Anyone who’s worked in sales will know that there’s almost nothing more frustrating than losing a sale to a “no decision”. Belal Batrawy, founder and sales community leader at Death2Fluff, explained why there’s nothing he hates more than “no decisions” and gives us a sales strategy to overcome the same in episode #2 of Slintel’s Rambling Sessions with Anupreet Singh.
Belal is an authoritative figure in the sales community with over ten years of sales experience and he spoke about how you can avoid getting into such situations in his session. The following is an excerpt from Belal’s webinar.
Saying No to “No Decisions”
“As a seller, for years, no decisions were the bane of my existence,” says Belal. “After over ten years in sales, I don’t remember my first or last deals. What I do remember though, are the names and the faces of the handful of people I had lunch with, that ended up in no decisions. Like, we met face-to-face, we had lunch together, we became human-to-human and you still gave me no decision?”
“As a seller, I obsessed over how to stop the no decision status quo response. We all love a yes, we don’t like a no, but we’ll live with it. However, to run a full sales cycle and end up in no decision is emotionally exhausting. The day I decided to stop trying to win my deals and start trying to make sure that ‘no decision’ is not the conclusion, my sales went up.”
The Easiest Path
To contextualize, the majority of sellers today live in a space where their win rate is usually somewhere between 5 and 30 percent. Meaning that 70 to 95 percent of what you do day in, day out is going to end up in failure. This means that there simply isn’t any productivity from these activities.
If you want to be the best seller you can possibly be, this question may come in handy. Is it better to spend your time trying to turn a 5% win rate into 6%? Or would it be more productive trying to turn a 95% loss rate into 80%? Where does the greater efficiency lie?
“I always want to take the easiest path and the easiest path is to lose less, not to win more,” he says. “I’m not trying to win an Olympic medal here, I just want to make some money. If you’re losing less, the efficiency is gained at such a tremendous loss rate, it outpays what you will gain by improving your win rate incrementally. We’re talking about exponential vs incremental gains here.”
“On the contrary, your company will focus on winning more. For instance, the marketing team, product team, training, content and positioning against competitors are all about trying to win more. You on the other hand, as the master of your own domain and pipeline, want to lose less and make those exponential gains.”
Remember, the time you spend on getting a no decision is a sunk cost that you simply can’t get back. This includes every minute you spent preparing for that deal, that pipeline and that opportunity. Put simply, every minute that you spend on a deal that ends in a no decision is a minute less that you have to spend on a deal that you could have closed.
The Tactic and Strategy to Overcome “No Decisions”
Your process and execution as a seller matter a lot — a bad seller with a good process or a great seller with a bad process just isn’t going to cut it. There’s no magic bullet to completely remove no decisions from your pipeline, but this is as close to it as you can get.
“We want to begin by asking ourselves these two questions:
#1 How do people make decisions in the first place?
#2 Why do we end up in a no decision?”
“To answer this, think of a stick of gum, a house or a piece of software. We all go through the same universal buyer journey to make a decision on each of these products.”
The Universal Buyer’s Journey
The first stage of the universal buyer’s journey begins with being unaware of the product. From there you jump to some state of awareness of the product before moving onto the third stage where you begin to consider your options. You then begin evaluating your considered options before finally making your decision.
“Now, the problem we make as sellers is that the people in the first three buckets of the universal buyer’s journey, that is the Unaware, Aware and Consideration stage, are not actual buyers. They’re what we call leads or prospects. Leads are just what you’ve got on your CRM — basically just a phone number and/or an email.”, he says.
“Since there aren’t active buyers in the first three buckets of the buyer’s journey, you’d be making a terrible terrible mistake trying to sell your product to these prospects. Remember, prospects are not buyers. Rather, prospects should be treated as people you need to educate about your product and not sell to.”
“On the other hand, the prospects in the Evaluation and Decision stage are the ones that can be considered actual buyers. These are the people you want to sell to because they have been activated and are going through the motions with commitment on their end and a willingness to change their behavior.”
The Three Key Variables
In order to make a sale, you need three things from the people who fall into the evaluation and decision categories.
#1 The first one is that you need a buyer and not a prospect, just like we talked about. They need to fall into either one of the evaluation or the decision stages to be considered a buyer.
#2 The second thing you’re going to need is a pain point that causes a willingness to change in their world. That pain point has to be big enough for them to contemplate making a change. It can’t be minor — the difference between a “nice-to-have” and “need-to-have”. When you sell a nice-to-have, the pain isn’t big enough to make a change. When you sell a need-to have, it is.
#3 The third thing you’re going to need to have is a critical event. A few examples of critical events may include a new law or industry regulation being passed, expiring vendor contracts, end of fiscal year for the business or a pandemic, all of which are going to radically change buyer behavior within a short span.
If you’re missing any one of these three things, you’re giving yourself a very high probability of ending up with a no decision. Consider this a recipe for a great sale.
What’s more interesting about this is that, as a seller, you have no control over any of these three variables. You can’t really turn a lead into a buyer. You can call a lead, prospect them or make a discovery on their pain points. However, them becoming a buyer depends on their own willingness to change.
Qualifying Prospects into Buyers
The question now is about how you qualify someone based on these three variables. You can’t just cold call someone and ask them about their pain points, critical events or which stage of the buyer journey they’re in. That’s never going to work because buyers don’t trust sellers.
“To put this into context, we need to understand what social paradigms are,” Belal mentions. “Social paradigms are the unwritten rules that govern us as human beings. For example, the social paradigm between a buyer and a seller is one of conflict, because it’s based on competing interests.”
“What you want to do is change the social paradigm between buyer and seller in a manner that you’re not talking to them as a seller anymore. If you do this it becomes insanely easy to qualify your prospects. That is, you can easily gauge whether they’re actual buyers with enough pain to make a change and a clear critical event.”
