In basketball when you are guarding someone, you are told to watch their hips--not their eyes--to know where they are going. Serious players get good at feints, fakes, and masked intentions in order to cause their opponents to make the wrong move. The same thing happens in sales. Whether intentionally or not, buyers often send conflicting and misleading signals that can cause you to move in the wrong direction. Your ability to read the circumstances, anticipate their moves, and counter appropriately will have a big impact on your success.
The big challenge is ascertaining whether a move is real or fake. Often a buyer's expression of interest is just a brush-off to get you out of their office or off their phone. Here are a few classic examples:
Proposal request--Sales people are trained to seek the opportunity to quote, or offer a proposal, so they see this as a measurable sign of success in the sales process and are often very excited to comply. Unfortunately, buyers often use this tactic as a way to move the salesperson out of their calendar for a period while the response is being developed. Once the buyer receives the response, they can always delay further as they "consider the proposal."
Send me some more information--A tepid expression of interest, at best. This is the digital age! If they want more information, prospects can often view a link to a spec sheet, solution description, webinar, or infographic from the smartphone in their pocket. This is often a dodge rather than an expression of true interest.
Passing the buck--Kicking the can down the road from the person to whom you are speaking to someone who is at subordinate level is often a soft way of creating a sense of progress for you when it is actually an avoidance ploy on the part of the buyer.
So, how do you know if it's a fake move or sincere interest?
Just liking watching the weight shift in an opponent's body will tell you the next move of a sports opponent, there are tell-tale signs of sincere interest in a buyer's response. You have to push to get past the feints and fakes, but if you ask the right questions and push for real answers, you will be more successful.
Specificity--Real interest comes with specifics. A proposal request from a sincere buyer asks for a level of detail that seeks to solve a particular problem or resolve a very-defined need. If the buyer does not give you specifics, then push for them. Timing, amounts, levels of performance, etc. represent the kinds of details that a real buyer needs to make a decision.
Up-front agreement of subsequent steps--"Ok, Ms. Buyer, if I provide the information and the proposal, please walk me through the timeline and milestones for us becoming your provider based upon a successful evaluation of our approach." If your buyer believes that you have a viable solution then he or she should have a clear picture of what selection and implementation of that decision will look like. No picture? Then real interest is questionable.
Thresholds for action--How much better do you have to be for the buyer to switch? Real buyers can answer this question. If the costs of change have not been calculated and the threshold of improvement is undefined, your proposal is just a safety net for future failures on the incumbent's part. This means you are relegated to the filing cabinet and the interest is not real.
Any information that you provide that does not yield a sale is just free consulting. Free to the buyer, costly to you. Be careful to not get faked-out by your buyers.