in at the moment they were frustated? Would they be bold enough to show them the right way to use your product or simply sell them theirs and teach them how to use it? Clients need educating on buying wisely – end to end.

This is why understanding what they need the product/service to do is more important than simply understand what that product/service is. This is consultative selling – understanding, from your clients perspective, what their problem/opportunities is in the wider context of their business. This is what takes time. Seldom does your product/service exist in a vacuum within a business – it interacts with the business. Even that proverbial pen purchase can see many a stationary room argument if not thought through.

The disconnect can be explained quickly using banking as an example – one of banking’s products are home loans. When a client comes in to get one – what are they buying?

A home. Not a home loan. The home is what they want, the home loan achieves it for them. That is what they want. Yes, they are standing in from of your because they need a home loan, but the home is the want driving it. It is the ends.

Beyond that, they want the security for their family. They want the financial wealth this could generate for them in years to come. When you understand this, suddenly things like why having a risk conversation at this point in time is important. To protect the home from adverse change. To protect changes in personal situations from putting the home at risk. Not only do you need to understand it, so does your client. If you don’t explore this – your client thinks you’re just ‘cross-selling’ (I HATE this word).

Don’t kid yourself your product/service is more important that what your client wants to do with it. And don’t assume your client knows what do buy, how to buy it or even how to use it.


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