"Let me have a little more time to think about this." 3 weeks go by and then you hear back with, "Sorry, we need more time." 3 more weeks pass and you get hit with "We're still interested, but we aren't ready to make a decision yet. Can we set up another follow up meeting?"
This is a common scenario of what occurs when you don't give your customers a deadline to get back to you. There's no sense of urgency on their end, which will cause you a major headache and waste your time. No matter what type of customer you're speaking with, you want to get a verbal commitment of when they're going to get back to you.
This is especially true in long business-to-business sales, with many decision makers. Once you've met the person who has the power to buy, you don't want to waste time with follow up meetings with non-decision makers. Instead, you want to keep the deal hot and make sure you don't leave without a deadline set. Here's why time limits for customers are so important:
1. You remove unnecessary time wasters
A piece of advice I've heard from Tim Ferriss is to create a cutoff time for yourself even when you don't have one. This causes you to have a sense or urgency and complete your project instead of delaying or becoming sidetracked. It's amazing to see how much harder people work when they are running out of time, as opposed to when they have plenty of hours to burn.
When you're speaking with a customer and agree on a deadline to get back to you, they'll start removing time wasters to get back to you on time. The millions of things they have to do will not interfere with your deal. If there are many parties working on the deal, they will coordinate to get it done on time. Sometimes you need to push a prospect a little bit to close the deal. Otherwise, your sale will move much further down on their list of things to get done.
2. You don't spend too much time on one transaction
I remember having a potential client who I never gave a time frame to. Not only was the agreement taking way longer than I had hoped, but it started taking away more and more of my work hours. Follow up calls turned into follow up lunches. Weeks would go by without a response, and I was spending more time following up with them instead of getting new business. Ultimately, they decided not to become a buyer of my product.
While this was a letdown, it did teach me how much time is spent when you don't create a deadline for a customer. The worst answer a client can give you is not a no, it's a maybe. A maybe means they're going to wait and probably want you to do a lot more work to get their business. You don't want to stay in the maybe land, that's an awful place to be. Instead, give them a limit of when you need a firm answer by. If you still get a maybe, it would be better to move on to a new prospect.
3. You show confidence
While you want to have amazing customer service, you still need to set the right relationship with your buyer. When you ask for a deadline to make a decision, it shows that your time is valuable. The customer will not only respect this, many times they will be thankful. People need to have time limits to help them stay organized and concentrated. When sellers don't ask their purchasers for a deadline, it usually is because they are scared of how their client will react. In truth, you'll find more customers grateful than upset. The customer will be more motivated, and you'll be able to efficiently plan the sales process. It's a win-win for everyone.