One holdover from the linear sales process proposed by the legacy approaches to sales is a tendency to put our own agenda before the client's agenda. This can make your prospective client feel as if they have no control, no influence, and that selling is something being done to them, not for them and with them. The more out of control they feel, the more they will disengage, especially if they are asked to decide before they are ready or able to move forward.

To avoid this mistake, you must give your client a sense of autonomy that allows them to explore change without the fear of being rushed to a decision. The faster you try to go, the more certain you will leave your prospective client behind—and the more likely they’ll stop taking your calls in favor of a competitor willing to win their business slowly. Here are some ways to instill that sense of control and autonomy.

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Why Clients Need Time and Autonomy in a Complex Sale

When your client's decision is important to them and it’s one they are rarely required to make, they generally need more time and a greater sense of autonomy. They need time to understand how best to decide, and they also need the certainty that their decision will produce the results they need. Underestimating the difficulty of making a significant decision in a complex environment causes many salespeople to plow forward towards a "close" before their prospective client can agree to the change initiative.

Some sales organizations likewise focus on velocity, the speed at which they win deals. But they often do so to their detriment. Winning a deal that takes more time than you would prefer is better than losing a deal because your prospective client felt pressured or rushed into a less-informed decision. Your clients may be ignorant about parts of their decision-making context, but they’re not stupid. Privileging velocity over value will create an experience that causes your prospective client to engage another salesperson from a different sales organization—one who will help them through the decision at their own pace, giving them the autonomy to help shape the agenda and the sales conversation.

Don’t Steal Your Client's Autonomy

One way we steal a client's autonomy is by not recognizing where they are in their buyer's journey or what they need from us and the sales conversation. Often, we even push forward with our agenda without recognizing that the decision-maker or stakeholders need something from us before they can move forward with us. The polite decision-makers may go along with your agenda, allowing you to lead them through the sales conversation, but still not buy from you because the sales conversation didn't give them what they need to initiate change. Others will ghost you, deleting your desperate emails, avoiding your calls, and not even liking any of your Instagram posts.

Every prospective client makes the decision to continue or disengage sooner than you think. When the sales conversation stifles them and their needs, it's often because the salesperson is pushing their own process without regard for their client.

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Giving Your Client Back Their Autonomy

There is a powerful strategy can help improve your ability to serve your prospective client, create massive value for them, create new opportunities, and win more than your fair share of big, complex sales. That strategy starts with sharing what your client can expect from your sales conversation. Let's say your clients need four conversations to be able to decide. Sketching out what that process looks like and what value you will create in each meeting provides them with some idea of what to expect.

That’s a decent start, but another strategy provides both information and autonomy. Rather than treating those four meetings as linear checkpoints on your way to the inevitable sale, tell your client that they will not be prepared to decide before the end of the fourth meeting, and then only if they are confident that everything is right. There is little risk with this approach, as I need not remind you that they already have the power to say "yes" or "no" to any commitment you might ask them to make. But by promising not to ask them for a commitment too early, you prevent them from feeling as if you are pushing for a win. More to the point, you free them to engage in the conversations that let you help them decide in a complex, often baffling environment.

Client Autonomy and Control

Providing a facilitated, needs-based buyer's journey addresses the need to move the conversation forward without having to follow a linear, self-oriented sales process that overlooks what a decision-maker or stakeholder needs to move forward. The best way to pursue your own outcomes is to ensure that your prospective client is engaged with you.

Maybe you have checked the boxes on everything your linear sales process requires, but without your client checking the boxes they need to move forward in the conversation. You may be ready to provide a proposal and pricing, for instance, but your partner across the table still has concerns or unmet needs. Pushing through with the proposal is likely to make them dig in even more, if not actually run for the proverbial hills.

The best sales conversations are more collaborative and nonlinear than is dreamt of in your legacy sales manual. They move forward, only to go back over ground you’ve already covered. Some conversations are faster, and some take more time. By giving your client their autonomy, you make it easier for them to collaborate—to explore change without an automatic future obligation. You can feel like you are losing the control and the certainty you find in the linear sales process, but really there is nothing lost. Your client always had the autonomy to leave the conversation whenever they believe that it’s no longer valuable to them. Don’t give them an excuse to exercise it.

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Post by Anthony Iannarino on December 19, 2021
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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