Do you ever wonder what's going on inside your customer's head? There's actually a pretty systematic process that most prospective customers go through, says Duane Sparks, author of Selling Your Price.

Before making the decision to buy, he says, customers go through the following five distinct "decision-making" thought processes:

1. Do I want to do business with this person?  Who is this person, really? Do I trust him? Do I like her?

2. Do I want to do business with this firm? Are they reputable? Are they credible? Do I have a history with them?

3. Do I want and need these products and services? Is there a problem that they solve? Is there a goal that they make possible?

4. Does the value meet my expectations? Will I get a quick return on my investment? Is the price in line with other offerings? Is this a unique solution?

5. Is this the right time to make a decision? Is there a reason to buy now? Is the problem about to explode? Is an opportunity slipping past?

This pattern plays itself out in every sales-oriented conversation. Take cold calls, for instance, where the goal is to make an appointment for a more substantive sales conversation.

Decisions in a Cold Call ...

In a cold call, the customer makes the first decision based upon the tone and confidence in the caller's voice. The customer then makes the second decision based upon brand awareness (e.g. "I'm from IBM") or a short description of what your company has done for a firm whose name is familiar to the customer ("We just helped Acme ...").

After interest is piqued, the customer then makes the third decision based upon the benefits stated in the first few sentences. ("... save $1 million in inventory costs.")

The fourth decision is not whether to buy, but whether to have a conversation about the possibility of buying.  The customer now makes that decision, followed by a decision about whether  to conduct the conversation now or delay it to later.

See?  Customers makes those decisions in that exact order.  It's the way their minds work.

... Or in a Sales Presentation

Here's another example: a sales presentation to large group of decision makers.

The audience makes the first and second decisions based upon the reputation of the presenter and the presenter's firm. Often that reputation is "borrowed" from the respected members of the group who are sponsoring the presentation. ("Joe, our CFO, invited us to hear this guy speak.")

The actual sales presentation--if it's a good one, that is--carries the burden of first defining/clarifying needs, then presenting a solution, and finally explaining why this is the right time to buy.

Get the Process Right

There's an important lesson here.  In order to sell effectively, you need to focus on helping the customer make each decision in the proper order.  If you try to "jump the queue" and force a decision that naturally comes later, you'll end up delaying the sale or even losing it.

For example, in a cold call, if you start talking about price before the customer has decided whether you're trustworthy, the customer will almost always assume that you're trying to "pull a fast one."

Similarly, if you start talking about problems and solutions to a group of people who don't believe you're a credible person from a credible firm, you're simply wasting everybody's time.  The decision-makers won't listen--in fact, they can't, because their minds are still spinning around on "Can I trust this guy?"

Establishing Credibility

By the way, the need to establish credibility (i.e., decisions No. 1 and 2) is why many presenters begin by introducing themselves and their companies. However, it's much better if "your reputation precedes you," so that the first two decisions are already made before you present.

For example, in a cold call, if you're talking to a prospective customer as the result of a referral from somebody whom that customer trusts, you can move directly to decision point No. 3, because the first two have already been fulfilled.

Similarly, if you're presenting to a group of people, make certain that as many attendees as possible have "endorsed" your presence and that the invitation to the meeting includes the information that establishes trust and credibility.

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