If “no decision”, “decision deferred” or “timing not right” is at the top of your table of closed lost reasons, this post is for you.
The common thread in most “no decision” deals is an indecisive buyer. Someone who doesn’t know what they want, keeps asking for more information, says they are still doing their research or shirks at bringing colleagues into the buying process.
When a buyer appears to be on the fence, the first instinct for most salespeople is to re-sell the benefits, dial up the fear of missing out on the benefits and throw in an extra juicy discount with an expiration date. This rarely works. In fact, it does the polar opposite and pushes the buyer away. Email correspondence slows down, meetings get postponed and eventually the buyer tells the seller, “sorry, our priorities have shifted” or “we’re not ready to move forward now”.
The root cause of buyer indecision is the fear of making the wrong decision and it’s possible negative consequences; looking bad in front of their peers and bosses, impacting their next performance review, missing out on the next promotion, or even getting fired.
The framework for sellers to overcome buyer indecision involves 3 steps:
Detect buyer fear as early as possible in the sales process
Make prescriptive recommendations
Handle objections with candor
1. Detect buyer fear as early as possible
Authority to buy does not mean ability buy. Most sales methodologies focus on detecting a buyer’s ability to make a purchase (e.g. do they control budget, they are responsible for the metric your product moves, can they sign the contract) however most sales methodologies do not focus on detecting the buyer’s ability to make a decision.
Experience is a predictor of ability. The #1 predictor of a buyer’s ability to make a decision is their level of experience with making a similar decision in the past, as experienced buyers know what information they need to make a decision, whereas inexperienced buyers are forced to learn as they go, which can be overwhelming.
Ask this question early in the process. “When was the last time you had to make a purchase like this?”. If the answer is, “it’s my first time”, you know they lack experience.
Clues that point to indecision
When you ask about timeline, they tell you they are early in the process.
“We are early in the process, still researching what is out there and looking at all the options”.
This tells you they don’t really know what they need and are building their requirements based on talking to vendors whereas a decisive buyer doesn’t need to research vendors because they know what they need.
A good follow up question here is, “As you look at all the options, what are the top 3 boxes you are looking to check?” If they don’t know the answer, you can be sure you are talking to an indecisive buyer.
They ask you for too much information.
“Can you send me a list of all your integrations?”, or “Can you send me everything you have?”, or “Can you show me the enterprise features as well?”
Similar to above. A decisive buyer will just tell you the systems they need to integrate with and ask if you integrate with them.
They push back on getting their colleagues involved in the buying process.
“I’m doing all the initial research to present back to the team.”
This tells you they are afraid of looking bad in front of their colleagues because they won’t have all the answers. A decisive buyer knows that getting other stakeholders on board early is a key part of getting a purchase completed.
A good follow up question here is, “You mentioned presenting back to the team. What are the top 3 boxes the team is looking to check?” If they don’t give you a clear answer, you can tell they are an indecisive buyer.
2. Make prescriptive recommendations
The second key to overcoming indecision is to limit the flow of information and narrow down the options by making prescriptive recommendations — you need to tell your buyer what is best for them.
When you make a prescriptive recommendation it focuses your buyer on reacting (and objecting) to what is in front of them and frees them from the burden of having to figure out everything from scratch.
Here’s how to make a prescriptive recommendation:
Narrow down the options.
“Based on our last conversation, I’ve narrowed it down to 2 options for you.”
This shows the buyer that you have listened to them and limits the number of decisions they need to make.
Tell them which option to pick.
“Here’s what I’d do if I were you. I’d go with option 1.”
Making it feel personal shows the buyer that you are on their side trying to help them, especially if you recommend the cheaper of your two options.
If necessary, tell them why they don’t need the other option.
“I love the other option but I think it’s a little more than what you need right now. Most customers start with option 1 and upgrade later when they really need to.”
This further demonstrates you are on the buyer’s side and not trying to get them to overpay.
3. Handle objections with candor
In my experience, the more authority a person has in an organization, the more they appreciate and respond positively to candor (because it increases their speed of decision making) and critically here, the more candid they are towards their team.
As a salesperson, you can use this to your advantage because adopting a candid tone with your buyer positions you as an authority. If you have already been prescriptive in your recommendation, it will have set the tone for you to be candid in handling objections, which is the 3rd key to overcoming indecision.
Acknowledge who your competition is and why buyers chose them.
One of the best ways to limit the number of vendors that your buyer wants to talk to is to be candid about who your competitors are and why customers choose them over you.
“There are several companies out there that sell similar solutions to us. The two that our customers usually evaluate us against are Vendor A and Vendor B. If the most important thing is X, they choose Vendor A or B, if its Y they choose us.”
This helps your buyer overcome their fear of not having done enough research and also helps frame their decision criteria. It also positions you favorably against your competitors as most salespeople are inclined to trash-talk their competitors.
Acknowledge why your competition is cheaper.
Indecisive buyers will always end up comparing you on price because it’s the only guaranteed common denominator across vendors.
“That’s a very good price for that plan. I haven’t seen Vendor A go that low before. We do offer better support and customers tell us that having strong support is valuable, which is why we charge more.”
This helps your buyer overcome their fear of overpaying and also positions you as an authority on the vendor landscape.
Acknowledge the fear of the unknown.
Fear of the unknown is the #1 driver of indecision and biggest barrier to change. Here’s how to handle it:
“I totally get that changing vendors feels like stepping into the unknown. Let’s get ahead of that now. Here’s a project plan outlining all the steps between today and getting you to the impact you are looking for by the date you need it”.
This shows you are there to help and it can help flush out unknown stakeholders who the buyer is concerned about looking bad in front of.
How are you dealing with indecisive buyers in your business? Drop me a line or let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
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Nice article! .. I see you've read The Jolt Effect! :)