Manage these 4 common delays and close more deals

All sales people know what I am talking about, because it happens often. You want to close a deal but your prospect doesn’t want to decide right now.
You have had a great conversation with a potential customer. You know what they require and your product or service is a perfect fit. Your presentation of features and benefits was okay and you repeatedly heard “yes” throughout the process.
And yet, your customer doesn’t want to decide right now. There might be various reasons:

  • They need to think it over
  • They need to consult their boss, their team, their spouse
  • They want to compare with another offer that they may or may not yet have received
  • Internal procedures require multiple quotations from various vendors
  • Etc.

Most sales people can’t come any further than saying something like “OK, I’ll call you next week when you’ve discussed/compared/thought it over” etc.
Aren’t there better ways to make progress in the sales process? Yes, there are!

Could it be that they are turning you down in a polite manner?

The most important question to answer is: is there really a good reason for the delay or are they using a pretext to politely turn you down? If this is the case, something went wrong in your sales process and you might not even have realised it. Well, then it is about time to find out what went wrong. The way to respond to the decision-making delay is essentially the same, no matter what the reason for the delay is. There is one general way to start the intended flow of the conversation, and there are also various specific approaches, depending on the kind of delay that you are facing.
Let’s start with the general one.

The general delay killer

No matter what the reason for the delay is (time delays, consultation delays, comparison delays, procedural delays etc.), you can always use this general delay killer. Suppose that your customer says:

“Thanks for all your information, but I need time to think this over. It is not the kind of decision that I take overnight.”

There are various ways to cope with objections, but of course, it is always a great idea to show empathy if your customer raises an objection. So a great response would be:

“I fully understand your concern, because it is an important decision for you. I would like to know where I am in this process at this moment, and therefore would like to ask you one more question. If you had to pick a number between 1 to 10, 1 being “This was a waste of time, I am not going to buy this” and 10 being “This is the solution that I need and this is my favourite option”, how would you rate us / me / my product / my service?

If your customer rates your offer lower than 7, then most probably the delay is more than a delay, it is a show stopper. So in that case you simply show sincerely how you feel by leaning backwards, pulling a disappointed face and saying something like:

“Well, in that case I think that I have messed this up completely. I must have made a big mistake somewhere in the process. I really feel bad about this.”

Most probably this opens up your prospect and he mirrors your honest, humanitarian reaction with the true reasons why he doesn’t like your offer that much. This might give you new clues about what should be changed in your offer.
However, if today’s your lucky day and your customer responds with a ranking of 7 or higher, your reaction would be:

“Well, I am very happy to hear that you like my offer that much. What do you specifically like about it?”

And, before you know it, your customer starts telling you why they want to buy from you. The roles are reversed. Let them talk, make notes, and say something like “great, you’re right! Anything else?”. Finally you say:

“To me it seems that you’ve already made up your mind. So why should we wait? I propose that we move on to the next step.”

The specific delay killers

Depending on the situation, you could also enter this conversation flow with a specific start sentence, depending on the reason for the delay. For instance:

They need time

Your customer says:

“Thanks for all your information, but I need time to think this over. It is not the kind of decision that I take overnight.”

You respond with:

“I fully understand your concern, because it is an important decision for you. I am curious to find out how you think about this right now: if you had to decide now, based on what I have told you, would you then choose for me?”

This is a closed question, that can be answered by “yes” or “no”. “No” is similar to lower than 7 in the general delay killer, “Yes” is similar to 7 or higher in the general delay killer. The rest of your conversational structure is the same.

They need to discuss

Your customer says:

“Thanks for all your information, but I need to discuss this with my team in our meeting next Tuesday. I’ll get back to you after that.”

You respond with:

“I fully understand that for an important decision like this, the opinion of your team members is important to you. If you could make the decision yourself, would you then choose for me?”. Or alternatively: “How do you think about this personally, would you prefer my offer to the competitor’s offer?”

This, again, is a closed question, that can be answered by “yes” or “no”. “No” is similar to lower than 7 in the general delay killer. You should realise that if your prospect doesn’t like your offer that much, he is not your ambassador in the team meeting! So most probably that’s a lost deal.
“Yes” is similar to 7 or higher in the general delay killer.
The rest of your conversational structure is the same. If your prospect prefers your offer to the competition, and you made them talk about the reasons why, you’d best conclude with

“so what needs to be done to get your team members on board for YOUR plan?”

They want to compare

Your customer says:

“Thanks for all your information, but I would like to compare your proposal to that of supplier X.”

You respond with:

“I fully understand that this is an important decision. What is the most important aspect that you are going to compare?”.

Your customer could respond in many different ways, like “delivery time”, “price”, “durability” etc.
The next step is to equate this aspect in yours and the competition’s offer. So you say:

“Consider the imaginary situation that the prices were exactly the same. Would you then prefer my solution to our competitor’s solution?”

The rest is similar to the other delay killers. So if your customer prefers your offer if prices were equal, you let them explain why that is.
If your price is a bit higher than your competitor’s price, and your customer prefers your product to your competitor’s product if prices were equal, you now know the reason why prices do not need to be the exactly the same! You now just have to justify the price difference and your prospect gave you the tools for that!

They have to comply with procedures

Your customer says:

“Thanks for all your information. Our internal procedures prescribe to request multiple quotations.”

You respond with:

“I see where you are coming from. And I certainly understand that you need to follow these guidelines. I am curious, if you requested other quotations and they didn’t differ much from ours, would you then prefer my proposal?”. Or, alternatively “Based on what we have discussed today, how do you like this proposal? If there were no internal procedures, would you then go ahead with us?”

The rest is similar to the other delay killers.

Of course, you shouldn’t hesitate when a situation like any of the aforementioned arises. It might be a good idea to practice them often, so that you can respond in a natural way. These techniques have brought me tens of thousands of Euro’s in the past years!

By Paul J. Smulders

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