Top 10 Reasons Your Prospects Don’t Make Optimal Choices

If your prospects are so smart, why don’t they always make optimal choices?

There are many books on the subject of “choice.” One of my favorites is The Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz. Having too many options is one cause of sub-optimal choices, and there are others. Confirmation bias and the reliance on heuristics (the use of mental short-cuts to reduce the complexity of decision making) are two decision-making influences well defined in psychology.

I wanted to illustrate the reasons prospects don’t always make the right decision based on first-hand experience – what I’ve seen personally over the past two decades of Sales.

#10 They don’t view it as an optimal choice. We all have different perspectives. Of course we as vendors have to believe our product would represent the optimal choice for them. If we didn’t, then we should move onto other prospects for whom we DO believe it is the optimal choice. But even for those prospects where the logic fits, there are other reasons why it may not be viewed as optimal from the prospect’s perspective.

#9 Adversity to risk. Doing nothing is almost always less risky than doing something. Most of us are rewarded for short-term results. If something requires us to move backward for any amount of time, with positive results delayed until some point in the future, then we are likely to see that as too risky. We are judged first and foremost by what we’ve done lately and that keeps us from making choices that are optimal only in the long-term.

#8 Risk vs Reward. This is a different beast than #9. If a prospect isn’t convinced they’ll experience the rewards as promised, then no amount of risk will be accepted. That applies to something as basic as downloading a software trial. There is a clear risk/reward factor at play. If the odds of downloading, and experimenting with the software only to find its taking too much time and not turning out well, are higher than the odds of the opposite occurring – well, guess how many people are likely to trial your software.

#7 Instant-Gratification. I received an e-mail solicitation today from a very large company. They were pitching a discounted price of $99 on a list of companies you could use for prospecting purposes. The normal price is $295. Now that’s a great savings and may be worth it. I would’ve made an instant decision whether I wanted to take advantage. The problem? No where to click to learn more. Only a phone number to call to “purchase while supplies last”. Where’s my instant gratification? I wanted to instantly know what kind of information was included. Surely it’s not just a company name. So what else is there? I have to call to find out? No way! Sorry, I’m no longer interested. Purchasing a powerful list at 1/3 the cost may have been the optimal choice. But it’s not the choice I made because I wanted instant gratification and didn’t get it.

#6 Prospects don’t know what they want. Often, our prospects are simply exploring options and ideas when we first talk with them. They don’t know what they want until they understand what’s out there, what the risks/rewards are, how long things will take to implement, how much it costs, etc. What comes across as wishy-washy to us, is really just our prospect weighing all the information in their minds, trying to make sense of it.

#5 Trust. A big one. It’s why cold-calling rarely works (that, and the fact that it’s annoying). That’s why awards, referrals, testimonials all help. It’s also why an established company might get the business even if an upstart has a better offering.

#4 Logic vs emotion. Yes, B2B sales involves lots of logic. Complex sales require detailed information and a strong business case. However, emotion does play a role. The emotion or “feeling” part of the decision for a buyer is all the reasons outlined in this blog; risk aversion, the need for instant gratification (and conversely the need to avoid painful evaluations, and drawn-out decision), and the next 3 on the list.

#3 Lack of impetus. If I’m not in trouble or in enough trouble with the way things are, I am not apt to look for a way out.

#2 No desire to stand-out. Conversely, a desire NOT to stand-out

And the number one reason prospects don’t always make the optimal choice …

#1 Things are “good-enough” the way they are.

I could argue that none of these top 10 reasons have anything to do with your product or the solution. Instead, they have to do with change. Are your salespeople trained to help prospects embrace change or at the very least, to overcome reluctance to change? What questions should the salesperson ask to uncover which of these apply to his or her prospect? Might be a good discussion for the next team meeting.