How to Deal with “Decisions Delayed”

By David H. Martin
March 15, 2008
COLUMN : Integrated Marketing | Sales & Marketing

You can hear the following from dealers and manufacturers all the time: “With all the electronic access to information today, why is the customer taking longer to buy?” or “We know they’re going to buy, we just don’t know when.”

Today’s extended buying cycle is frustrating for sales and marketing people who don’t know how to adjust to it and deal with it. While it’s tempting to blame it on your sales force’s lack of determination or inadequate closing techniques, the fact remains that the decision-making process is getting longer and longer.

Perhaps because of the easy access to product information, people are able to consider more options and are becoming more thorough in exploring them. Thanks to their expanded knowledge of products and pricing, today’s customers are far more in charge of the sale than the salesperson. Today the customer sets the agenda. The secret is to be “top of mind” when they are finally ready to buy.

Both consumers and commercial building customers are taking longer to buy, but adjusting to those extended buying cycles requires different strategies. While consumer buying cycles can be shortened by skills of persuasion, education and sales-closing tools that add urgency–business to business selling requires more patience and intuition on the part of the salesperson.

THE B-TO-B SALE
Shortening the buying cycle of consumers is still both possible and desirable, but the same strategy can be dangerous when applied to commercial customers. Knowledgeable business-to-business salespeople know that it’s possible to get ahead of competition by using the “extended buying cycle” to their advantage.

When dealing with commercial customers, don’t waste time trying to read the commercial prospect’s body language or concerning yourself with “trial closes.” That only distracts from the more important task of looking for clues to the process the customer is using to make a purchase. The more you know about how he thinks and acts, the better.

Be prepared for “the long haul.” Most salesmen quit too soon when they sense the customer isn’t about to make a quick decision. After a second or third contact, they are off looking for a new hot prospect. These salespersons lose sales because they are not around when the customer is ready to buy. Use phone, e-mail or postcards to keep in touch over time. Better still, use a combination of these.

Become an indispensable resource. Don’t just “stay in touch.” Provide your commercial customers with a flow of information. Drop off a new product sheet. Send a copy of an article relating to their business or your service. The objective is to make the customer feel supported, not threatened.

Plan well in advance. Plan to be at the customer’s side when the deal is closed, no matter how long it takes. Be prepared to cultivate prospects for a year or more. Your goal is to know who will eventually become a customer and planning to be there when the customer is ready to start buying.

Take customers away from competitors. Plant seeds by contacting competitors’ customers. With today’s longer buying cycle, customers can feel neglected between purchases, providing a perfect opportunity for another salesman to move in. The longer the buying cycle, the more vulnerable someone else’s customer (or yours) can be to “new, exciting ideas.” Your goal is to be to be perceived as a knowledgeable, interested advisor who is always on the cutting edge.

CONSUMER SIDE
Marketing to homeowners in a world of delayed buying decisions also requires staying “top of mind.”

Since you don’t know exactly when they will buy, it is more important than ever to stay in front of them without irritating them. A weekly phone call or e-mail blitz wouldn’t be prudent. But a carefully orchestrated campaign of regular contact through a variety of venues might be your best bet. The good news is, today you have a larger number of marketing tools at your disposal. When you factor in your normal advertising, direct mail and home show participations with online and email options, you have a rich mix of ways to keep in touch without being obnoxious.

And be prepared when they come call back. There’s nothing more dangerous than a customer who knows more than you or your salesperson. Do your homework. Develop a broad-spectrum knowledge of competitive products and prices. In today’s world, you should assume you’re selling against some dealer,  big box retailer or manufacturer’s windows or doors…

One way to stay top of mind is to be perceived as a key part of the customer’s educational process. Be prepared to share information about “how to buy windows.” Review different framing materials and different high-performance glazing technologies with them. Explain how professional installation people are trained to use proven techniques. Explain the installation process and how it can be done to minimize customer disruption and inconvenience. Even if you don’t go away with a sale that evening, you will have left a strong impression that they should buy from you when they’re ready.

And don’t give up closing the sale. Just as your sale force should employ a variety of “trial closes” to advance the buying decision, your marketing efforts should constantly include new offers or incentives to “buy now.” Whether it’s a “free window with every four purchased or a “free patio door with whole-house purchase-of windows,” these tools can still help close sales.

Both consumer and commercial buying cycles are becoming longer, as people use better access to product information in advance of purchases. Become their best-informed advisor, the attentive window and door professional with all the answers. Use multiple marketing techniques to stay in touch with prospects. Recognize the
differences between residential customers and commercial buyers, and what it takes to “be there when they are ready to buy.”

David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin  Marketing of Oak Park, IL, an integrated marketing services firm, blending old media with new. He was previously director of marketing for two window manufacturers and can be reached at 708/848-8404 or www.lenzimartin.com.