Occasionally, I get responses from some of my readers. Here is a good one about customer stalls from Christopher Rice of Orlando, Fla.-based 50 Floor:

One of the most popular situations sales reps run into is not really an objection, but a stall. The “I need to think about it,” or, “I need three quotes before I move forward.” These are phrases all reps will hear time in and time out... UNLESS they can eliminate the stall from the beginning. Why does a customer say these things? What did I do wrong? They seemed to love everything and really liked me, so why aren’t they buying? From my experience when you get these “stalls,” you did not do your job properly.

You overcome these stalls by eliminating them from the beginning. Build Rapport! Build Value! When you are meeting with a client for the first time, they don’t know you. They don’t know how long you have been with the company, if you are going to rip them off, or if the installers will do a good job. Who are the installers? 

When I first meet a potential client, I sit down with them and talk about why they are looking to change their flooring and what they liked about their old flooring. What didn’t they like about it? How long have they been thinking about making this purchase? All these questions will help you to know what to show a customer.

You need to get on a little bit of a personal level... find something in the customer’s house that they are interested in and talk about it! Sports fan? Talk about it. Why do they like that team? How did they get into it? Fishing? Where do they go fishing? What do they enjoy the most about it? Tell me about the one that got away? Everybody has a story about the one that got away. 

This rapport building builds trust and will assist in eliminating the stall when it comes time to close. When a customer “needs to think about it,” they don’t trust you. When they say, “I need more quotes,” [that] means they think you are priced too high. You may have mentioned the features, but you need to explain the benefits. I would love to hear how other reps overcome these statements. 

My Reply:

Thanks, and well told, Christopher! The only thing I would add is that during the presenting and objections phases of the selling process, get an agreement on all important issues ahead of time. We should not assume that the customer understands or even hears every crucial point we make. After an explanation of a question asked, you might conclude with: “Does that make sense?” or “Does that answer your question?” Listen and respond to her answer. These validating questions put you on common ground and make you the trusted advisor while constructively controlling the direction of the sale. This selling formula is also part of a deliberate strategy which will eventually support the closing process and help prevent stalls. We simply focus on finding out what is necessary to do business, from beginning to end.

Stalls. We all use them, so why shouldn’t we expect to hear it from others when we are on the selling end? “Let me think about it.” “This is the first place I’ve shopped.” “Let me check with my husband.” La de da—the flake out of an order. The modus operandi: obviously, we must find a way to get past a vague stall to a concrete objection or allow our customer to discover there is really nothing to be concerned about. Some customers just need reassurance that they are making the right decision. A slight nudge may be all it takes to put things in motion.

Let’s say you really have done everything perfectly. Then it happens. You ask for the order or try to move forward, and the customer hands you a stall: “Let me think it over.” It’s the kiss of death for most salespeople. This is no real surprise. In fact, stalls are one of those eventual givens in selling. Regardless of your skills, stalls happen to the best of us at our very best. Consider this a new challenge, not a frustration.

Again, the problem with a stall is that the customer is not giving you a concrete objection you can sink your teeth into. There is nothing specific that you can rebut. There may be a concern, but she is not telling you what it is. There really is something bothering your customer and maybe even she doesn’t know what it is. The customer is trying to delay her decision, and too often, customers will think themselves out of a purchase until a skilled salesperson knows how to close them. 

Realize that with a stall, we are often dealing with a customer’s hidden insecurity. “Am I making the right decision?” Of course, no one wants to experience buyer’s remorse. So, rather than telling you what is really bothering her, she camouflages her true concern with a stall, thus taking the effortless way out. Unfortunately, people do not go home and lie awake thinking about your proposal. To resolve their insecurity, they often go to another store to make sure they are making the right decision. 

When a stall happens, there are three possibilities:

  1. She is insecure about her buying decision.
  2. We have missed something that she has not told us.
  3. Her stall is legitimate.

First, let us begin with a few questions that may isolate and resolve her specific reason for stalling: 

“Of course, I understand this is an important decision. Curiously, though, may I ask what reservations you still have?” (Silence)

“Well, I would want to be sure as well. Even so, may I ask what your final decision will be based on?” (Silence)

“I hear that a lot and that’s very normal. Still, could you tell me what it is that’s causing you to hesitate?” (Silence)

“Of course, I understand this is an important decision. Nevertheless, I thought that I answered all your questions and provided a lot of information. Could you tell me what about these selections you need to consider?” (Silence)

“That’s completely reasonable. Curiously though, what are some of the issues that are important as you evaluate your decision?” (Silence) 

“I appreciate your desire to be sure about your decision, but we have covered all the basics that I can think of, I am just confused about what is concerning you? (Silence)

“I am glad you told me that. Since we are both here now, maybe I can help by answering your concerns?” (Silence) 

“I understand your desire to be sure about your decision, but maybe there is something that I was not clear about when I described…’ (Silence)

“That’s completely reasonable. However, thinking about it sometimes makes me uneasy. Is it something I forgot to cover?” (Silence) 

A Few Warnings

It is especially crucial that we begin each of these statements above with the cushioning technique. In other words, it is important to find a point of accord – or “cushion” – between the customer and us before we directly address the stall. Cushioning is merely recognizing that what the customer states is important and valid. It encourages dialogue and communication. For example, “Of course, I understand this is an important decision” or “that’s completely reasonable.” Without these cushioning statements, your reply may sound condescending to her hesitation. 

Likewise, never shortcut your approach to a stall with such demeaning statements as “What’s to think about?” She is stalling, and she doesn’t want to be confronted with the obvious by being asked about her delay in such a condescending manner.

Finally, it is essential that you be quiet after each question. Silence is golden. It is your most powerful weapon. You have thrown the ball in her court and she must hit it back. The longer the silence only means she is considering your question very carefully. Be patient and wait for her considered answer.

Occasionally, if her response is, “Just the whole thing,” you reply, “Well Mary, it’s difficult to help you with ‘the whole thing’ all at once. Could you be a little more specific? Is it the color...”

Ok, suppose she still wants to think about it. It is going to happen. I once had a customer state, “It’s just that my wife and I have learned over the years not to make quick decisions…” Understandable, but that does not mean they cannot get the ball rolling. When there are no concrete objections, simply ask for a minor decision which will move the process along and eventually carry the major decision. 

A good response would be, “That’s completely normal. Sometimes when I am making an important decision, I like to give my final decision some time as well. Do you feel that there is anything we haven’t covered?” If none, you can say, “Great, here is what we can do. Let’s set up a no-charge measure. This will give you plenty of time to consider anything else that may arise as part of your final decision. You can change anything you wish. Furthermore, measuring clarifies the order for a final number and any unforeseen difficulties that may arise.”

Keep in mind, we are looking for a true objection that we may have overlooked. Unlike a stall, where there is no concrete objection, when we expose a true objection, it is easy to handle. We simply offer new information to solve or negate the concern and we are good. 

Now, let us assume she stubbornly stays committed to her stall. All is not lost. Next, we are going to have to do some specific probing to get to the real problem. In the next issue, we will discuss a more systematic method for further handling these common stalls.

Good selling to you.