Why Don't Clients Make Decisions (and How to Help Them Commit)

As a key account manager, your goal is to keep your clients happy and satisfied with your solutions. But it's hard to get to that point if those clients never make a decision. You do all the right things but they're still holding back. What's going on?

Remember that time you gave your client some GREAT advice?

We're talking no-brainer-just-do-it-already advice.

And they wouldn't make a decision?

If you do, then you also remember how frustrating it was. How can you get any work done if they commit to a choice?

Here are some reasons why they put off making decisions, and how to guide them toward choices they feel good about. 

Why Client's Don't Make Decisions

  • Lack of interest. They don't care enough about your recommendations to take action. Show them the gain is worth the pain.
  • Lack of information. They don't enough (or too much) information to make a decision. Provide summaries to make it easy to find what they need.
  • Too many options. Too many choices lead to overwhelm. Simplify by giving three options (1) your preferred (2) low risk/low reward (3) high risk/high reward.
  • No urgency. They don't realise there's any rush to make a decisions. Give clear deadlines and explain why it's important to act now.
  • Disengaged. They're bored or annoyed with you. Time to work on your engagement and get them enthusiastic about working with you.
  • People problems. B2B decisions are made by committees of people with different opinions. Share advice on what to do and how to do it.
  • Decision fatigue. Does your client have a lot going on right now? How can you eliminate or reduce decisions they need to make.
  • Anxiety. Big decisions have big consequences if they go wrong. Reassure your client that all the options will work out and you will intercept any problems before they become issues. 

Why clients put off making decisions

Lack of interest

Sometimes clients don't care enough about your recommendations to take action. So they put of making decisions because they're indifferent.

So how can you win them over and get them to commit to your idea?

Show them it's worth their time and energy. But REALLY worth it.

Otherwise why bother?

The gain (i.e. solving the pain) needs to be believable and credible. Use evidence like:

  • Testimonials and case studies
  • Demos
  • Site visits
  • Data and analytics

Lack of information

Your clients may not have all the information needed to make a decision. Or maybe they do, but don't have enough time to digest it.

Provide evidence using their data and yours to help them to make their analyses. Collect and summarise as much of that information as possible for your client.

Ask them if they have everything they need to make an informed decision.

Too many options

When your client has too many options to choose from, they get overwhelmed. So they avoid making a decision until later—but by later, they mean tomorrow or next week (or never).

Present a limited number of choices. I recommend no more than three:

  1. Preferred option
  2. Low risk/low reward option
  3. High risk/high reward option

And share all the options at once rather than one after the other. A study by The Centre for Decision Sciences found participants are more committed to their decisions when options are presented at once.

No urgency

Have you explained, or made it clear enough, why your client should act now, rather than later?

They may put off a decision because they didn't realise there was any urgency or a deadline.

Don't manufacture fake urgency. Like a carpet store that's been going out of business since 2001. That just puts your client under pressure and more likely they'll say no then make a rash decision.

Disengaged

Quite frankly, you've bored them. Or pissed them off.

Neither is good. 

Time to show some enthusiasm and get them excited about working with you.

People problems

B2B decisions are by committee. A Gartner study found the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers. Each with different ideas and sets of information gathered independently.

The decision dynamics are a minefield. Fraught with conflict as people defend their points of view.

Provide information that helps your client make their decisions. Share advice (what to do) and support (how to do it).

Decision fatigue

We humans make as many as 35,000 decisions ... a day! And the more thinking we do, the more decisions we make, it gets exhausting.

Decision fatigue is that feeling of overwhelm when you have too many choices to make. It effects decision quality and quantity.

Does your client have a lot going on right now? Can you simplify the decisions you're asking them to make, or delay them? Can you create routines that mean they make less decisions or avoid them all together?

Anxiety

Clients may put off making decisions because of fear. Usually related to what McKinsey call big-bet decisions. Infrequent, high risk decisions with the potential to shape the future of the company (or at least their business unit).

So, you can't blame them for worrying about the consequences if things go wrong.

Reassure your client that the options you've presented will all work well for them. Outline the pros and cons of each and highlight your risk mitigation controls. You might even offer to reverse the decision if it doesn't work out.

Talk to their stakeholders. Help them build and present the business case. Let them know that your holding their hand all the way.

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How to move clients from thinking to doing

Don't expect too much too soon. You have to earn trust. Start with small requests and get some quick wins under your belt. Then you can talk to your client about bigger decisions.

Don't ask too often. Picture it, you ask your client for a favour. They say "Yes." So you hit them up for another favour. And then another, and another. Until you've worn out your welcome and they stop returning your calls. Don't take advantage of, or rely on, your client's kindness and cooperation. It may be in limited supply and come back to bite you later.

Be patient. Don't rush your clients to make decisions. It smells of desperation and commission breath. You're in this to build influential relationships with longer lasting rewards. So don't blow it for a quick win.

"Commission breath is an expression used to describe a person who is so hungry for a sale; they will say or do anything to get it. They need a commission so badly that prospects can smell it on their breath a mile away. ... They are more interested in the commission than the relationship." ~ Liz Wendling

Address the pain. In The Persuasion Code, authors Morin and Renvoise identify three sources of pain.

  1. Financial pain. Refers to economic aspects like revenue loss, profitability or return on investment. Use evidence to reassure clients you've considered risks and made contingency plans.
  2. Strategic pain. Anything that may impact the delivery of products and services. Typical pains are poor quality, complaints, inefficiency, delays. Share information on historical performance, benchmarks, testimonials and industry analysis. It will help reduce fear of lack of control.
  3. Personal pain. Any negative impacts on your key contact's personal life. Job insecurity, long working hours, stress are some emotions they might feel. How can your solution reduce, or even eliminate, these?

Maximise the value you offer in solving these challenges. Highlight the difference between value and cost and break it down into pain vs. gain.

The Persuasion Code

Most of your attempts to persuade are doomed to fail because the brains of your audience automatically reject messages that disrupt their attention. This book makes the complex science of persuasion simple. Learn to develop better marketing and sales messages based on a scientific model; NeuroMap™.

Choices!

Warwick Brown


Warwick Brown has led business development and account management teams in Australia and Europe for more than 15 years and worked with some of the world's most prestigious firms, including Merck & Co, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey & Company and Vodafone. As the founder at Account Manager Tips, his mission is to help organisations leverage the power of key account management to accelerate client retention and revenue.


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