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Sales Solutions
Gaining Commitment.

(part 2 of 2 Tips on Commitment)

vol 1, issue #4
August 15, 2003

Why do prospects have trouble committing? Why do they find it so hard to say, "yes?" Why are they unwilling to commit to do the things you ask, even if they know, deep down inside, it's for their own good? If you stop and think about it, it's really not hard to figure out. Early in the buying/selling process, the prospect is focusing on his problems and how your product (and those of your competitors) can solve them. Later on, when he's faced with actually making a decision on this major purchase, trying to decide which vendor among the five who are competing for his business he's going to select (and which four to disappoint), his fear and stress level skyrocket. "What if I make the wrong decision?" "What is the wrong decision?" "I really don't want to deal with this now...don't want to return those phone calls," he thinks. When your prospect gets to this point in the buying/selling process, his focus temporarily shifts away from the happy vision of having his problem solved, and towards all the things that could possible go wrong.

Should this come as a surprise? Of course not. In fact, it should be expected. We all know this feeling from our own experiences as customers. We see it in the romantic partner who is reluctant to commit to a relationship - he or she has reservations, doubts, and fears - fear of making a bad, or wrong, decision. One he or she will have to live with for a long time. So it is with our sales prospects. Until these reservations, doubts, and fears are addressed and resolved, you won't get full cooperation - full commitment - from your prospect. It's your job, as a consultative salesperson, to help him resolve them, so he can put them behind him and get on with the business of buying your product.

So how do we do this?

Put yourself in your prospect's shoes. What is you're looking for more than anything as you wrestle with this decision? An end to the indecision, and the ambivalence! You want to be reassured that your worst fears will not be realized by selecting this vendor. That choosing this vendor's solution (instead of the others) is the lowest risk option for you. Let's face it - while we may not admit it, as customers we really do want help in moving the process forward, so we can leave the stressful discomfort of the buy-decision world, and enter the comfortable and happy world of ownership/usage. Getting back to our selling situation, it's our job to help our prospects get past their worries so they can continue moving forward in the process. We do this by assuming a role akin to that of a therapist working with a patient - we draw out their fears (now, you will only be able to succeed at this if you have developed a high level of trust with your prospect, which you should have accomplished by this point). Once a trusting relationship has been established, you're going to use skillful questioning to draw out your prospect's real concerns. But beware - traditional objection-handling techniques won't work here, because they don't give the prospect a chance to express his emotions. The best way to handle fear is to encourage open expression of concerns, so the prospect can move past them. Do this by:

  • Exploring concerns ("Can you tell me more about this?", "What concerns do you have?")
  • Empathizing with his feelings ("I understand how you feel")
  • Discussing alternatives - ask the prospect how he thinks he should proceed. Get him to speculate about how to resolve his concerns ("What do you think could be done/what do you need to see or hear in order to relieve your concerns?")
  • Be sensitive (to what is not being said as well as what is being said). Observe how the prospect behaves and interacts. Underneath seemingly minor issues often lie major problems.

The goal is to get the prospect to figure out for himself what his problems are and what needs to be done to resolve them. Do not solve the problem for the prospect. Rather, guide him towards resolving it himself.

Most people don't like risk - they try to avoid it. But all change - even change for the better - involves risk. And the greater the risk perceived by the prospect, the higher his fear level will rise, creating an obstacle for you. By assuming a therapist-like role, you help your prospect resolve his fears, move past indecision, and arrive at the point of commitment - a purchase of your offering!

Action item:
Review your pipeline to find deals that have stalled - deals where you can't get a return call. Communicate to your prospect (via voice mail, email, or letter) that you understand he's in a difficult, stressful point in his process, and that you understand the pressure he's under. Remind him (or tell him if you haven't already) that you're not going to add to that stress, that pressure. On the contrary, you've helped dozens of people just like him, in the same situation in which he finds himself, resolve their issues, and you want to help him figure this out just as you did with them. Then, after you get the call back, and arrange the meeting, implement the strategy above. You'll be surprised at how your prospects open up, and how strongly this approach positions you relative to your competitors.

Action item

Think back to deals you've worked. Did you lose a deal, or delay its closure, by "overselling"? What would you have done differently? Review your current pipeline - have you identified the key selection criteria for each influencer, and for the decision maker? If not, get to it. If you have, focus laser-like on them, and make sure your prospect knows you offer the best solution on those criteria. Only introduce other features and benefits if the prospect indicates that the key ones are not enough for him to feel comfortable to proceed with you and your offering.

Good Selling!

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