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How to Overcome Customer Indecision as a Startup Sales Leader

With sales cycles lengthening and win rates declining, high-performing sales teams need more tools and tactics to get to that “yes.”

In a recent Founders + Leaders workshop for sales leaders and account executives across GGV Capital U.S.’s portfolio, we heard the latest techniques from:

According to “The JOLT Effect,” 40%-60% of a typical salesperson’s qualified pipeline will be marked as “no decision” in a CRM system. Based on analyzing 2.5 million sales calls over 18 months, here’s what they found works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to getting cold-feet customers off the fence:

Understand why FOMO tactics can backfire

When a customer hesitates, many sales teams rely on a “Fear of Missing Out” playbook that typically includes three steps:

  1. The salesperson goes back and tries to convince the customer of the solution’s value. This step may include going back into the demo environment or repeating success stories.
  2. This step is usually all about stressing how maintaining the status quo can lead to bad outcomes for a customer. This may include emphasizing how a competitor is already using your solution.
  3. To create that scarcity or urgency to get the customer to move forward, a salesperson might offer a 10% discount “that's only good this quarter.” 

But according to “The JOLT Effect” research, “the FOMO set of tactics actually makes things worse—not better,” Matt says. “Going back and hammering the FOMO with those customers increases the odds that you will be lost to indecision.” 

Realize the impact of FOMU: Fear of Messing Up 

Why would a customer fail to make a decision anyway? 

Perhaps the customer isn’t convinced that your company’s solution offers a greater value than what’s in place today. “It might be a no-decision loss in your CRM system, but in fact, these customers are making a decision,” Matt adds. “They're making a decision to stay with their status quo.”

So why wouldn’t a customer move forward?

“The thing that is keeping them from moving forward is their fear of failure,” Matt explains. “If you go back and dial up the FOMO and hammer the status quo, what you're really doing is using scare tactics to appeal to your customer and try to motivate action. But if what they're worried about is messing up—not missing out. If they're worried about failing, then really what you're doing is you're using scare tactics to sell to somebody who's already afraid, but they're not afraid of the thing you think they're afraid of. So when you use those scare tactics, you just compound their fear.”

The bottom line: FOMO pales in comparison to FOMU.

Build up a customer’s confidence

A high-performing salesperson may excel at beating the status quo, but he or she has also realized that it’s not enough. Once you've answered the “why change?” question, the next step is to instill enough confidence in the customer that everything will be okay. 

An effective salesperson will be able to reassure a customer and convey emotions like:

  • “You made a great decision on how to configure the solution.” 
  • “You've done plenty of research. Better yet, you don't need to because I'm your trusted advisor in this journey. I’ve got all the information you need and all the stuff you can ignore. You're not going to get surprised down the road.”
  • “We've got your back. You're going to look like a hero—not like a fool.” 

To move customers forward, consider these four techniques from “The JOLT Effect” playbook.

J: Judge the decision. In this diagnostic step, you’re assessing: “Can the customer buy? And can this person decide?”

O: Offer your recommendation. “In a world of choice overload, customers respond much better to not asking them what they want to buy, but telling them what they should buy,” Matt says. “We've got to get them to stop engaging in analysis paralysis [and] start trusting us as their expert.” 

L: Limit the exploration. Reference calls are expected, and some amount of exploration is normal. “But high performers know that beyond a certain point, the customer starts to engage in analysis paralysis, [which is] the kiss of death for conversion rates,” Matt says. “Win rates [are really low] when you just feed the beast and keep giving the customer more and more. So you have to get the customer to stop trying to be an expert and start trusting you as their expert.”

T: Take risk off the table. “It's about dealing with expectations overload,” Matt says. “What are some of those de-risking techniques we can introduce to instill that confidence?”

Show value even before signing

Consider getting everything set up so you’re ready to measure performance at every step of the way. 

“High performers are much more likely to pull in their partners earlier on (even before the contract is signed) to try to paint the vision of going from signature to value,” Matt adds.

For example, a well-articulated, documented customer value map highlights the checkpoints, owners, milestones, and KPIs, or “how we know we’re on track or off track,” Matt says. “And by the way, here are some of the gotchas, some of the things that we've learned—in some cases the hard way—about things that could go wrong.” 

And if a customer starts asking about opt-out clauses, don’t forget that what you’re likely hearing is more FOMU. 

Something like early termination causes are “really a fear-based request,” Dan says. “If you try to solve it with a rational way, it's not as effective as an emotional way.”

Instead, Dan suggests calling it out directly, and then following up with a close-ended question: “I hear that you're concerned about asking for an opt-out clause. And I'm sensing that's probably because of how your colleagues are considering sticking with the status quo versus moving to the solution that we've been talking about. Am I sensing that correctly?”

Resources we love

  • Stop Losing Sales to Customer Indecision”: Learn more about why salespeople should apply a new framework to situations where indecision is the biggest blocker. [Harvard Business Review] 
  • The JOLT Effect”: Download free resources, including customer win-loss questions, a coaching guide, an indecision gauge, and more. []
  • Overcoming Customer Indecision with the JOLT Effect”: Sign up for four hours of live instruction that includes role playing, breakout sessions, and recurring revenue frameworks. [Winning by Design]

Takeaways & next steps 

For startups looking to engage, retain, and grow customer relationships, consider digging more into the psychology behind why indecision happens in the first place.

“[No-decision losses] happen not because we've been unable to convince customers of the value,” Matt says. “They actually happen because we've been unable to dial down the FOMU: the fear of messing up.”

Armed with these four techniques from “The JOLT Effect” playbook, high-performing sales teams are now better equipped to understand sales indecision, instill confidence, and get the customer to move forward.