Salespeople are experiencing a disconnect with a surprising number of prospects. After one or several meetings, buyers are stalling on a “No Decision” outcome for the potential purchase. Depending on the stats you read, “No Decision” rates are commonly more than 20 percent, and sometimes as high as 50 percent.
Even worse, sellers are increasingly experiencing situations where buyers are becoming unresponsive and going dark completely… leaving them ghosted!
Have buyers become inconsiderate? Disrespectful? Not necessarily. In the vein of the old adage that the “customer is always right,” it’s important that sellers look inward to find answers to these struggles. Most of the time, it’s nothing personal.
Taking an “outside-in” look at the situation and approaching it in a buyer-centric way, there are a handful of reasons you might be experiencing this as a salesperson. Here are a few reasons why buyers might be stalling or going cold, and a few ways to prevent it from happening in the future.
Reason #1: They Don’t Really Need Your Solution
It’s sometimes hard to admit it, but not every buyer actually needs what you sell. Even if you do a thorough discovery and fully understand the buyer’s needs, your solution might not cleanly align with their needs or be compelling enough for them to move from the status quo.
From the earliest communications with a prospect, it’s important that a salesperson evaluate how well their solution aligns with their buyer’s true needs. In our Modern Sales Foundations training program, we call this NASA: Need and Solution Alignment. If you don’t have NASA, then the buyer’s potential purchase probably means a lot more to you than it means to them… and that’s a problem.
Even if you can deliver solutions that are aligned with a buyer’s need, there might not be a compelling case for change. Aside from the cost of buying your solution, most purchases incur other indirect costs on a customer. There may be internal friction, required training or communication, changes to other internal systems or processes, or even a cost of discontinuing service with an incumbent vendor. If the potential benefits of implementing your solution don’t clearly outweigh the sum of these costs, a buyer might go quiet and move into “No-Decision” mode.
Reason #2: You Haven’t Communicated Meaningful Value
Even when you have a relatively strong Need and Solution Alignment with prospects, they might not fully understand exactly how valuable your solution could be for them. What is the buyer looking to gain by making a purchase?
Value is measured and evaluated only by the buyer; if you aren’t messaging the value in the ways that the buyer wants to understand it, it won’t be meaningful. We teach that there are four primary types of value that you can communicate. Certain buyers may only care about one; others may be looking to see several types of value.
Your solution’s ability to impact financial and/or operational metrics
Examples: Revenue and gross margin
Your solution’s ability to ease or improve day-to-day processes
Examples: Customer and employee experience
Your solution’s alignment with customer organization’s mission, vision, strategy or underlying values
Examples: Principles and social responsibility
Your solution’s positive impacts on the individual buyer, personally or professionally
Examples: Career success and achievement
Suppose that you are selling an HR Management software to a mid-size company. If your messaging is centered around how easily employees can request vacation days and pull pay stubs in just a few clicks (Experiential Value) to a financially-minded CFO, she might not see sufficient value in spending 30 percent more to switch to your solution. However, if your software streamlines processes that save considerable hours for your HR department, those outcomes might resonate with this particular buyer who needs to see sufficient Business Value.
To make things even more challenging, today’s sellers often need to message relevant value to each member of the buying committee when in a complex sales situation. In the software example, the CFO is probably making the decision alongside the CEO, HR leaders, and systems administrators from IT. The value that each decision maker and influencer needs to understand is going to vary widely; it’s up to you to clearly message the relevant value to each stakeholder.
Reason #3: You’ve Misunderstood Their Buying Process... If They’re Even in One
The modern B2B buying process is complex, variable and often not linear. Despite this reality, many sellers enter the buying process in the same way for every prospect without accounting for where the buyer is in their purchase process.
For buyers in the buying process, where are they? Are they seeking to understand their problem? Beginning to research solutions? Comparing different vendors or types of solutions? Or are they not even that far and are just kicking the tires on potential initiatives in order to prioritize? Sometimes a buyer may not even be in a buying process – meaning they are in other stages of the larger business or customer lifecycle.
When you don’t understand the buying process or where the buyer is within it, you are likely to be misaligned with it. When this happens, you might guess why a buyer may have gone cold instead of having a clear sense of it.
Seek to understand where the buyer is within their buying process, while also learning a bit about what their buying process entails. Taking it one step further, ask questions until you fully understand the decision criteria associated with each stage of the process, also known as exit criteria. Exit criteria is what the buyer needs to see, hear, feel, understand and believe in order to advance to the next stage.
When you have an authentic conversation about what the buyer needs to understand before moving into the next stage of the buying process, you’ll know exactly what you need to deliver. Instead, if you don’t know the exit criteria and you’re guessing, you might find that the buyer begins stalling the process and focusing on other priorities.
Reason #4: You Didn’t Fully Qualify the Opportunity
We couldn’t talk about stalled deals without bringing up a lack of qualification. Just about every salesperson has been guilty of being excited about a particular opportunity, putting on a pair of “hope goggles,” and pushing forward in pursuit of the sale without properly qualifying. After all, asking the right questions to qualify that golden opportunity might reveal that it isn’t qualifies… and then you’d have to walk away from it.
While Need and Solution Alignment (NASA) is a critical element of qualification, there are a few other FACTs you also need to understand:
- Whether buyers have a budget defined or the ability to source the necessary funds to purchase your solution.
- What are you up against? Be sure to consider direct competitors, but also other ways of solving the problem, DIY and, of course, status quo.
- Are you working, and do you have access to, the right decision makers?
- How soon do they need a solution? Is there a compelling event or a firm timeline?
Each of these qualification FACTs, if not recognized or accounted for, can result in deals entering limbo or going cold.
- Lack of Funding or misalignment of Timing can pose problems for obvious reasons.
- If you misunderstand the buyer’s Alternatives, you could be grossly underestimating a competitor or the prospect’s interest in solving the problem internally.
- If you’ve moved forward in the sales process without working with the right Committee, you might wind up in a situation where your primary contacts are trying to sell your solution to other stakeholders by themselves.
In today’s complex buying processes, the last point about Committee is particularly important. If your contacts are selling internally, they probably are turning around the value messaging you’ve communicated and sharing that with other stakeholders who might be looking for other types of value. This value messaging misalignment might mean that the other internal stakeholders aren’t seeing a compelling reason to buy.
Don’t Give Buyers a Reason to Disappear
While there may certainly be inexplicable reasons why some buyers go dark and disconnect from sellers who have done everything right, more often it’s the result of the salesperson not aligning with buyers and the buying process.
As salespeople, let’s work harder to lay the groundwork for authentic and buyer-centric selling so that buyers have less reason to go dark. Know how your solutions align with buyers’ needs, understand relevant value, decode the buying process, and don’t forget to qualify.
The buyer-centric selling models in this article are taught in-depth in the Modern Sales Foundations training program that I co-wrote with Mike Kunkle. To learn how your sales team can shift to a buyer-centric selling approach, check out Modern Sales Foundations today.