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At the heart of every sale lies a decision. Learn how and why your prospects make decisions, and you're well on your way to finding out how to sell to them. To help them choose you, you need to understand the different ways people make decisions and the thinking behind them. Research has revealed nine types of decisions:

  1. Delayed decisions (waiting game)
  2. Decisions to please others
  3. Forced decisions (rock and a hard place)
  4. Reactive decisions (based on competitor's decision)
  5. Personal preference or perception decisions
  6. Results-oriented decisions (Company Payoff)
  7. Popular decisions (appear as leader)
  8. Safe decisions (fear consequences)
  9. Power-based decisions

Review the three types of needs we must fulfillService, Financial, Emotional. You'll recognize that only one of these nine decision types is not in response to an Emotional need. Let's look at them individually.

Delayed Decisions

Decisions are hard. Stakeholders rarely have complete information, so some play the waiting game, hoping that circumstances will eventually make the decision for them. Prospects who make delayed decisions may wait to express their interest until they are in Pain Mode, i.e., they have an immediate and urgent need for your service. (Some may already be in Pain Mode and not know it. To find out, help them explore the Cost of Doing Nothing.)

When they do reach Pain Mode, getting the business may depend on whether or not they still remember you and associate you with your Door-Opener, i.e., your demand-triggering business problem, and your ability to deliver exactly what they need, when they need it. If your prospect won't make a prompt decision to buy, be prepared when they're ready. Stay in contact so you aren't forgotten when the need arises. 

Decisions to Please Others

Some prospects may feel a political or social obligation to buy from someone else, like those who settle for barely adequate legal representation purchased from a relative or "anointed" source. Think about how you can turn these Win/Lose situations to Win/Win. Instead of abandoning the prospect entirely, try to redefine the need in a way that doesn't put you in direct competition with the incumbent. Look for a compromise that allows the prospect to give you some of the business without giving up the incumbent. 

It's wise to avoid a direct attack on the incumbent's current turf; your buyer will be among those protecting it. Instead, focus on solutions to other problems not yet addressed. That way, the prospect can approve you as doing "additional" or "different" work and avoid having to justify to himself or others not selecting the incumbent (and avoid an uncomfortable conversation with the incumbent).

Forced Decisions

Forced decisions occur when Buyers find themselves between a rock and a hard place, and must make a decision NOW. They have little time for information gathering and analysis, so the seller who wins is often the one who was in the right place at the right time, figuratively speaking. I don't mean that your sales call was lucky timing, but that you've sustained your association with the business problem that's driving demand for this solution, so your ideas are there at the right time, representing you. 

When your prospects have to make unavoidable decisions, make it difficult for you not to come to mind. Send useful information and make calls that keep you uppermost in their minds. Keep yourself visible in the trade press. Make it easy for them to make decisions and select you quickly when they're under the gun by being the familiar, and therefore comfortable, choice regarding this issue.

Reactive & Personal Preference Decisions

  • Reactive Decisions:  Prospects may base buying decisions partly on what their competitors are doing. While you're gathering information on prospects, keep an eye on their competitors, too. Try to anticipate what those competitors might do, how your prospects might react, and how those reactions will affect you. Use competitive information to help them make decisions.  
  • Personal Preference Decisions: While we must help Buyers make educated decisions, we must also consider their personal taste and the way they view circumstances into consideration. Don't be such an expert that you risk losing the sale because you and your Buyers can't agree on what they should buy. Analyze your Buyer's personal style. As you outline benefits, put yourself in your Buyer's shoes and make sure you appeal to their personal preferences.

Results-oriented decisions

Some Buyers choose a particular law firm or lawyer because they believe it can help them meet a goal or achieve a particular result. Ask about personal and company goals and describe how you can help meet them. Use questions to get the Buyer to recognize and specify the Cost of Doing Nothing, and quantify how much money, time or effort you can save them. Instead of talking about what you do, emphasize the results you've delivered for others who are similarly situated.

Popular Decisions

When it comes to cutting edge technology or the latest gadget, many people don't want to be left out of the loop. While most often seen in fashion or consumer product applications, this same need to "belong," to be mainstream (and the associated fear of missing out), influences more consequential decisions, too. Stress the importance of using the most modern or efficient legal service approaches or methodologies, and not appearing outdated or behind the times. Cite the number of clients who have selected your firm for this type of solution and stayed with you, and ask Buyers if they think there might be a reason why so many other clients are so happy with your service. This is also known as Social Proof.

Safe Decisions

Many Buyers hesitate to make decisions because they fear the consequences, e.g., that you won't live up to their expectations, or that they might later find another solution at a better price. You must put their minds at ease. If appropriate, let them speak with relevant satisfied clients. Using questions, get the prospect to focus on the larger risk or cost of delay or doing nothing. (You've seen this mentioned repeatedly. Since doing nothing is often an attractive choice, the Cost of Doing Nothing process is one of the most powerful decision tools available to salespeople.)

Power-Based Decisions

Sometimes you can get a reluctant Buyer over the hump by appealing to her sense of power.  When faced with making a decision, some people fear the risk and question their authority to choose. When selling to persons in a position of authority to commit funds, you may only have to remind them subtly of their power to get them to buy.

These considerations should remind you of two counter-intuitive sales truths:

  1. Sales is about investigating, not persuading
  2. The only thing that matters is facilitating a decision, without regard to your self-interest

You'll find that this approach aligns well with your existing "lawyering" skills and values.

Mike O'Horo


You can learn (and practice) all the skills you need online, anytime, from your computer or tablet. Visit RainmakerVT.com and spend a little time reading the Course descriptions. If you're like most lawyers, your first reaction might well be, "There's more to this biz dev stuff than I thought."