How to market and sell to people who are not buying

“We need more sales leads”
“Nobody’s buying at the moment”
“It’s a numbers game”


Is this familiar? According to one of the top sales training companies, 90% of the people we are trying to sell to are not in buying mode. So how do you find a buyer? Some telemarketing teams are still trawling through lists in the traditional way, with a much less than 10% success rate. That is not a numbers game, it is a mug’s game. So what can we do?

If you doubt the 90%/10% split, then think about this. If a company has an enterprise computer system of some type, it is likely to have a life of at least 10 to 15 years. I know from bitter experience, those replacement selection cycles will last 12 to 18 months. So the customer was looking 10% of the time, and not looking 90% of the time. You probably have a similar percentage split when looking for a new car – three of four months thinking about or choosing a car every three or four years.

For sellers, the situation is actually worse than this. Of the 10% “looking”, probably 7% are gathering information and getting ready to engage with sellers and only 3% are actively in the buying cycle. And if you contact them at this stage, they will probably fob you off anyway because they don’t want to open up the dialogue until they are ready.

So, the best way to build your sales pipeline is to work with the 90%. The pipeline will be bigger and longer, but at least it won’t be the dogfight that surrounds the 3% that are engaged with sellers. To help understand the 90%, it is worth analysing it further.

It is reasonable to assume that of the 90%, 30% are hopeless cases. They have just signed up with a competitor, they have no money, your solution doesn’t fit or some other factor outside your control. Ignore them, for now – but revisit every year or so because situations change. Another 30% will be suitable candidates but will be totally unaware of their own need or your solution. The final 30% will be aware of their need but have not taken any action and will also be unaware of your solution.

This is the 60% to work on, and it will involve a very different approach from hard-nosed cold-calling for leads. This is the territory for information sharing, education, nurturing, collaborative engagements, the consultative sale – in fact all the things that sales executives eager for a fast close tend to avoid. Forget BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timescale): if they are in your 60% – plus the 10% of course – then engage with them, build the relationship, manage the account and become their trusted advisor. And guess what, when the time comes they might not even talk to anyone else before placing the order.

Perhaps the opinion “nobody’s buying at the moment” is because they are already buying from someone else.

Neville Merritt