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  • Writer's pictureJames Purvis

The "3 Why's" In Sales

If you've been in sales for a while, you probably have come across the "3 Whys" in sales; Why buy anything? Why buy from you? Why buy now? The "3 Whys" are critical because they are the three most important questions prospective customers must answer in order to justify a purchase of any sort.

This article will help you understand the psychology behind the 3 Whys and learn some best practices on how to best answer them. Let's get right into it...

As ethical sales professionals, we sincerely want to solve a problem for our customers and our customers trust the information we provide as a business to help make educated buying decisions. In Consumer Psychology, this is what is referred to as "The Learning Pathway" which consumer psychologist Dr. Ari Zelmanow describes as:

"A buying decision is the result of a consumer learning pathway where the consumer must learn about a product or service and relate it to their specific situation to make a favorable buying decision."

Furthermore, Dr. Zelmanow states how The Learning Pathway for the consumer can be reflected through three learning domains:

  1. Cognitive

  2. Constructivist

  3. Experiential

Cognitive Learning is characterized by reading, writing, discussions, watching videos, etc. In essence, cognitive learning is the intake and assimilation of new information. Much of this in today's world is done without any interaction with salespeople. Our prospects have a wealth of information available to them about our product, industry, competitors, etc. that can be accessed 24 x 7 via the web. For example, if you sell software, prospects can download white papers, read case studies, and product reviews, and go as far as seeing a demo of your solution in action without even interacting with you. The cognitive learning stage is far more advanced than it's ever been and customers are in much more control as they're able to access a remarkable amount of information.

Once this information is cognitively learned, the consumer will apply what was gathered to their personal set of circumstances. Dr. Z. refers to this as Constructivist Learning.  This is where the prospect is starting to really ask themselves, "Do I even need to make a change?" Here is where they start visualizing what the future state would look like if they were to make a switch to something new. Is it worth it? How will it help us? How will it hurt us? How does this align with our company strategy? Are we ready and capable of a change right now? These are all questions they start to ponder as they start to link the new information back to their current situation and analyze if it makes sense for them.

The last of the three learning domains is where the consumer begins experimenting with this new knowledge and is represented by Experiential Learning. Dr. Z. explains that Experiential Learning is where consumers start to develop ways to integrate the new solution into daily life. Requirements are built out and the prospect may start actually testing out your product in the form of a proof of concept or free trial.

Once the Learning Pathway is complete, your prospect is now in the position to make their buying decision. However, it's not that easy since these decisions more often than not involve more than one person to convince. This is where your champion becomes critical as they hold the torch in selling the new solution internally and achieving purchase approval. They are the ones who have to present the answers to The 3 Why's back to the business.

This leads us to the first of the 3 Why's:

1. Why Do Anything?

All purchasing decisions by businesses are justified because the product or service they desire will do at least one of the following:

  1. It will make them money

  2. It will save them money

  3. It will mitigate their risk

Before you are able to demonstrate how your solution will do one of these three things, you must identify the pain or risk the prospect is experiencing. The level of difficulty of finding either of these varies depending on what type of prospect you are in contact with. I boil down prospects into 3 categories: hot, warm, and cold.

  • Hot prospects know they have a problem and have identified what the consequences are if they don't solve it right away. They have a "burning" pain or elevated risk that they need to resolve quickly and are currently in the market for a solution.

  • Warm prospects are somewhat aware of their problem or risk but haven't investigated it enough to know what the consequences are or it just isn't a high enough priority to solve it in the near-term.

  • Lastly, the prospect may not even be aware of their problem or risk making them a cold prospect.

Whether your prospect is hot, warm, or cold - the pain or risk prospects have can manifest in many ways. Here are some primary reasons:

  • High costs

  • Low Productivity

  • External threat

  • Missed opportunity

A lot of your prospects will start out "cold" which makes answering the Why Do Anything question a bit more challenging. In this scenario, you will want to start the psychology of engagement and lead them down the Learning Pathway where you transition them from "passive listening" to "actively wanting" your product. A prospect who is cold will require a larger amount of of cognitive information, like reading, advertisements, testimonials, videos, and social support to educate them about their “problem," and the consequences of doing nothing. It's important to be as specific as possible about the customer’s pain or what they will miss out on by tying the metrics around what "doing nothing" means for them and their company.

Here is an example:

If you find out your prospect loses money because of low productivity and employees are not happy, this is important, but it’s too vague. On the other hand, if you dig deeper and uncover the following metrics - you will be in a far better position to win:

  1. $300,000 a month in productivity losses are due to error-prone manual processes

  2. The probability of a security breach is 5x more likely to happen if they stay status quo

  3. An annual 7% customer attrition rate is directly related to this problem

With this information, you can pitch your "modernized solution" in a specific and compelling way. If you don't quantify the pain or risk, you start flirting with a "no decision" as the customer will have trouble justifying doing anything at all. According to CSO Insights, 1 out of every 4 opportunities ends in no decision which is usually due to a broken sales process (lack of business justification).

