I talked to a customer the other day who was confused. We hadn’t done anything to confuse him — thank goodness. But he and I got chatting and he opened up about how another organization, one with which we don’t compete, had.

This fellow had been a customer of Organization X for several years. He’d always bought the same kind of service at around the same price in the same kind of way, but now this vendor had shifted the way it packaged this service. What had previously been a straightforward purchase was now being pushed at him as a “membership,” and he didn’t get it. He didn’t get why the vendor had changed its sales strategy. He didn’t get how the new format compared with the old. He didn’t get what he was supposed to do next. And apparently, from our conversation, Organization X wasn’t helping him get it.

As I said, the guy was confused. And as a result, he hadn’t repurchased. He wasn’t sure he was going to. Confusion was well on its way to costing Organization X a long-time, relatively loyal customer.

Confusion = inaction

The conversation got me thinking about what happens when we sales folk confuse our buyers, and about a number of ways we might inadvertently do this.

Think about what you do when you’re confused. Suppose you’re in a train station with a dozen platforms and you’re not sure which one your train is going to arrive at. The signage is confusing. Do you go decisively charging off to one of the platforms, hoping it’s the right one? No, you don’t. Probably, you hesitate. Probably, you do nothing — at least for a few seconds while you gather your thoughts.

And that’s what customers do when they’re confused — nothing. They certainly don’t do what you want them to do, which is buy. A buying decision demands a high degree of certainty and security, which people don’t feel when they’re confused.

Stumbling into trouble

Obviously, no self-respecting sales rep goes out with the aim of confusing a customer — unless it’s to make a very specific point, and then immediately explain why you did it.

But it’s all too easy to confuse your customers unintentionally. Here are some ways I can think of that this might happen:

  1. You answer questions the customer hasn’t asked, or provide information they haven’t requested. Information overload is a prime source of buyer confusion.
  2. You don’t make crystal clear what you want the customer to do. Even when the information you’ve provided is relevant, timely and succinct, your buyer will be perplexed if he/she can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next.
  3. You use jargon or acronyms the customer doesn’t understand. Alphabet soup and unfamiliar words make people’s heads spin and alienate them. They feel like there’s an in-group that understands these references, which they’re not part of.
  4. You give the customer too many choices. You’ve heard of paralysis by analysis. That’s what happens when a buyer is asked to evaluate an unreasonably large number of options. Three or four is usually the maximum people can handle.
  5. You fail to adequately convey how the product or service will work for the customer. This is the problem with a standard, undifferentiated features-and-benefits presentation — it may leave the buyer wondering exactly what this all means for him or her.
  6. You alter important aspects of a product or service without explaining the change. This is what happened to the fellow with whom I recently spoke. Organization X had left him completely at sea.
  7. You don’t listen carefully to what the customer is saying, and as a result give an off-target response. It’s bewildering and disorienting for a buyer to ask a question and get an answer that seems in a completely different ballpark — or universe — from the one their head is in.

The list goes on…

I’m certain there must be other ways to leave a customer saying or thinking, “Huh?”

If you can think of one or two, I’d be grateful if you would help me out with a comment on this post. After all, I don’t want to accidentally confuse any buyers myself!

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