As published on Forbes.com

One of the most common questions people ask me has to do with urgency. It usually sounds like, “We’ve been speaking with this customer for months, and they keep putting off a decision. How can you create urgency with business customers?” The mistake that most often happens is that companies start to suggest discounts or other tactics that rarely produce results. Let me shed some light on why customers delay making decisions, what you might be doing in your interactions that could be contributing to those delays, and what you CAN do to accelerate decisions.

Why Customers Delay Decisions

There could be a variety of factors that lead to a delay in a customer decision. They might be struggling to find the money to pay for the product or service you are selling. They could be facing competing priorities – this issue is important, but another one has a higher sense of urgency. Your customer could be trying to decide if you are the best alternative for them. As part of that thought process, they might also be trying to see if they can solve their issue internally.

What you need to understand is that if they have an important issue with severe consequences, and if they truly believe that you can solve that issue better than others, they would have already made the decision and they would push you to get the deal done. You cannot create urgency, you can only make your audience aware of their own priorities.

How You Might Be Causing Delays

Sales and marketing departments create a ton of information. However, how much of that information is aligned with how customers make decisions. I’ve done research with over five thousand CEOs and executives around the world about how they make decisions. When approving a decision, customers first ask, “What problem does this solve, and why do we need it?” Next they ask, “What is our likely return on investment or what are the results associated with that solution?” You have to do some soul searching. Are you proactively helping them answer those questions? This doesn’t mean that you have to wait for them to ask. Rather, in your interactions, are you helping the customer to discover those pieces of information, or are you inundating them with additional information that you might think matters, but it really doesn’t? You might describe your business as a “full-service XYZ vendor,” or you might have information that shares your brilliant features and benefits. Though it’s fine to have that information, you need to consider how that helps the customer answer questions about what problems you solve, why they might need it, and their likely results.

How You Can Help Accelerate Decisions

Remember that you cannot create urgency. Rather, you can help your client discover what problem they are solving and then impact associated with NOT solving the issue. Then they might care about the results you are likely to deliver. Consider these typical approaches, and how you can change them to help your customers make faster decisions.

  • “We’re a full service XYZ vendor:” Nobody cares. Are you competing against vendors who claim they are “partial service” competitors? “Full service” means nothing to your customers. Instead, consider illustrating why customers might care about your breadth of services. You might say, “Our clients come to us when they know they want a single point of accountability for their issues across a wide range of issues. This means they won’t waste time and money trying to coordinate multiple vendors and having the vendors point fingers at each other when things go wrong.”
  • “Here are our features/benefits:” Sadly, nobody cares about features other than the marketer who created the list. Instead, you might try, “Our clients often struggle with X, Y, and Z which costs them time and can lead to loss of market share. We developed this solution to uniquely reverse that trend and make that issue go away once and for all.” Notice that this approach illustrates what problems you solve, why they might need it (loss of market share) and the likely outcome/result.

If your customer knows that their issue is important, and if they conclude that you offer the best chance at great results, they’ll be pushing you for the contract. When deals appear stuck and your customer does not appear to have any urgency, realize that you can do some things to help them become aware of why they might need your help. Just recognize that if you are more passionate about solving the problem than your customer, you’ll have to pay for it.

It’s Your Turn

When has a long delay turned into a quick sale? What was the catalyst that created urgency?