Learning From Buyers’ Red Lights (Issue 959)

In which we are reminded to learn from buyers' "red lights" in the sales process.

As I was driving to work one morning last week, I stopped at a long-cycle red light close to my office. It was early. Quiet on the roads. As I was idling at the red light, waiting to turn left, a guy in a small sedan pulled up behind me. He slowed down quite a bit and then, suddenly, pulled around me, glanced quickly across the intersection, then accelerated past the red light.

Sometimes … just sometimes, in such situations… I think, “I should be generous, maybe the guy is hurrying to a hospital to perform life-saving surgery.” Or, “perhaps he’s rushing to help a friend in trouble.” Usually, I wonder: Where is the M1 Abrams tank (a very large, heavy vehicle) I was hoping would crush through the intersection just at the moment the small sedan drove through it.

Unkind. Not generous, I know. I can’t recall exactly my thoughts on that particular morning. I think I was leaning heavily toward the tank.

To distract myself while waiting the last few seconds, I reflected on “the purpose of red lights.”

Red lights organize vehicles coming from different directions so they can safely merge or move across each other’s paths. Flashing red light – stop and proceed with caution. Solid red light – stop and wait. Movement with order. Control.

As sales people, we are taught to do what the guy in the sedan did: Pull around resistance or obstacles in front of us and power past client red lights. Don’t take “no” or “stop” for an answer. Seriously, who would sell anything if salespeople stopped at client red lights? Red lights are for rule-followers, right?

Yeah, sometimes, but….

Sometimes, buyers show red lights because, for example, sellers are clumsy or unprepared or the buyers don’t want to buy the way the sellers want to sell.

Sometimes buyers show red lights so they don’t waste their organizations’ time if, for example, the seller’s product is a bad fit or a low priority, or there’s no budget, or the seller should be selling to someone else in the organization.

And, sometimes buyers show red lights because buyers have to manage or control lots of internal traffic – other projects, priorities, conflicts, or disagreements – before they consider or introduce a new element (the seller or the seller’s product).

Good to learn and understand why buyers put their red lights exactly wherever they are so that we and our opportunities are not crushed by unexpected cross traffic or irritated buyers with access to heavy equipment.

Nick Miller trains bankers to sell to small businesses. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site

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