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Opinion: 6 ways to handle the indecisive customer

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As the business landscape continues to evolve, sales professionals and business leaders face a growing challenge: the indecisive customer.

According to a 2022 study by Harvard Business Review, indecision accounts for 40% to 60% of lost sales opportunities, with nearly 9 out of 10 sales involving moderate to high levels of customer indecision. The study goes on to describe customer indecision as “toxic” and predicts it will worsen in the future.

This trend to increased hesitation can easily lead to revenue losses if not addressed.

How do we explain the high levels of indecisiveness? I’ve been asking my clients this question, and the answers tend to revolve around these factors:

  • Options overload: While choice is generally a positive aspect, the sheer volume of new options available today can lead to decision paralysis. Whether at the store, a business supplier or online, customers struggle to choose what suits them best, especially when products and services among competitors appear to be all alike.
  • Information avalanche: In an age where information is at our fingertips and always streaming, the constant influx of information can complicate even the simplest decisions. The abundance of reviews, comparisons and conflicting opinions intensifies the problem.
  • Uncertainty in flux: There is an unpredictability in the business world today due to rapid change, increased costs and risks, as well as economic uncertainty. As a result, customers hesitate to make decisions in an uncertain environment because they fear the possible repercussions.
  • A lack of trust: The foundation of any successful business relationship is trust. However, today’s climate has resulted in a decline in trust in businesses and institutions of all types. It becomes increasingly difficult to build rapport and credibility with customers if they are skeptical of a company’s sales message and marketing claims.

To effectively address customer indecision and improve outcomes, six steps can be helpful:

  1. Adapt your style to the customer’s. You should adapt your communication and interaction to the customer’s preferred decision-making style, so they feel comfortable throughout the sales process. People don’t buy from people they don’t like or don’t feel comfortable with.
  2. Use a guided process. Using a structured approach and guiding customers through the buying process can reduce customer indecision. A structured process also makes it easier for salespeople to create an open dialogue. It helps them listen, address customers’ concerns and guide their customers to a comfortable, confident choice.
  3. Ask relevant questions. To uncover any reservations the customer may have, ask questions such as, “Can you share any specific concerns or questions you may have now?” or “Unless I’m reading it wrong, you seem to be hesitant about what we’ve discussed thus far. Is that correct?” Surface any concerns – don’t avoid them.
  4. Emphasize benefits over features. If your spokesperson emphasizes the benefits (value) of your product or service, you will reduce customer indecision – and create more interest in your product. Unfortunately, it is common for experienced sellers to assume their customers can see the value of their product – so they get trapped in merely selling its features. However, there’s a major difference. If I told you that an apple contained 4.4 grams of dietary fiber, that would be a feature, not a benefit. Benefits would explain how the dietary fiber in the apple improves gut health, weight loss or other health benefits. Eliminate outcome uncertainty with a clear message about value.
  5. Respond to objections: It’s critical to own the discussion regarding price and other objections. The most effective approach is to anticipate objections, skepticism, or perceived drawbacks and prepare for them. Handling concerns effectively reduces your customer’s reluctance to buy.
  6. Make specific recommendations: Tailor specific recommendations to the customer’s needs and desires. According to the Harvard Business Review’s research, salespeople who excel at handling high levels of customer indecision provide specific recommendations, resulting in a five times higher closing rate.

The bottom line is that building trust, emphasizing value, handling objections effectively, making specific recommendations and adapting our selling style to the customer’s unique buying style can significantly reduce buyer indecision and lead to greater sales success.

Mark Holmes is a consultant, professional speaker and author of “Selling to ELON! Understand, Communicate and Sell to Unique Personality Types,” and he’s president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and SalesRevenueCoach.com. He can be reached at mark@salesrevenuecoach.com.

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