How your prospects make buying decisions

By Michael Lovas


The psychology behind buying decisions is unquestionably an extremely valuable skill set to people who sell for a living. But, very few sales professionals know how to do it, and very few consultants, coaches and trainers even understand it. That is because its roots are in some pretty serious psychology. That body of psychology is called "Meta Programs." We refer to it as "mental filters."

First (obvious) fact. Decision making strategy is entirely psychology -- specifically that person's mental filters. It's not based on objective logic or facts. In spite of what other "sales trainers" might tell you about closing techniques and overcoming objections, the real problem is how you present your information. If you can't appeal to that person's mental filters -- mainly his convincer strategy -- you will experience a lot of trouble convincing him or her of anything.

Meet the gatekeepers. The psychology of decision making is based on mental filters and includes a body of work focusing on what we call the "gatekeepers." Picture a reception area with several heavily armed security guards. Each guard serves as a gatekeeper for a specific entryway. Your job is to discover which entryway is most important to the prospect, and then how to appeal to that gatekeeper.

In reality, this is the mental mechanism that controls how the person needs to experience your information and offer. Do it wrong and you'll get rejected. Do it right and the prospect will raise his eyebrows with interest. Thus, you need to discover:
  • If he needs to see it, hear it, taste it or experience it. In business, it's typically a combination of seeing it and experiencing it.

  • How many times? Most commonly three times.

  • How much time the person needs to experience between offer and decision.
Your natural tendency. If you have the luxury of engaging the person in a relaxed, extended conversation, you can explore which of those mechanisms is at work in his/her mind. Most likely, however, you don't have the luxury of time. The natural tendency of a sales person short on time is to push for the close, and the natural result is a rejection. Then, you descend into overcoming objections. But, if you deliver your information correctly, you won't be shoved into the position of trying to overcoming objections.

The larger or more important the decision, the more likely you'll get a rejection when you push. Pushing increases the stress level in the prospect, and stress interrupts the decision-making process. This is why consultative approaches are the most effective for financial advisors.

Necessary steps. Find out how the prospect made a previous important purchase. "Jack, have you ever purchased such an important financial product before?" If he says "yes," ask, "How did you arrive at the decision?" You are looking to learn which gatekeepers you need to work with. Let's look at some possibilities:

Response Let's say he responds, "I looked at several different options, and chose the right one."

That gives you some vital information.
    1. He needs you to "show" him some graphics or illustrations. If you've been doing a lot of talking, you might have already talked you way out of the picture.

    2. He needs to see multiple examples. You want to find out how many he looked at.

    3. He is capable of making a buying decision. About half the population is not. So, you want to find out if he made the decision right away, or if he needed to think about it for a certain period of time.
Response 2. Let's say he responds, "I listened carefully to the information, then we made the decision."

He just told you this.
    1. He needs you to talk, to tell him the information. Again, ask about number, "How many did he explain to you?"

    2. He said, "We made the decision," so he might not able to make his own decisions. That means you can probably make a recommendation.
Response 3. Let's say he responds, "I gathered the information and just went home and thought it over."

What did you learn?
    1. He goes through the process on his own. So, you would not suggest that he and his wife make the decision.

    2. He actually needs to think about the information. And, he does that best in his home environment -- not your office.

    3. Your want to know how long that thought process took.
How to reply. Before you can go any farther, you need to make sure that the person gets all the available information, and in the right format -- mainly visual or auditory. Most people require information in those two formats. Ask, "Can you see how this will work for you? Can you hear your family express relief?"

If you don't provide all the relevant information, in the right format, the prospect will likely have a greater need to spend even more time conducting research and thinking.

Tough nut to crack. Visual and auditory presentations are easy, but time is trickier. Because so many people claim to need more time, you need to find out if they're just not sold on you, or if time is essential in their decision-making strategy. For example, "How much time do you normally need to make an important decision? Did you take some time before you bought your house, or did you know right away?"

For a product or service with a high price or of a type that's new to that prospect, you might consider urging him to go away, that you don't want an answer right then. When he accepts the advice, he will also accept the commitment that he'll make a decision when you talk again. But, get him to agree to have follow-up discussion in three days by saying, "Just to make sure you have all the right information, let's set a time to meet in three days."

Taking longer than three day risks allowing the buying interest to wane. It would be painful if you let it go too long and the person made no decision at all. With insurance and some investments, that could be devastating to both of you.

Dealing with time. When you're dealing with time, you have to give the person that amount of time, or give him the perception of that much time elapsing. For example, experiment with these statements, "Go out into the future, say one week. Can you see yourself continuing to go over the same information again and again? Or do you see that you already know by then?" Then, "Go out into the future, say three months. Can you see yourself having solved this puzzle? Can you imagine how the security will feel?"

What about you? Will you have solved this puzzle for yourself in one week?

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