“I don’t have a sale yet, but a decision is pending”. Oh, really? In my experience, when a sales person says a deal is “pending” this usually translates to “dead on arrival”. How often are you saying this when what you really mean is “I haven’t got a clue when, how, or if the decision will be made”?
Let’s face it – your buyer has the right to “think it over”. In fact, when it comes to major purchases, I might suggest that a buyer who makes decisions on the spot might be using poor judgment by acting too hastily. I hope that doesn’t offend you.
On the other hand, once your decision-maker has all of your information and pricing, there is no reason for a long delay in a decision, favorable or unfavorable. In fact, they owe you a prompt decision as a courtesy.
“Prompt” here doesn’t mean “now”, it means “in a reasonable time frame”. That said, with the right approach you can get prompt decisions consistently on pending opportunities. First, however, you need to accurately identify why decisions are delayed in the first place.
(1) No Decision Maker Involved
(2) No Negative Consequences
(3) No Deadline
Lets take a look at each of these points and how to correct them.
No decision maker involved. This is the most common strategic error you can make, and the one that has the most negative impact on your effectiveness. If your contact is taking your information to someone higher in the organization, you essentially forfeit control of the decision process.
In your initial meeting, ask your contact what their decision process would be in the event that they decide to buy from you. You have the right to ask this question; so ask it. If this person is not the decision maker, postpone a discussion of pricing. (Why would you give pricing to someone who cannot buy what you are selling?)
It is important that you provide justification for this. Explain that you are not yet in a position to provide pricing, because you have not yet obtained input from the other people involved in the business decision. This logic is right on target and is entirely appropriate here. It also shows good business judgment on your part, not pushiness. Ask this person to assist you in arranging a brief meeting with these other people prior to submitting your proposal. The objective is to partner with this non-decision-maker to help them and their employer to make a good business decision.
If they won’t cooperate with you, I suggest that you consider politely and graciously pulling out of the opportunity. If you cannot get input from the decision maker, you have less than a twenty percent likelihood of getting their approval. Your value proposition here is reduced to a brochure and a price quotation. Why waste your time putting together a proposal?
No negative consequences. If there are no negative consequences to delaying a decision, what motivation does the buyer have to act now?
Look for ways to impose a negative consequence for failure to act quickly. For example: “in order for us to guarantee shipping by ____, we will need your commitment no later than ______”. Or, “We currently have dates available this month for initiating this project; however if we do not get your go-ahead by ____ I cannot guarantee the availability of our staff”. The more substantial the consequences, the more effort made to get a decision made. This is also a good qualifying step to determine how serious the buyer is in doing business with you. Try it. It works.
No deadline established. Never conclude a presentation without establishing a date for the decision to be made. Say, “how much time do you need to make your decision; would three days be adequate?” In most cases, the buyer will say “yes, three days is fine”. Follow up this meeting immediately with a thank-you email. In it, thank them for the courtesy of their time. Include this passage: “thank you for your commitment to make a prompt business decision. I greatly appreciate it.” You will then need to make one follow-up call – in exactly three days You may get a “no”, but so what? Whether you are going to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was decided at the time you concluded your presentation. What we need now is good time management – which means that either response brings this issue to a prompt conclusion. Now you can get on with the business of finding your next opportunity.