When your sales team moves an opportunity to the “no decision” column you can make a reasonable assumption that this is far from the first or the last time. Research from reputable sales research companies such as the Sales Benchmark Index find that as high as 60% of sales opportunities end in no decision. The extent of your own opportunities that end in “no decision” will vary depending on many factors which include your industry, product, client buying cycle etc. As a fractional sales manager, I often find that number closer to 30% but regardless which numbers are accurate, as a sales leader its cause for concern. Before we go any further let’s agree on the definition of “no decision” as it relates to the opportunities your sales team is pursuing.
What is a “No Decision”
- The prospect fails to respond after exhaustive attempts to move an opportunity forward
- The prospect says they are delaying a purchase for an undisclosed period
- The prospect has decided that they no longer need the solution and they will not be buying
What isn’t a “No Decision”
- The prospect buys another product even if it isn’t a direct replacement
- The prospect delays the purchase for a specified period i.e. budget, etc.
Fundamentally “no decision” is a prospect opting for the status quo. They have decided that the risk of doing something different is greater than the value they would get from buying your solution. To be even more precise the fear of change is preventing them from moving forward with “any” solution including that of your competitor – hence “no decision”.
Why are prospects so frequently opting for “no decision?” My colleague Michael Harris at Insight Demand may argue that it’s because that sales people are not as effective at delivering valuable insight on unrecognized value and he is right that is a challenge. However, my friend and sales trainer at Sandler, Troy Elmore may argue that the salesperson isn’t following proper sales methodology that uncovers the client’s real motivation for making a change and he too would be right. But targeting the salesperson’s technique or sale process alone may not fully explain or address the sales challenge associated with “no decision”. There is often a behavioral reason that makes clients shy away from making decisions. Sales professionals can certainly impact those behavioral forces but only when they understand them.
Defining the Factors Impacting Persuasion
Dr. BJ Fogg the founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Sandford University built a behavioral model that attempts to define the factors that impact persuasion and the elements that need to be present to lead to behavioral change.
Dr. Fogg’s model would indicate that in order for a person to make a behavioral change (such as using your solution to solve their problem) there must be a convergence of 1. Motivation, 2. Ability and 3. Trigger. According to the behavioral model if a behavior doesn’t occur then one of these 3 elements are missing.
Salespeople are mostly familiar with BANT (Budget, Authority, Need & Timeframe). The framework goes by many different needs but most sales methodologies still include some form of BANT. It goes by different names and the sequence has certainly changed with most sales professionals realizing that needs/wants are important to understanding before moving toward budget as an example. It may be tempting to simply see the Fogg model as another way to describe BANT. However, it’s not quite that simple.
The Fogg Behavioral Model provides a useful and somewhat unique way to evaluate and reduce the number of sales opportunities resulting in “no decision”. Let’s look at each individual element that must be present in order for there to be a behavioral change and how a salesperson should respond.
Motivation is clearly different from want/need. There will seldom be a time when a prospect is in a situation where there is simply no want or need. Most prospects (us) are in a constant state of want/need. However what separates the prospect from a likely buyer is motivation. To what extent has that prospect identified the extent of their pain and is that pain great enough to motivate the prospect to act. A salesperson’s goal should be not to simply understand if there is a want/need but how motivated is the prospect and what is the source of that motivation.
As sales professionals, we tend to lump “ability” into 2 broad categories.
- Money (budget)
- Authority (position on the org chart)
However, Fogg points out that there are more factors involved. Consider that there constraints on your prospects time and their capacity to consider a set of solutions. There is social deviance (the risk of making a wrong or unpopular decision) and non-routine anxiety (decisions that fall outside of the norm) that also feed into ability. As a sales professional it is certainly critical to understand the aspects of the budget and how holds the decision-making authority. Making the sale as easy as possible for the prospect by understanding and facilitating the buying process is important to address issues of time and capacity. Providing proof points to reassure the prospect of what their life will look like on the other side of your solution is also critical through the sales cycle. As you can see “ability” is about more than money and authority.
Dr. Fogg identifies 3 types of “Triggers”.
- Facilitator – This is a trigger that encourages or assists a behavior and makes it as easy as possible for that behavior to occur. A facilitator is effective when motivation is high but the ability is low.
- Spark – A “spark” is a trigger that is both immediate but limited to encourage you to take action now. This trigger is effective if there is high ability but low motivation.
- Signal – The “signal” trigger is more passive and can take the form of an alert. Typically this type of trigger is most effective if there is high motivation and high ability.
A sales professional needs to become a student of triggers. They need to understand where their buyer is on the continuum. What’s the primary role the prospects needs you to play? Chances are during a sales cycle you will play multiple roles with multiple prospects. However, understanding and being responsive to each of the prospect triggers will allow you to shorten the sales cycle by applying the right influence at the right time.
Sales that end in “no decision” can be extremely frustrating to even the most seasoned sales professional. While there is no silver bullet that will prevent this from happening using the Fogg Behavioral Model to understand the context in which a prospect must make a decision to invest in your solution is useful. When you consider that all prospects are not created equal and that they have diverse levels of motivation, ability and triggers you can adjust your sales conversations to ensure that fewer deals result in the dreaded “no decision” category.