When buyers just can’t make up their minds, give them a clear path to follow
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When buyers just can’t make up their minds, give them a clear path to follow

Everyone’s had a Hamlet customer: “To buy or not to buy: That is the question.”

Like Shakespeare’s indecisive prince, these buyers waffle over every decision – while you sit in the audience wondering if the show will ever be over. Hamlet customers cost you money, because they take up time that you could spend pursuing other sales.

It’s not a character issue
It’s easy to look at indecision as a character flaw: The buyer simply lacks the confidence, or moral fiber, or old-fashioned backbone, to make a decision and stick to it.

Often, however, the buyer’s character isn’t the problem. The problem is that they’ve lost their way. They don’t know how to navigate the buying process. So they get hung up on minor issues. Or go back over the same ground again and again. Eventually, they just stop in their tracks, because they can’t see a clear path to follow.

You do them – and yourself – a big favor by helping them create a good, objective framework for making the buying decision.

First, call a timeout
When buyers can’t make a decision, your instinct is to turn up the heat a little. You reiterate all the benefits they’ll soon be getting from your solution. Or you drop dire warnings about what might happen if they continue to delay.

But if the buying process isn’t in place, this kind of pressure will only make things worse. The buyer will feel more anxious and more threatened.

Instead, call a time out. Stop talking about the product and start talking about the process.

You might say, for example, “Jane, let’s back up for a minute. I’m still not sure I fully understand how you’re going to make this decision.” With this approach, you take the heat off your buyer: You imply that you’re the one who’s confused, not the buyer.

Now you’re in a position to gently guide your buyer through an effective decision-making process.

Three steps to clarity
Let these customers know that you’d like to first ask some questions to better understand their needs. That doesn’t mean using questions to force customers into your solution. They’ll just feel manipulated. Instead, act as an impartial questioner to help buyers sharpen their thinking. Resist the urge to start selling solutions until you’ve reached agreement on goals.

1. Define it
Start with the big picture. Use broad, open-ended questions such as: “Tell me again what you’re trying to achieve” or “What are your plans?”

Ask even if you think you know. For example, you may assume the customer wants to cut costs. But upon reflection, he or she may conclude the real goal is to increase profits. That implies a different metric.

2. Refine it
Next, find out specifically how the customer wants to achieve this goal. Try some variation of the question, “What does that involve?” For example:

“What would be involved in increasing your profits?”

“Well, I’d like to reduce overhead. Those savings drop right to the bottom line.”

“I see. And what part of your overhead, specifically, are you looking to reduce?”

Keep pursuing this line of questioning until you and the customer arrive at a specific set of goals.

3. Measure it
Now that you’ve identified the goals, you can apply measurements to them. In business-to-business sales, the best metric is usually dollars:

“By how much, specifically, are you aiming to reduce your monthly overhead?” With a goal in place, you can now draw a clear path that shows how you will get the buyer there.

Source: Based on “The Science of Sales Success,” by Josh Costell. Published by AMACOM Books. Info: 212-903-8316.

photo credit: baslow

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