Do you ever shake your head and wonder why so many prospects fail to pull the trigger when you've clearly made a compelling case for them to do so? To those of us in Sales, it makes no sense - it's clear as day that they should. But for some reason we can't fathom, it often doesn't appear to be so clear to our prospects. Why is this? And what can we do about it?

When it comes to making a major purchase, buyers' decisions are influenced by numerous factors, many of which are not obvious. Key among these factors are the prospect's

1. Personal Agenda (what's in it for me?) - This is driven more by emotion than logic

2. Dominant Buying Value - Am I the kind of person who's always looking for an opportunity to gain something, or am I the kind of person who's driven by fear of losing something, and am always looking for ways to play it safe?

3. Motivational Trigger - What's my hot button? Money? Convenience? Comfort? Security? To what personal desire do you have to appeal in order to get me in your corner?

4. Buying Style - Do I need to feel in control, or do I want and need guidance? Do I need to see all the details, or do details bore and irritate me? Does I view the transaction as a confrontation, or as a collaboration? Am I a maverick who likes to strike out on my own, or do I prefer consensus and the comfort of the crowd?

5. Concerns and Worries (sometimes expressed, but more often not) - What's keeping me from making this decision, even though a compelling case has been made that it's the right one?

Awareness of these factors, together with your skill at determining which are in play, and how, will increase your odds of connecting with each person on the prospect's buying team, winning them over, and closing the business.

That's the what. Now for the how. As with most everything else in sales, it all begins with effective questioning. For example, to determine an individual's personal agenda, ask open-ended questions such as "How will a successful purchase or implementation affect you?" Or, conversely, "How will you be affected if nothing is done?" In complex B2B sales, where there are multiple buying influences, your customer is really multiple customers, and you need to get inside the head of each and every team member. What is the CFO's chief interest in all this? What's the CIO's biggest concern? What is your sponsor trying to accomplish with this project? To look good to his boss? To his peers? To earn a raise? Or a promotion?

The answers to these questions may also reveal the prospect's dominant buying value, motivational trigger, and buying style. To the extent that they don't, you'll need to ask additional open-ended questions.

The last factor - concerns and worries - frequently is the most difficult to uncover, and the one most likely to stall deals. To most people, the prospect of making a decision on a major purchase is daunting. Think about what goes on in your own mind when you're faced with making a major purchase of an item for yourself, or your company - particularly one you're rarely in the market to buy. When you arrive at the dreaded "make a decision" stage of such a purchase, all sorts (typically illogical) of reasons for not making a decision right there come up. "We'll think about it and get back to you," is our way of retreating from the decision. Likewise, prospects let their imaginations run wild, and begin worrying about all the things that could go wrong if a bad decision is made. They become paralyzed by fear, unable to make a decision. Your task at this point is to draw out their concerns with skillful questioning, then listen to, observe, and sense what the prospect is conveying. Ask probing questions to surface these concerns and worries, which rarely are offered up unsolicited (when they are revealed, it's typically done indirectly, by an off-the cuff remark or comment). Done right, the prospect will end up convincing himself that his worries and concerns are unwarranted, and will then be able to move on and conclude the transaction with you - to "pull that trigger."

Action Item:

If prospects are not committing to buy after you've made what you feel is a compelling case to do so, it's likely because you either didn't ask enough questions, didn't ask the right questions, asked the right questions but didn't really listen actively to their responses, or didn't pick up the non-verbal signals the prospect was giving off; or you didn't help the prospect overcome his lingering concerns or worries. So invest a few moments to dissect the last few deals you had been or are currently working on that did not or have not yet closed. Ask yourself if you definitively know the answers to the first four factors we covered, if you used that knowledge gained to customize your approach, and whether you have resolved any lingering concerns the prospect has (the fifth factor). If you've missed any, find some prospect-focused reason to go back to your prospect (if it's still a live deal) and work in questions that get you the answers you need. Then use that information to better connect with and sell that individual. If your manager accompanies you on sales calls, ask him or her to observe how well you're uncovering and addressing these factors. Take the feedback you get and make a conscious effort on your subsequent calls to ask the questions you need to get the information you want. You'll soon start seeing more heads nodding up and down during prospect meetings, and more "when can we get starteds?"

Good Selling!

Author's Bio: 

Craig James has over 15 years' experience in sales and sales management, primarily in technology and software. He's helped dozens of sales people, business owners, and entrepreneurs sharpen their selling skills, and close more business, faster.

Craig has been published and been quoted in publications such as Business Week, Sales and Marketing Management, Selling Power, and the New York Enterprise Report, and has been interviewed by Sales Rep Radio. Craig was also a 2007 Top Sales Articles finalist for best article of the year. He has taught at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and has lectured at Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education. He’s also been a long time volunteer with the Workshop in Business Opportunities, a "boot camp" for entrepreneurs whose mission is to enable small business owners and budding entrepreneurs in under-served communities to obtain financial success in starting, operating, and building successful businesses. An accomplished speaker and presenter, Craig has been active in Toastmasters International since 2001, and served a term as President of his local chapter.

Craig earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and his MBA from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Westwood, MA, a suburb of Boston.