How to handle an indecisive buyer
The dreaded "no decision"
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.