Questions you can ask for this example:

  • Pain or Risk: Tell me why is employee productivity low? Explain to me how this affects you personally? Describe to me how this hurting the company? Walk me through what a day in life looks like for an employee tied to this problem?

Tip: Use TEDW questions to help you identify the pain and potential risk.

  • Business Impact: How much money is low productivity costing you? What are the risks you are faced with because of this? How much time is lost?

The goal in getting the answer to Why Do Anything is to shred the status quo to pieces and build a strong case that doing nothing is unsustainable.

"By changing nothing, nothing changes." - Tony Robbins

2. Why Buy from You?

Once your prospect has realized they have a burning pain and a need to make a change, they will start deciding who they will want to partner with to resolve their issue. You want that to be you! The challenge is, that most sellers think the answer to the question of Why buy from you is to come up with all the things that make your company great. They rant and rave about how they have the best product, the best service, the lowest cost, the highest rated, etc. Guess what? Your competition is also the best at everything. And guess what else? Customers are sick of you (and your competition) always being the hero! The truth is, that they want to be the hero and are just looking for someone they trust to guide them toward success and help them avoid failure along the way.

So how do you become your prospect's trusted guide? It starts by becoming extremely knowledgeable about your product, your industry, and how you compare from a competitive standpoint. This will help you build trust and ideally be looked at as an expert in the field. Although these are all very important, they are table stakes in today's selling world and prospects already expect this out of you. What's most important in becoming a differentiator and known as "the trusted guide" is buried in how well you know your customer. The selling team who exemplifies extensive knowledge in this area will outshine everyone competing and have an unfair advantage.

"If you can describe your prospect's problems better than they can describe it themselves, they will automatically assume you have the best solution."

At a minimum, here is what you should know about your prospect:

  • Company profile - (what do they sell, why do they sell it, company history, mission, # of employees, annual revenue, ticker symbol, office locations, yearly report, etc)

  • Latest posts - What have they posted about lately on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc.?

  • Latest news - What's the latest news on the company from media outlets? What are their latest press releases?

  • Hierarchy - Who reports to who? Who sits on the board? Who are their investors? What does the decision-making tree look like? Who are your potential champions? Who are your potential influencers? Who do you know that knows them?

  • Industry trends - What are the latest trends in their industry? What opportunities could they capitalize on?

  • Competition - Who are their top competitors? What solutions are they using? How are they winning? What makes them different?

  • Challenges - What are the current major challenges this company is facing today? What challenges are on the horizon? What challenges did existing customers of yours face that are similar to them and their situation?

"Your job isn't to ask me what's keeping me up at night. It's to tell me what should be."

Once you have established rapport, shown that you are an expert in the field, and know their business and challenges as much (if not more) as they do, you can really hone in on guiding them toward visualizing what life would be like with your solution and highlight your product's capabilities as it relates to solving their pain. This part should come naturally but until you can describe their problem better than they can, you are leaving room for the competition.

Goal: Get to the point where if your customer was asked why they bought from you, they answer, "Because he/she knew my business and my problem better than I knew it."

3. Why Buy Now?

Now that the customer knows why they should buy something and who they should buy it from, the question now becomes - Why buy now?

There are many tactics and strategies when it comes to creating urgency. There are reverse timelines, pricing incentives, seasonality, scarcity, offer deadlines, upcoming price increases, etc. The truth is, although these tactics can be helpful in creating urgency, none of it matters if upper management can't justify the purchase to begin with which is why the Why do anything question comes back full circle. Now is the time to drag the customer back through the glass get the painful feeling of what the status quo looks like for them and emphasize what they will miss out on. The most powerful way to do this is by leveraging loss aversion.

What is loss aversion? "Loss aversion" was first coined by researchers Amost Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1979 where they determined that “losses loom larger than gains." Studies show that the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining something. Simply put, we're more upset about losing $100 than we are happy about finding $100. People are just flat out more willing to take risks to avoid a loss than to make a gain. Because of this, loss aversion is an extremely important and useful tool in sales and marketing and can be your silver bullet in helping your customer answer the Why buy now question.

Two Key Ways to Leverage Loss Aversion:

  • Inform the prospect about threats they haven't anticipated and the consequences associated if they don't act now.

  • Educate the prospect about external trends/opportunities that they need to jump on before their competitors do (think Blockbuster vs. Netflix; Taxi vs Uber, Retail Stores vs Amazon).

Tip: Change your wording from what they will gain to what they will lose:

  • Wrong way (what they gain): “If you buy this product, you will save $40,000”

  • Right way (what they lose): “If you don't buy this product, you will lose $40,000”

To an economist, the two messages are identical. To a psychologist and well-trained sales reps familiar with loss aversion, the messages couldn’t be more different. Decision-makers will feel a sense of urgency when you show them how their current status quo is no longer viable.

“Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” - Jim Rohn


Empower your sales champion with the information they need to answer The 3 Why's in an overly convincing manner. I suggest working alongside them and building out a presentation that addresses these questions head and is used as a weapon to sell internally. The better they are at answering The 3 Why, the greater the chance you have at winning the deal. It's that simple.



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