In his book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell contends that people make their best and most accurate decisions in the first two seconds of facing a situation—in other words, in the blink of an eye. It seems inherently suspect, though, this notion that people can make correct decisions quickly. Is it? You were probably taught from an early age that haste makes waste; don’t judge a book by its cover; and look before you leap. You may have been conditioned to believe that if you don’t gather as much information as possible, deliberate carefully, and consider all possible options, you will end up a fool. As a result, you may have come to only trust conscious, slow-paced decision processes. But in fact, decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as those made deliberately and cautiously. You may remember your sixth-grade teacher telling you, “Your first answer is your best answer.”
It’s no wonder prospects seem to have such difficulty making a buying decision. They’re walking around with decades of head trash, bad scripts, and old tapes telling them not to trust their impulses. So they give salespeople the inevitable think-it-over answer. But is that really the problem? Is it that prospects can’t make decisions … or is it that salespeople take their own slow buying cycles into their sales calls? Think about how you buy something. If you stopped reading now and wrote down your buying process, what would it look like? Decide what I want; find it; buy it? Probably not, but that’s what a lot of salespeople want prospects to do.
In reality, salespeople themselves do exactly the same things when they buy: procrastinate; think it over; consult with someone else (who’s conveniently not present); check the budget; promise to call back next week. It’s all a put off, because chances are they’ve made their decision in the blink of an eye but are afraid to act on it. They’re either afraid to say “no” because they don’t want to deal with the anticipated conflict, or they don’t want to say “yes” because childhood tapes warn that they will regret it later on.
I remember speaking for an hour with Keiko, a prospect. She agreed prior to meeting to make a yes/no decision, and was full speed ahead throughout our meeting. I prodded every way I could to see if she were really serious about working with me. She said she was and also that she was convinced that her return on investment would be huge.
The following conversation ensued:
Keiko: Well, I guess this is where you want a decision, but I need to think it over.
Me: No problem, Keiko, you can think it over all you want. However, since you said your biggest problem is prospects who need to think it over, it could be that it’s your own decision processes that are affecting your close ratio. Chances are you’ve already decided not to do this with me but are having difficulty telling me. So I’m going to make it easy for both of us and close the file.
Keiko: Well, I think it would be rude of me not to let prospects think it over; it would make it seem like I’m only there for the money.
Here’s my thought for Keiko (and for myself when I have trouble getting people to make decisions): Success in business has a lot to do with making decisions. Good decisions, bad decisions, mediocre decisions. You have to make decisions to get decisions. Once in a while you may make a bad decision, but when you do, you repair that with another, better, decision and move on. Failure to make any decisions leads to paralysis.
Likewise, success in sales is about getting prospects to make decisions; yes is a good decision; no is a good decision; thinking it over is no decision. I made the decision to close the file on Keiko and move on.
Here’s the point: If you yourself are uncomfortable about making decisions, then leading people towards a decision will also feel uncomfortable. In that case, sales or business development may not be the place for you.
So here’s my advice: Get comfortable making decisions. The next time you’re the prospect, whatever you do, take a firm stand, look the salesperson in the eye and say “yes” or “no.” Don’t say you need to think it over. Either way, you’ll probably be right. And you’ll be laying the groundwork for better discussions with your own prospects.
Excerpted from The Art and Skill of Sales Psychology, by Brad McDonald.
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