Sales trend 2 of Barrett 12 Sales Trends for 2016 is “Beware Competitor Zero”.
Competition comes in all shapes and sizes today; direct, indirect, and disruptive. However, there is another competitor in our midst – indecision or no decision.
This sales trend is about “Competitor Zero” – indecision leading to procrastination and no decision.
Here and around the world we are seeing buying decisions taking a lot longer than they used to. In medium to large businesses there are also more people involved in making the buying decision – about 5.4 on average – so we are seeing decision by committee which is adding, on average, 20% more time to the decision making process and even then the salesperson or supplier is not guaranteed a sale. Even in SMEs we are seeing some managing directors and general managers having to consult someone else for fear of making the wrong decision.
The sad fact is making no decision or procrastinating is the worst decision a person or business can make. It’s better to make a wrong decision than to not make one. Why? Because a decision leads to action but indecision leads to stagnation. In this rapidly changing, complex world we need to keep moving and take action or be left behind.
However, not making any decision has become more common place in many businesses, especially in larger ones. Indecisiveness has become a real competitor – an invisible competitor where no one wins.
Why is no decision a growing trend in business?
Too much information, too many choices and fear of missing out (FOMO)
At no other time in history have we had access to so much information. However, this poses some interesting questions:
- How do we verify what is fact and what is not?
- What should we be paying attention to?
- What is useful to us, our customers, our businesses and our communities?
- How should we process, log, link and manage information to make it work for us?
With information comes choice and without proper guidelines and filters in place to guide decision making, too much information and too many choices can lead to indecision. Indecision can then lead to paralysis by analysis, thus making us unhappy, unproductive, and at worst, ineffective. Information overload can lead to no decision. Whether buying or selling, too much information and the subsequent indecision is a real killer to business growth. Yet, salespeople day after day go out with the best intentions to find and secure new deals only to have theirs and the competitors’ proposals sitting on the shelf gathering dust.
Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory at Swarthmore College in the US and author ofThe Paradox of Choice, wrote “too much choice is paralyzing us and making us miserable”.
We can’t help but agree. More often than not more and more people are feeling like they are drowning in a tsunami of information and feel increasingly confused as they try to work out what to focus on and what to discard. Many are reporting feeling overwhelmed and anxious by all the ‘noise’. Some are even checking out of mainstream information and news sources and choosing to dramatically reduce their diet of information just to get a sense of clarity.
In our haste to keep up, be on top of things, be seen as the one with all the answers, and be ahead of the pack, are we inadvertently creating a climate of confusion, indecision, and unnecessary distress by exposing ourselves and our teams to too much information? This trend suggests the answer is yes. The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a growing mental issue plaguing more and more people causing distress, anxiety and depression.
The general causes of information overload include:
- A rapidly increasing rate of new information being produced
- The ease of duplication and transmission of data across the Internet
- An increase in the available channels of incoming information (e.g. telephone, email, instant messaging, RSS, etc.)
- Large amounts of historical information to dig through
- Contradictions and inaccuracies in available information
- A low signal-to-noise ratio
- Lack of a method for comparing and processing different kinds of information
- The pieces of information are unrelated or do not have any overall structure to reveal their relationships
Too many opinions, not enough facts leading to cynicism and anxiety
There are multiple wars waging in the competition for ideas and ideologies all fighting for our timeand attention whether we like it or not.
How many opinions are proffered as fact? You can find information on the internet to agree with and justify whatever you want, crazy or otherwise. There is so much information out there that sorting fact from fiction is taking a lot more time than it used to.
Consumers now reportedly have to wade through, on average, 11.5 pieces of information to find what they need to make a buying decision and consumers are five times more reliant on information than they were five years ago.
With a lack of method or criteria for comparing and processing different kinds of information, people cannot easily make informed decisions based on fact. With contradiction and inaccuracies flooding the internet people are forced to rely upon so-called ‘experts’ and this can lead to fear and anxiety as clever charlatans trick people into believing whatever they want usually at the consumer’s expense.
At no other time in history have we had such a conundrum: so much access to information yet so many people’s trust being breached because of misinformation. The levels of cynicism and wariness are on the rise and people look to find the trick or trap in the offer.
You can see why decision making is taking so much longer and why it’s easier in the short term to do nothing.
