Decisions They Have To Make Anyway (Issue 440)

In which we discuss questions that can help us facilitate when clients "go away." About two weeks ago, I called a financial advisory services company to ask for help addressing a challenge that our company faces.

During our lengthy second phone call, I got very excited about the solution this provider could offer, and I asked their sales representative to send me a proposal focused on the specifications we discussed during the phone call. Within a few days, his proposal arrived in my e-mail box.

I was so busy when his proposal arrived, that I did not review it for a couple of days. He prompted me with an e-mail beginning, “I know you are terribly busy and your time limited so I just wanted to reach out via email and see if you have had time to review the proposal and if you have any comments or questions? I hope all is well and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.”

I responded that I would review the proposal within a day. I did. My first reaction was that the service package and pricing seemed appropriate for a company many times our size. Conversations with friends and colleagues led me to consider a wide range of other issues and to think through very carefully how the services proposed by his company would fit into my company.

Several more days passed as I reflected on my conversations. I wrote back to the sales rep:

“Your contract and proposal stimulated some good thinking which broadened to include thinking about our accounting system, our billing processes, our regulatory compliance process, and a range of other things, including the nature of our relationship with our CPA firm. So, your proposal had quite an impact.

My preliminary conclusion is that it feels like your firm is geared to serve (and serve well) firms a bit larger than we are and that we’d be better served by finding a CPA practice that can do all of our work for us, including the issues we’re discussing. So, I’m exploring that idea at the moment and probably will for a couple of weeks. When I’ve reached my conclusion about those issues, I’ll be in a position to decide whether it makes sense to contract with your company to do the elements you proposed.”

I’m completely sure that the sales rep was caught by surprise when he read this e-mail. And why not? He thought he had a sale. But I disappeared. Where did I go?

I went to the place that all buyers go when they’re buying services or products of any consequence. I had to look at all of the internal systems that are related to the proposed purchase and figure out how that purchase would fit into those systems and how I would need to change those systems in order to integrate the product and accomplish my objectives. The sales rep, following accepted and typical practices (and very well, I would add), had no access to that, was not a party to it, and had no influence over it.

How could he have done that?

He could have asked me a question like, “If you bring the services we are discussing into your company, what else might have to change? What other elements of the way you are currently doing business will be affected if you buy our services as we’ve propose them?”

And if I had been unable to answer that question, he might have said, “Let me help you with a specific example: How will this connect with the services you are currently getting from your accounting firm?”

The sales rep in this case (and he is a real sales representative with a real service that we are really considering buying) has run into the same problem that almost all of us face. When we propose ideas, our clients go away to a place we can’t follow to think about issues we don’t know about and come to conclusions that are right for them, not necessarily right for us, as sales people.

For us to be effective with them, and for us to shorten our sales cycles and meet our goals, we need to ask questions like the ones described above that put us in a position to facilitate our clients’ thinking about the issues that they are going to have to think about anyway.

If you’re experiencing “clients go away” challenges, buy and read Sharon Drew Morgen’s book, “Dirty Little Secrets: Why Buyers Can’t Buy and Sellers Can’t Sell and What You Can Do About It” (

Her book is the first dedicated to unwrapping, unraveling, and managing all of the internal, off-line, private things that go on in a buyer’s environment. She provides specific guidance on how to formulate and ask the kinds of questions that help us facilitate our clients’ decision making that they are going to do anyway, with us or without us.

Sometimes this will mean making a sale and sometimes it won’t. However, if we are not engaged in conversations (as the sales rep working with me is not engaged), our chances of making a sale are much smaller than if we are actively engaged as facilitators while our clients are thinking through the issues they have to think through anyway.

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