Your clients have limited bandwidth. Like any other human beings, while they may have a large todo list, the brain’s ability to focus is limited. Science tells us that there really is no such thing as multitasking. People who claim to multitask are actually hoping from task to task to task and back again.

Most human beings have an extended list of about 8-10 items or tasks, but research has shown that they are usually only acting on the top 2 or 3 items on that list. That’s the “short list”.

That means that an overwhelming majority of people will not take action to purchase something unless it directly addresses one of the top three issues or obstacles they face, no matter how good the price or value. You can have the best product, the best price, with the best warranty, and even an urgent reason for me to purchase it, but if the issue/problem solved by your product is not on MY list of top three urgent issues, I am probably NOT likely to take action and buy it. You can call me over and over again, take me to lunch, show me testimonials, up the benefits, but odds are you’ll be wasting your time (and mine). I’m the prospect, it has to be urgent to me.

Remember, I have an extended list of 8-10 things, and the problem you fix might be on that list somewhere. Based on that, I may have taken the meeting, and may even request a proposal. However, you’re not likely to see action on that proposal if you are not in the top 3. I only have so much bandwidth to take action.

So the challenge is developing tactics to identify when you’re in the top 10 but NOT in the top 3. If you’re not in the top 10, you’ll usually have a hard time securing the meeting, and you’ll likely not going to get a request for a proposal or pricing. How do we identify our position when we make the big list, but not the short list?

I have one key tactic I was taught for these situations, based on the Covey time management system. Around the time that a prospect asks me for a proposal or pricing information, I will ask them to help me understand something and I ask two questions.

“On a scale of 1-10, rate the IMPORTANCE of this project?”

“On a scale of 1-10 rate the URGENCY of this project?”

Now, before I ask this, I have usually managed to put a price on the issue they are trying to solve. In other words, I know the COST of NOT buying from me. I have a financial picture of the problem. When I ask this question I’m looking for a 9 or above on both questions, and ideally one of them is a 10. What experience has taught me is that anything below 9 means there are AT LEAST 3 items higher than mine on the list. I’m about to do a whole lot of work and not get paid off with a sale.

The next step is tricky, and requires a little finesse, but you owe it to your prospect to be honest. If you pretend to believe in something that isn’t a priority, you make it easier for them to believe that. They need to choose if you are in the top 3. So I follow up a score of 8 or below with a pained face, a question and an explanation.

“OK, what would it take for that to be a 9 or 10? Here’s why I ask. If we move forward on the basis of a 7, we run the risk that we’ll start working on this, but some of the things you rank as 9 or 10 will come up and you’ll need to prioritize those. That means we may not succeed and you won’t get full value out of your investment. Is this a timing issue, or can you share what else is at a 9 or 10 right now?”

This causes one of two responses. They either raise the score to 9 or 10, or they start admitting to themselves (and to me) that they have higher priorities. I win either way. The ones that can’t raise the score were not going to buy. I wasn’t in the top 3. I’ve used this tactic many times, and over 80% of those that admitted I wasn’t a priority later came back and bought from me, once the issue moved into the top 3. I win a lot of trust by helping them prioritize. You may feel like you are risking losing a sale, but you’re not. Some prospects will change their score. You helped them prioritize as well.