Management by committee and safeguarding one’s career
In bigger businesses we are also seeing a lot of ‘butt covering’ or people not wanting to be held accountable for a decision in case it backfires and reflects badly on their career progression and/or bonuses. It’s easier to hide in the crowd and point the finger to someone else or a phantom if things go wrong.
This just adds to the complexity of making a sale and building viable relationships of real value. Watch out for the committee with no clear decision maker, strategy or mandate.
Risk: The fear of making the wrong decision
Regardless of what trends are in play, we know fear plays a huge part in most decision making. The common thinking in business today still focuses on our salespeople knowing how to talk about the benefits of their product (or service) to differentiate themselves and supposedly making selling easier. But the client or prospect usually has something else on their mind especially in today’s turbulent markets.
A vital piece missing in the puzzle for salespeople when it comes to the client’s decision making is risk. Addressing the risk factor is critical to help people make informed decisions, yet risk is rarely or poorly addressed by salespeople. By being afraid to raise the matter for fear of upsetting or offending the client, forgetting to talk about risk altogether, or not knowing how to talk about risk, salespeople are at risk (pardon the pun) of creating “Competitor Zero” and losing sales if they do not address this important area.
Why? The human brain is wired to prioritise risk or danger above everything else. If a prospect or client cannot feel safe with the decision they are making they are likely to avoid making that decision altogether. Even if you present all the benefits that will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your client’s situation, if you do not discuss what will happen if they don’t go with you, or if the perceived risk to change is too high then they will not move forward with the salesperson or the sale.
Work done by the only behavioural psychologists to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Economics – Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman – proved the brain is geared to first assess risk then benefits, in that order. Moreover, they also proved if the benefit isn’t at least three times greater than the risk, buyers will reject an offer. In essence, they proved people are happier when an expected tragedy doesn’t happen, than when an anticipated benefit doesn’t occur.
Lack of clear strategy
If you have no idea of your strategy, then everything looks like a savior.
In these situations we find prospects or clients acting like genuine buyers when in fact they are vacuums siphoning up lots of information from salespeople and suppliers thinking the more they get the safer they will be when it comes the time to make decisions. This is almost always a waste of time, effort and resources and prolongs decision-making even more so.
Competitor Zero is a symptom of our times.
If we and our customers do not have the method or guidelines for comparing information against what we want to do, then we stymie ourselves again and create more indecision.
To bring clarity and return to sanity and decision making, salespeople, clients and prospects need to know our respective strategies and what each are aiming for. When we know that, making decisions becomes a whole lot easier. Information, options, ideas and solutions can be filtered in and out based on clear criteria.
How do we combat Competitor Zero?
If our clients are indecisive then we need to:
- Make sure as salespeople and suppliers we know exactly how we can help them in our area of expertise;
- Understand the systems in which we work and operate and how our offering supports, advances, enables the system to be better;
- Understand what information is relevant and what is not. We need to bring facts and evidence not hearsay and opinion. Great salespeople need to know the details of what they offer but even more, they need to be able to sift and sort information (markets, competitors, PESTEL, business processes, etc.) for their prospects and clients to bring clarity and relief and help them make decisions easily and with confidence;
- Understand how we stack up against our competitors and demonstrate clear points of difference including a business case, not just technical sell, that make it clear how we add real value; and
- De-risk the offer by not frightening the prospect or client with tails of doom because that will make them shut down even more. Instead of getting hooked on offering features and benefits, address the risk of not changing in clear and unambiguous terms. Show them how you can help them be more effective and efficient as well as presenting the real consequences of not changing. This means we need to know our offering, business, markets, and customers inside and out to present viable solutions for effective decision-making.
We can help our prospective customers regain control over how they process, use and manage information. Having a clear head and removing clutter from ours and their lives is critical if we want to be productive and effective.
The brutal fact is there is no right solution anymore. There are options and each comes with the various benefits and risks. It’s how we help prospective customers decide what is best for their situation now and moving forward that makes a difference.
Ironically the safer, better decisions may be not doing what everyone else is doing but instead to take a calculated risk and being comfortable living with approximation.
As the late packaging entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Pratt said: “Timing isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. It’s better to be approximately right at exactly the right time, than exactly right at the completely wrong time.”
Remember everybody lives by selling something.
Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platformwww.salesessentials.com.