In our research, we found that anywhere between 40 percent and 60 percent of deals today end up stalled in "no decision" limbo. To be clear, these are customers who go through the entire sales process--consuming valuable seller time and organizational resources, perhaps even engaging in extended pilots or proof-of-concept trials—only to end up not crossing the finish line.
What is a salesperson to do in this situation—when they've overcome the customer's status quo, won the battle for competitive differentiation, gotten the customer to 'say' they want their company's solution...and yet, they still don't buy? What playbook do they follow when their hard-fought deal ends up in the wasteland of inaction—when the sale ends not with a signature but with the customer saying they "still need to think about it"?
Our research shows that they do what they've been taught to do for years.
When customers balk and start to get cold feet, sellers tend to go back to the well. They assume it must be because they haven't successfully overcome the customer's status quo. Perhaps the customer doesn't fully appreciate the problem that their solution is designed to solve. Or maybe they don't yet see enough daylight between their company's solution and that of the competition. So, salespeople break out their arsenal of tools to prove to the customer the many ways their solutions will help them win. And, when push comes to shove, they dial up the FUD—or, fear, uncertainty, and doubt—to tap into the customer's fear of missing out. They show the customer what they stand to lose by not making this purchase today. They try to create a burning platform that the customer has no choice but to abandon.
And yet, our research also shows—in very stark terms—that none of this works. In fact, these time-honored sales tactics that have been passed on from leader to manager to seller for decades aren't just unproductive; they're actually counterproductive to the goal of getting the customer off the fence.
This is the question our research team spent more than a year trying to answer.
And in the process, we discovered something truly surprising. The status quo—which salespeople have always been taught is their biggest, if not only, enemy—actually isn't either of those things.
Our research reveals that losing to the status quo is actually one of two possible reasons a deal can be lost to inaction and is, in fact, the less menacing of the two. While the customer's preference for the status quo is, no doubt, a significant obstacle that every salesperson must overcome if they wish to sell anything, there is a second, more challenging obstacle that remains even after the status quo has been defeated: the customer's own inability to make a decision.
What makes customer indecision such a dangerous threat to salespeople?
First, indecision has a more powerful grip on the customer's mind than any preference they may have for the status quo. Preference for the status quo is driven by a set of human biases that, simply stated, lead customers to want things to remain as they are. Customer indecision, however, is driven by a separate and distinct psychological effect called the omission bias, which is the customer's desire to avoid making a mistake. And of the two, it is the omission bias that represents the more difficult obstacle for the salesperson to overcome. In fact, statistically speaking, customer indecision accounts for more of the deals lost to inaction than any preference for the status quo. Customers, it turns out, are much less worried about missing out than they are about messing up.
Second, indecision is extremely difficult for salespeople to detect. While customers are perfectly comfortable stating their preference for the status quo—that they believe the way they do things today is perfectly fine or that they don't see the vendor's solution as a more compelling alternative—the same cannot be said of indecision. Because it is driven by deeply personal fears, indecision is not something that customers openly discuss with salespeople. In fact, it's often something customers aren't even aware they're struggling with at all. Yet, our data shows that it is everywhere. Nearly 87 percent of sales opportunities contain either moderate or high levels of indecision. And it is toxic: as indecision increases, win rates plummet.