The answer to this is the Social Identity Theory, or to put it more simply, in group vs. out group thinking. Basically, your buyer is either in or they’re out. What you want to do is show them that you’re in the same group as them. To do this, you have to be able to show that you know the world of your buyer — same tribe, same language.
You now suddenly change the entire social paradigm from one of buyer vs. seller to something more favorable like consultant or advisor. Basically, all the things we as sellers aspire to be with our buyers — the relationships we actually want to have with them that are going to lead us to a sale. This now means that there’s a certain level of trust they’re going to give you and your voice.
The Wrong Way
“I was trained wrong on sales, much like the best of us are” says Belal with a grin. “This includes being taught to tell your buyers how great your product is, to sell with value, to use unique selling propositions and then use ROI to justify the purchase. It’s what we all do today and it all comes off to the buyer as a bunch of sellers pitching the same exact thing.”
“Why would buyers trust you when you’re just trying to push your agenda of making a sale off them? By doing so, you’re also getting stuck in the sea of sameness — you’re like everyone else which is basically the deathtrap of sales. As a result, you’re going to lose more than you win.”
The Right Way
People don’t buy features and functions, but rather for emotional reasons. As a result, you need to get your buyer emotional by showing them that you’re part of the “in” group and not the “out” group.
When people make decisions, the first thing that gets activated is the limbic system in the brain. This part of the brain is also responsible for our fight-or-flight reactions. These may include fast thinking, split-second decision making and emotionally charged reactions. That’s where decisions start being made. This is soon followed by the activation of our neocortex where we justify and manipulate facts to support our limbic system’s split-second decision making.
“For these reasons, your messaging has to get a buyer emotional first because features, functions and ROIs are not very emotional,” he says. “I spent years doing it the wrong way till I realized that there’s a better way to do it — leading with an emotional plea rather than facts and figures.”
To do this you’re going to want to cater to emotions such as standing out from the crowd, seeking protection and security, and feeling a sense of belonging. The easiest way to achieve this is by applying the Nobel Prize acclaimed Prospect Theory which states that the pain from loss is twice as compelling as the pleasure from gain.
Value propositions, ROIs, features and functions all happen to invoke the pleasure from gain, meaning they go out of the window. Instead, you’re going to have to show your prospects that you know their world and the decisions they have to make to avoid losing.
“Now that we’ve understood the crux of the tactic, we can move onto the actual sales strategy,” says Belal.
The Sales Strategy
“Let me explain the strategy in three different methods.”
“The easiest way to highlight the pain from loss is by creating a fork in the road. To do this you’re going to want to create some sort of a love-hate fork in the road messaging for your prospects. Let’s take some personal examples to understand this better.”
“I once did consulting for a healthcare startup that helped health plan companies replace excel sheets and pivot tables with a tool more specific for their data analytics needs. People hate using pivot tables because they’re silly, but they love analyzing data and coming up with insightful conclusions on what to do with that data. “
“So to create a love-hate message we told prospects that pivot tables are what high-schoolers use for their science fair projects, while data analytics is what health professionals use to solve major world problems. We told them we believed that healthcare professionals should not be using a tool made for high-schoolers.”
“When we asked them if they agreed, the prospects who said they loved pivot tables and didn’t agree with our reasoning, helped us cut right to the chase. This was great because we could immediately disqualify these buyers right then and there without having to run a full sales cycle that ends up in no decision.”
“On the other hand, there are the buyers that agree with you and say they think pivot tables are ridiculous. With that declaration, you now have the green signal to go ahead and show them exactly what they seek. As a result, the fork in the road technique is a quick, simple and efficient way to qualify your prospects into buyers.”
“Another way is by using something that is a threat to a prospects business. Let’s take the example of the same healthcare analytics tool. This time you might want to approach a prospect saying companies that don’t pivot based on the shifting buyer sentiment during the pandemic will lose out to their competitors that pivot quickly.”
“Doing this invokes an emotional reaction from your prospects who might generally feel threatened that their business is at risk. If they’re actually concerned, you’re just the person they’re going to want to talk to. Contrastingly, if they don’t think it’s a big enough threat, you’ve got your signal to stop wasting your time right there.”
“For the third method, I’ll take the example of what we did at FullStory. At FullStory we told prospects that customer experience is the new battlefield. Because most SaaS products have a “freemium” element to them, people can try your product before they ever talk to you. We then told them that if you can’t deliver world-class customer experience during the first minute of them using your product, you lose because they’ll never turn into a buyer.”
“What we’re doing here is creating the pain of loss that triggers an emotional response from your prospect. Likewise, the prospects that don’t agree with you in thinking that customer experience is the new battlefield, give you the convenience of disqualifying themselves as buyers of your product.”
In his concluding remarks, Belal reiterates the following points:
- “Every minute that you spend on a deal that ends in a no decision is a minute less that you have to spend on a deal that you could have closed.“
- “If you’re losing less, the efficiency is gained at such a tremendous loss rate, it outpays what you will gain by improving your win rate incrementally.”
- “Only those prospects in the evaluation and decision stage can be considered actual buyers and the ones you want to target.”
- “To avoid losing deals to a no decision, ensure you sell to only those buyers that satisfy the three key variables. The first one is that they should be an actual buyer and not a prospect or lead. The second one is they must have a pain point that causes a willingness to change in their world. The third is a critical event.”
- “The pain from loss is twice as compelling as the pleasure from gain.”
- “Finally, use the love-hate fork in the road messaging that triggers emotional responses in your prospects rather than drowning in the sea of sameness.”
Hopefully, this post gave you some actionable tips that you can implement in your sales strategy to avoid those pesky “no decisions”. Happy selling!