Only decision-makers can get customers to make decisions

In its simplest form, selling is no more than two people having a conversation in which decisions are made. Decisions to move forward, to buy, not buy and on the part of the salesperson, whether to offer a quote, proposal or demo.

Much is taught in traditional sales training on getting to the right decision-maker, and of course, what you, the salesperson can do to get the prospect to make a decision to say yes. Unfortunately, these sales tactics often fail to take one important consideration into account. It takes two to make a decision. Not only is the prospect’s decision-making important, but also the salesperson’s.

When we hire our salespeople, what diagnostic tool are we using to identify the salesperson’s decision-making style?  Essentially, there are two decision-making styles, slow (non-supportive) and fast (supportive). Let’s examine both. It is our experience, working with clients from small- to medium-sized business up to Fortune 500 organizations, that long selling cycles and wasted time on sales opportunities that never close are probably the single-most damaging things to a sales organization. Therefore, if we focus on decision-making, most of us would prefer faster decisions. Therefore, we consider faster decision-making style “supportive” decision-making and slow decision-making to be “non-supportive.”

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time for slow decision-making with a lot at stake or in a very complex, highly technical sale. However, for most of us, we would welcome a faster selling cycle with less indecision and greater degree of yes-no closure.

Take this example: Mike is a veteran salesperson. He sells steadily but is outsold by a wide margin by the top people in his company. He is a slow, thoughtful and cautious decision-maker in his personal life. When working on his sales opportunities, it’s not uncommon for Mike to accept “think-it-overs” from his prospects with little to no resistance, because, after all, that’s what Mike would do if he were the prospect. While his sales manager’s coaching has had some effect on Mike, he continues to tolerate a slower selling cycle, with less conversion than others.

In this example, there are two problems. First, management hired Mike, unaware of his non-supportive decision-making style. Two, Mike has no self-awareness of his decision-making style. In fact, when challenged, Mike will probably defend his languishing pipeline, often parroting the stalls and delays told to him by his prospects. Mike is, in fact, doing his best selling inside the office. You might say that Mike is in his comfort zone. While comfortable, it has probably cost his company millions of dollars in sales over the years and hundreds of thousands in commissions for Mike.

Had the organization used benchmarking assessments in the hiring process, they may have identified this as a fatal flaw and passed on Mike for someone wired to become a top performer. Or, deciding to bring Mike on board, begun coaching Mike from day one to develop a more supportive decision-making style. Because Mike owns his assessment, he would have a greater chance of accepting his deficit, and by leveraging self-awareness (people rarely argue with their own data), evolved his decision-making skill in this area.

Most of us who have been sales leaders spend an awful lot of time training on handling objections, techniques geared to help us close the sale etc. In this case, though, what’s needed is conceptual coaching to isolate Mike’s non-supportive belief and help him rewire it so that he is able to be more nurturingly assertive to get the prospect to agree to make some sort of decision to either move forward or stop at every step of the way throughout the sales process. One way Mike can do this is to pay close attention to his own personal decisions and learn to be a more effective decision-maker himself.

Armed with supportive decision-making, the salesperson puts less “junk” in their pipeline and is more realistic about what will actually close. In your next sales-training meeting on decision-making, shift the focus from the traditional “who is the decision-maker” training to implanting a new belief for your sales team: “Only decision-makers can get others to make decisions.”

Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. He can be reached at 303-579-1939 or