In our roles when supporting our customers we can be overly nice in their decision process. In fact so nice that we can allow them to make a decision agreed to be made in two weeks happen over 3 months. Most of us have gone through it. The sale that should've been made months ago drags on and on and on (you get the point).
I get the need to deliberate, review and consider decisions. It’s an important activity to carefully weigh decisions of all sorts. But there comes a time where you just have to make one and no amount of additional information will be any different.
Like you I have had literally thousands of customer interactions over my sales career. I've come to realise that most customer decisions take longer not because they have a super complex decision making process but because of three things.
1) You haven't understood their urgency triggers/buying motives to why they should buy now.
2) You haven't made the offer clear and compelling enough for the business to easily make the choice to say yes.
3) You haven't set clear enough expectations for decisions and held them to their word.
I want to highlight one of these three that gets little press and it’s the challenge we often have of getting customer decisions to happen in a reasonable time.
I mentioned in a former post a few weeks ago and wrote about knowing what you stand for with your customers "When you stand for something you set the standard for how you and your customers stand together."
This has been validated in recent decision making studies. With great insight in the best selling book Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini. Turns out one of the most powerful way to influence action and choice rests in our ability to position before we make the request using a range of tools like priming. Priming at its core is offer suggestion based in a common belief, value that is agreeable. This fits perfectly with the art of influence that people will in most part be consistent with what they say they value when said out loud.
This has the same level of impact when it comes to helping your customers make decisions today. I'm talking about getting clear with your customers and setting a standard for how you work together by priming them with their own values.
Some decisions will just take longer than others, but if you never talk about how you do business together with your customers when making decisions then it's likely you'll be caught in the same frustrating decision loop. You want to avoid the below picture happening!
You may be thinking, 'I don't know where to start to get tough with my customers' or 'what does getting tough mean?' 'Decisions just take longer in my industry'.
Getting tough with your customers is not about being aggressive it's about valuing the relationship enough to let them know that it’s a two way exchange.
In 2015 CEB released the Challenger Customer which is a great book to read.
CEB conducted a survey of 3,000 customer stakeholders involved in B2B purchases. They found that going from one to two decision makers dramatically drops purchase likelihood from 81 to 55 percent (a 26% cliff). When 6 people are involved, purchase likelihood drops even lower—into the mid 30s. Yet, eliminating certain decision makers from the buying process puts a successful implementation at risk. All the stakeholders must buy into the new solution along the way
Wow, that sucks! Thankfully CEB offers some solutions that involve
1. Partnering with challengers and mobilisers to lead change
2. Using commercial insight to show pain of the same is greater than the pain of change
3. Not sell but Coaching your customer
4. Leading to your solution not with it
5. Breaking mental models
6. Focusing content marketing pieces on commercial insight
7. Connect all stakeholders together
8. Collective learning drives higher deal consensus
While I agree with the CEB approach it doesn’t answer the question: How do I avoid this happening in the first place? And what do I do if the process drags on for another 6 months? The reality is there is a direct correlation between desire and time. You can't afford just to leave it alone. The commitments you gain with your customer should be established at all stages of your conversations.
Where CEB's Challenger customer helps is shaping a process to engage your clients during that time. I personally don’t believe you have to suffer the pain of asking 4/5 times for an answer.
Sorry to say, if you're getting this experience you’re not in an equal relationship with your customer and it has nothing to do with industry, personality, history or product. It's about what value you put on yourself, your business and relationship.
It may sound scary but just think about any other relationship you have. Wouldn't you let the person know if something wasn't quite right? I'd hope so or it'd be an unhealthy one.
Setting the expectation of decisions with your customers can be done and believe me it will change the whole dynamic positively in your relationship. We have to get comfortable with holding tension in our customer relationships...
...It's creating a space to get personal, to be bold, to push the boundaries for all the right reasons and to create change in our client's worlds. Bernadette McClelland
Here are five things you can do this week to prepare for your customer conversation. Use the power of pre-suasion and influence to set yourself up for better current and future conversations. NOTE: Your relationship to date with your customer will make a difference to the approach you might take but not to the process below.
Get to know what your customer expectations are of you and be clear on what you're looking for from the relationship. You may need to go back to existing agreements you have together and evaluate what they've asked of you and you of them. Write this down.
Be clear on any specific implications to your business on delayed decisions by the client if relevant. Who does the decision impact and what would it mean for them personally and professionally? E.g. not hitting the yearly target or risk of not being looked favourably by their peers. Write those down.
Also write down the benefits to your client on making decisions that are timely to the results important to them. Only if relevant. This could be a unique advantage. Hitting a major milestone. Getting the best deal etc..
Before your next customer conversation role play with a manager, colleague or peer. Mention that you'd like to get much clearer on how you make decisions with your customer and you want to have an honest and transparent conversation around this.
Set up a face to face meeting ideally if not then a call with a clear agenda of 3-4 items you'd like to discuss. Have two items on positive feedback, one a key insight that might help shape the next question and then one on the relationship. You want to lead them into a positive framed conversation. Position this as a conversation to improve how you deliver for them and that means getting clearer on how you work together. Be honest and ensure you leave with specific actions you'll both take at the end based on the new framework of expectations you've set together.
This approach will take a little work. But what's a couple hours of work to waiting another 3 months for a decision. If you're in a situation where you find it very difficult where decisions run on and on. I'd love to hear from you directly.
If you're a key account manager, sales leader of consultant responsible for customer growth send me a LinkedIn request and get connected to my customer growth mailing list HERE. You can start the process of learning a new framework of thinking to customer growth today. www.jermaineedwards.com
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