About Vickie Sullivan
Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.
Written by: Vickie Sullivan | June 25, 2014
How to Spot (and Deal With) Skeptical Buyers
Originally published by RainToday.com
You get that coveted meeting with the buyer. You’ve done your homework: analyzed the industry, gathered proof of your impact, and even ran some numbers for his company. Yet the decision maker won’t bite. There seems to be an invisible wall around you. Even in the face of good strong evidence, they don’t buy into you or your approach. What’s going on?
Between a slow recovery and a noisy market, many buyers are being more than careful. They are skeptical of anything that offers a big promise and has a hefty price tag. Here are two ways to spot a prospect’s skepticism, plus the best way to respond to those hesitant buyers.
Why Buyers Are Skeptical
Buyers do not wake up one day and decide to be cynics. They become skeptical after making too many trips to the dark side. A common scenario: they select a vendor based on what they promised. At 30,000 feet, the vendor was technically correct; they did what was on the plan. But during the process, the buyer saw the fine print and found either important information was omitted or used against them. In some subtle way, the buyer felt duped. So, they make a deal with themselves never to be fooled again.
Every vendor after that experience will pay the price. Add a heavy dose of risk, and you have a buyer with a skeptical eye on every phase of the sales process.
Skepticism Clue #1: Their Reaction to Your Impact
The first place a skeptic will show their hand is in their reaction to your analysis. A reasonable buyer won’t assume everything you say is gospel, but they will look at your analysis and respond. A skeptical buyer will dismiss any projection out of hand.
If you sense any doubt, stop the spiel and call the game. Say something like, “I noticed that your reaction to XXX indicates that I might have missed something. That’s possible. Do you see anything off here?”
Then listen very closely to their answer. A skeptic won’t have a clear answer; a reasonable buyer will have specific questions or comments that will progress the conversation. The key: the former can’t pinpoint why they don’t believe your research of their situation; the latter can’t.
A common response is to defend the statistics of your presentation. Don’t. Logic won’t help you here.
Because the skepticism isn’t about you, the buyer will just sandbag the conversation. Instead, do the opposite. Step back and tell a story about a fellow cynic who didn’t believe what they heard either. And that they were right to not believe what they were told. Then ask, “Has that ever happened to you?” If you can lure the skeptic into telling their story of woe, you can better understand their reaction. Then you can have a conversation about making changes to address those concerns.
Skepticism Clue #2: Their Response to Your Price
Sometimes a skeptic will buy into the value of your services. They will agree that your fact-finding work before the sales meeting is accurate. But when you start talking investment levels, skeptics throw logic to the wind. They dismiss all of the progress made and create an insurmountable barrier.
The best example of this dynamic happened to a good friend of mine in the consulting business. He had a meeting with a buyer at a successful gazillion-dollar company. After two hours of agreeing to the importance of solving the problem, why that solution needed to happen now rather than later, and the impact the project would have on solving the problem, our doubting Thomas said something like, “I don’t care about value consulting. I am only going to pay $2.50 for this.” (OK, the amount was higher, but you get the point.)
Yes, there are reasonable buyers who don’t believe in value pricing. How to tell the difference between them and skeptics based on when they make their opinions known. Buyers who insist on hourly or daily rates will make that requirement up front. Cynics usually will discuss ROI then “surprise” you near the end of the sales process. Value-based pricing is based on a trusting relationship, and skeptics can’t trust.
Your best response depends on how badly you want the opportunity. If you can negotiate on the scope or other considerations to make the price point worthwhile, go for it. Otherwise, run for the hills. Don’t let their skepticism set you up for failure.
Don’t Take It Personally
The biggest mistake you can make when dealing with skeptics is to assume there’s something you can do to help them see the light. You might think, “If I just talk a little more, provide more information, or do stuff for free, I can prove the cynics wrong.” The hard truth is they have to choose to believe you or not.
Keep in mind that their skepticism has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with risk and previous experience (see my first point above). When you reach out without judgment and give them small opportunities to trust you, there’s a chance. And sometimes, that’s all you need.