Ask yourself what percentage of “maybes” are actually prospects for whom your product or solution is perfect, but who stall because they suffer from “indecisionitis” a rare disease that makes decision making more painful than root canal surgery.

I actually have a friend that really cannot make decisions, about anything. For years, I usually ordered for her in restaurants, because any menu involving more than 3 choices makes her cringe and start sweating. Her father once told me that as a child, she actually used to burst into tears over deciding what breakfast cereal to eat. Certainly, decision impaired (or paralyzed) prospects exist, but I also think that honest analysis reveals that most of the time, the stalled sale is not the result of a prospect paralyzed from making decisions..

The stall is usually a symptom of FEAR.  Fear of one of the following factors:

  1. Loss– Usually the fear of losing out on the benefits of other options. So in my friend’s case, the indecision about selecting Cheerios for breakfast, is the fear of the loss of not having Frosted Flakes for breakfast.
  2. Inertia- Inaction is a comfort level for thousands of people, dealing with thousands of decisions, based primarily on the fact that not making the decision consciously, allows the decision to be made for them by circumstances requiring no effort or thought, and hence in their minds, absolves them from any bad consequences of the decision. Again, in my friend’s example, if I selected the entrée and she doesn’t enjoy it, she is free from blame, since it was my choice.
  3. Unaddressed Issues – This is probably the most common block to a decision, and the one most easily fixed by the sales person. Simply stated, it means that as sales people, we have not correctly identified the most pressing issue that the prospect needs solved. Even if our problem solves it, unless that issue has been identified and discussed during the presenting and negotiating, a little voice in the back of the prospect’s brain is telling them “What about XYZ? How will that be handled?”

Fortunately, all of these sources of fear are relatively easy to fix, through the use of questioning and validating. A stalled sale is usually a sign that you missed something in your research and questioning phase, and need to go back to address it.

So, take a step back, and get off the merry go round of calling every week to “check in” and ask if they’ve made a decision yet. It is time to go back to the black board and review the prospect’s needs.

Put it through the lens of the three factors above and ask yourself these questions:

  1. How is my solution different from others that the prospect may be having trouble letting go of? Price? Complexity? Write down what questions can I ask the prospect on my next visit that will identify the continued interest in another solution? What’s so darn good about the Frosted Flakes anyway?
  2. Where is the real pain, or real negative consequence of no action for the prospect? Very often, customers can get tunnel vision and only see the pain of taking action (risk, money, hassle, interruptions). It is your job to help them focus on the risks, costs and hassles of NOT taking action. And if you happen to discover that there are NO real urgent or pressing risks to inaction, then it is probably wise to move on to another prospect. So, what questions are you going to ask on the next visit to determine what will happen if the customer makes no decision and takes no action?
  3. What else could be an issue for this customer? Chances are you know, just from being a professional who is knowledgeable and informed about his industry, but guess what? You still need to get the customer to tell you. You do not assume it, and do not suggest it. I cringe when I see a salesperson make suggestions on additional issues. The risk there is in opening up another can of worms and adding a worry that didn’t exist if you guessed wrong. Better to lead the questioning until the customer tells you. A prospect will feel unburdened and relieved at recognizing the issue, which causes some physical and emotional responses that are actually facilitators to action. But the real beauty of that approach is that about half the time, the prospect was not fully aware of the additional concerns. By helping the prospect identify it, and creating solution for it, you have just evolved yourself from a vendor (someone selling something) to an advisor (someone helping and solving). Now the prospect sees you and your company as allies in solving issues, and will also respect your focus on finding solutions, instead of just making a sale. So again, write down what questions you are going to ask on the next visit that will lead the prospect to share additional concerns and issues.

Example from the field – Years ago, I was managing a team of commercial landscape maintenance contract sales people. Our company called on property managers and proposed annual contracts for maintaining the grounds. One of my sales reps (we’ll call him Donald) had an account on his monthly report for three months without progress, so the next time we rode together for the day, I asked him to schedule some time with that prospect. Donald had gone back over and over again, and even lowered the original bid price. I was convinced that this prospect had used our proposal to get his current vendor to drop their price, and that being done, this had become a dead lead, so I went into the meeting with that assumption.

Very early in the meeting though, my ears began tingling with the hunch that the customer had not shared or realized there was another issue. It clearly was not a price issue, because even though we were proposing a number slightly higher than the current vendor, he did not take the opportunity to turn us down. Something else was bothering him. So I started asking a lot of questions about why he was considering us at all. What was wrong with his current vendor?

Donald caught on to what I was doing, and being more technically informed on landscaping matters, began throwing in more industry specific questions. What that line of questioning led us to, was the prospect’s realization that the current vendor was not only doing poor work, but was not addressing some other risk issues. In this case, it was some overgrown trees that posed a risk of dropping limbs into the parking lot. Our standard contract did not include tree trimming, and even though the current vendor’s didn’t either, Mr. Prospect had been feeling reticent to make a change, since the change in vendor would not solve the tree issue. Landscaping quality would have gone up, but the trees would still be a risk. Voila! There was the other issue.

Now, I didn’t identify the issue, Donald did, using focused, and very poignant questioning. But prior to that meeting, Donald had moved on from discovery and research, and simply didn’t think of going back to it. In his mind, he had correctly bid on the specs given to him by the prospect. The prospect had not asked for help with the trees during the original questioning phase, but it was still an issue. Either because he didn’t fully realize it, or because he had not linked the two.

The result of that meeting was that a week later, we signed a contract with this prospect, and also sold him additional tree trimming work for his parking lot. All it took was re-opening the questioning phase.

Prospects sometimes lie, for sure, but more often than not, they simply are not fully aware of their most pressing issue and your job as a salesperson is to find the real issue, not just accept the RFP from the client without asking questions.