TALKING SALES 93: "Competitor Zero"

John Smibert

Indecision 700x400                     "Increasing sales productivity by overcoming customer indecision" - Interview by John Smibert

Sue Barrett 2016 silver background American copy 400x590In this discussion Sue Barrett reminds us that often our biggest competitor is the 'no decision'. We need to think about why customers often avoid making a decision or stall their decision. Sue outlines some of the reasons why customers do not proceed and provides us with advice as to what we can do to minimise the risk of a 'no decision'.

Two key points discussed by Sue on this topic are 1. The impact of customers being confused by too much information - the information overload that is effecting us all, and 2. The issue that decisions in the modern era are being made more by committee than individuals and reaching consensus can be a challenge.

She explains how both these issues cause indecision and how we can overcome them.

See the full discussion below.

Sue is an authoritative thought leader and an accomplished author on the selling profession. She's also founder and CEO of Barrett and


John: Hello, I've got Sue Barrett with me again - welcome back, Sue!

Sue: Thanks, John!

John: Sue, in our last interview you discussed some of the 12 trends you see happening in sales, and I'd like to drill down on some of those. One you mentioned was what you called "Competitor Zero", the indecision in customers that mean we put a lot of investment in sales and we get no result. Could you expand on that a little bit more?

Sue: Okay. In the world where there's too much information percolating around, there's a lot of information out there that's based on opinion, and then there's a lot of information that's actually factual, but it's actually working out what's true and what's not, that's the tricky thing. When people are presented with too much information, they actually can't make decisions and so they stall. A lot of people talk about competitors being their direct competitor or other indirect competitors, but indecision is a competitor as well. If we're not careful, we can overwhelm our customers with too much information and just add to this dilemma of them just sort of freezing out, if you like, and not being able to make any decision at all.

John: What sort things do we sometimes do that does add to that dilemma, to cause non-decision?

Sue: Firstly, I think we give too much information. I don't think we simplify our messages in customer-centric ways, to make it easy for people to get their head around the concept or the construct or the context of the situation; we just send loads and loads and loads of information. I don't know about you, but I haven't got time to read through all of that, and I just want someone to give me pithy, to-the-point information that's relevant to me, and help me feel safe actually in being able to make a decision.

John: And you really don't need to know everything. When you buy a car, you don't have to know everything about the car; you need to know the essentials. "Is this going to serve me properly? Is it in the price bracket I want?" and so on, make a decision. And if you get this car salesman trying to tell you every feature, function, benefit and how it's going to affect your life... I haven't got time.

Sue: No. And the other issue that we have as well is that besides too much technical information that's available out there we can get overwhelmed with, there's a lot of fiction, there's a lot of lies, there's a lot of spin, there's a lot of crap I'm sorry to say out there, and customers are anxious about that and they don't know... If they're frightened, they'll actually just sort of freeze, if you like, or run away from it.

John: Right.

Sue: They're not going to engage with it because it's overwhelming and their brains are kind of shutting down. There's a concept called the paradox of choice, where in fact when there's too much choice our brains shut down and we just can't make a decision. It was funny, I was listening to the radio the other day, and someone said they had put six items that people could choose, they had one group there, and then they had 24 items from a shop or some concept they were looking at, and they found that people who only had six to choose from bought much more than the people who had 24 to choose from.

John: Yes, I've seen that sort of research done too, and I think it's a very, very valid point. The other thing that crosses my mind is in organisations there's much more of a consensus approach to buying these days than there used to be, where the boss would make the decision and everybody abides to the boss; now the boss wants to make sure everybody's bought in, and that can lead to indecision. Have you got any comments on how we as salespeople can help an organisation make that decision?

Sue: Yes, that's sort of decision by committee, which in a sense can prolong the decision-making process. Some of the figures out there are saying by upwards of 20% it can actually delay the sales cycle because you've got to deal with a range of stakeholders. I think as salespeople we have to be clever first of all to know what's motivating the different kinds of people that we might encounter in those committees, if I can call them that, and then I think what we have to be able to do is to go and keep it simple but look at the business case. Don't do a technical sell, come in and actually do a business sell that actually looks at the overarching business direction and goals and what you provide can align with strategy.

John: Overarching is a good part of that I think. And the other thing that a lot of proponents are talking about these days is finding that one person inside the organisation that can help facilitate a decision inside the organisation, rather than us trying to do it for them.

Sue: Well, if you can find a coach within your organisation, someone who's going to endorse and support you, that's fantastic, but you've always got to remember that everyone has their kind of cut-off point, and so you could only use and abuse that situation so that it's just purely for your services. I think if you're a kingmaker, for people like that you can help further their careers or help them look good for all the right reasons, not just garnishing it for just effect, but that you do understand and facilitate opportunity for people. Sometimes in these situations you're almost like a marriage broker too, and I think that the skillsets required for salespeople are pretty intense in these situations.

John: Yes. And of course some people talk about that person not just as a coach of us but as a mobilizer internally too, and if you can find that person that can really help everybody make that consensus decision without the infighting that does occur, it can be very helpful.

Sue: And if you can get to the top, make sure that you also can get in front of the most senior people possible because they obviously have positional power, and if you can be a good lieutenant to them as well, that also helps position what it is you're taking to market favourably. But it's always got to be about them and how we help them succeed.

John: Okay. So, the bottom line on what you call the "Competitor Zero", the indecision that can happen in an organisation is you really do need to think about it, you need to think about the sorts of things that are stopping decisions to be made in organisations, some of the examples you've given, and what you need to do then to ensure that doesn't happen and keep it simple is one part of it, get the overarching strategy, the overarching business value proposition.

Sue: Absolutely, and then know how to have the various value propositions for each of the stakeholders, if it's a committee that you're dealing with, but it also has to be about the business and how well it's doing moving forward. You have to be a business person as much as you have to be a good salesperson to be able to combat competitor zero in a situation.

John: I like it, Sue - thank you very much for the advice! I think there'll be a lot of value for the audience out there.

Sue: My pleasure!


Past interviews with Sue Barrett:



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