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Sometimes The Customer Just Needs To Decide!

by David Brock on February 24th, 2012

I was reviewing a sales situation with a client earlier today.  The sales person had done a fantastic job in managing the sales process.  He had dealt with all the stakeholders, the competitors had presented their case, the advantages for my customer were compelling.  Everyone was recommending my client’s solution.  Everything was in the hands of the decision-maker—and it’s been that way for a month.

The decision-maker just isn’t making a decision.  We’ve looked at all the issues–the business case is very strong–so good that every week the decision is deferred, the customer continues to lose a lot of money—so there is a clear financial/business incentive to make a decision.  All the implementation risks, all the gotcha’s have been addressed–both by my client and by the competition.

My client has checked with the decision-maker’s management—the ball—the decision is clearly with the decision-maker.  Yet a decision isn’t being made.  The sales person has asked, “Is there anything else you need to understand, are there any issues we need to address.”  Usually the response is about detailed questions about the capability–more “how will this work,” or validating what has already been communicated, but none of it having to do with making a selection.  All the change and change management issues/fears have been addressed–there is nothing more.

This case is actually not very unusual.  Some people have great difficulty making a decision.  They may be very analytic or risk averse–always looking for more data on which to make a decision, and never comfortable that they have enough.  They are looking to eliminate all uncertainty and risk, making the perfect decision.  There is never enough data to present—they are always worried they have missed something—there is always just one more thing–they don’t know what it is, but they fear they have missed something.

Some people have difficulty making decisions because they may make someone unhappy.  In building consensus with their buying team compromises have been made.  Some people may not be as “happy” as others.  Some decision-makers are uncomfortable about this.  They may even be uncomfortable making a selection of vendors–having to tell someone “no.”

We’ve reached a point–all the selling is over–there is nothing more to do, there is no more information, no adjustments of the offer or pricing, nothing more we–or the competition to say.  Sometimes it gets to the customer just has to decide–but they can’t.

This is one of the most difficult situations for sales people to deal with.  We keep looking for more–because the customer seems to be looking for more, when in reality there is nothing more that can be provided.  Too often, when we face this situation–we keep looking for more, we keep trying to persuade, we keep trying to offer more proofs. This just feeds their insecurity and doesn’t move them to making a decision.

Ideally, in the selling process, a compelling event or deadline by which a decision must be made forces the decision.  This is the best case–it’s why as sales people, very early in the process we need to help the customer establish an immovable deadline.

However, as clever as we may be, it’s just not possible to do that.  People can continue living in great “pain,” foregoing opportunities to improve or save–simply because they are afraid to decide.

At this point, it’s probably best to have a heart to heart with the decision-maker–not about the superiority of our solution, the value they will get–they already know that.  The discussion has to be about the decision itself.  Sometimes it’s a matter of acknowledging their fear and uncertainty.  We may need to reassure them in some way.  Sometimes, it’s helping them understand where they are in the process–getting them to see they are at the end–there is nothing more that can be said or done, there are no unresolved issues, that the only thing left to be done is making a decision.

At some point, all the selling is over, and you just have to tell the customer, “You have to decide, there is nothing more that we can do.”



  1. It is important t understand what is your clients decision making process both personally & corporately. Without that understanding you could be talking to the wrong person

  2. Whenever I think there might be a risk that the customer is not going to make a decision on the meeting I usually start the meeting with comitting the customer to the decision making proces by saying: “At this meeting I am going to provide you with all the infomations you will need in order to make a decision – when I have done that it will be alright for you to actually make the decision – don’t you think?”. That intro has helped me on a lot of meetings where I did not expect the customer to make the decision on the meeting.

    • Martin, thanks for joining the discussion. It’s important to be validating where you are and moving the customer through their buying process with each meeting. Your approach is a great way of gaining customer agreement and moving things forward. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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