How many times have you been caught following along with your prospects’ time-consuming and soul-crushing decision-making process—proposing, presenting, hurrying up, waiting—only to then be surprised that you were not awarded their business?

Their process stinks because they haven’t really thought about it. They just follow their human instincts to control, withhold, defend and procrastinate. Oh, I forgot, there’s usually an ego trip somewhere in there, where they ask you to dance for them and give them a bunch of free stuff because, they tell you, that’s what all your competitors do.

Your prospects’ processes for engaging and making decisions are driven by a few fear-based actions:

Control–They keep the upper hand.

Price–They get quotes and proposals early.

Withhold–They don’t share important details.

Free–They happily accept your detailed analysis and ideas, provided gratis.

Delay–They make you hurry up, then wait.

This starts with the first conversation and continues to the moment they sign on the dotted line…or don’t. Your prospects have the money and the business you want, so they say jump and you ask how high. You are just excited to be considered and to have the opportunity to possibly win their business. You take their cues and follow along, kind of like my Labrador retriever.

Remember that your prospects most of the time don’t really know what they need, why they need it, or the cost or benefit of making a decision. That’s your job. To do this well, you need to disarm their fear and control. Let them know you also have a process and it’s OK for them to sometimes follow you and your next step. Consider mapping out a few guiding principles that inform key steps in your process, such as:

Ideal client–Be clear about what you’re looking for.

Ask questions–Get all the answers and information you need.

Slow down–Don’t let them pressure you to move too fast.

Beginning and end–Have a plan for the start and end of every conversation.

No is OK–Be willing to walk away at every step.

List your process in more detail so you’re able to answer questions about how you handle requests for quotes or sending more information. How about making sure you end a meeting with clear next steps? Do you have a list of key questions you must ask and uncover early in your exploratory conversations to more quickly qualify your prospect? What’s your process for ensuring you are talking to all of the key decision makers, and how do you handle it when you get pushback? Do you know when and how to respectfully walk away?

People will follow you if you know what you are doing and offer suggestions in a non-threatening, reasonable manner. Most people like to follow along or mutually collaborate with others once they feel that they can trust.

Horse trainer and author Monte Roberts, in his book Horse Sense for People, says, “Our relationship is a constantly moving tension between engagement and disengagement. Experiences either draw us in or push us away. They either create resistance, which results in fighting or fleeing, or they create commitment and collaboration.”

You might say, “That’s great, but my competition is kissing the prospect’s butt and jumping through hoops and doing what they want, and if I don’t do the same then I could be out of the running.” Maybe. Or maybe you will stand out as refreshingly different from the rest of your competition that’s doing the same old dog and pony show.

As silly as it might sound, people need to know you’re not going to hurt them or manipulate them into making a decision that will be bad for them. If your intent is to facilitate a conversation and a sales process that gives your clients the best chance of doing what’s best for them, then you owe it to them to take the lead by making specific suggestions. You can negotiate from a position of strength, but to do this you have to have the courage to:

  • Risk the possibility that someone might get annoyed with you
  • Tolerate a moment of awkward silence
  • Consider respectfully walking away and admitting you’re not a good fit for each other.

You are combatting their process with yours. The difference is you can be doing it with such stealth-like elegance that they don’t even know what’s happening. It’s not manipulating. It’s just playing a different game that takes a high level of awareness and discipline coupled with the highest intent to see if you can be a good fit.

People sometimes like to be led by those they respect and view as competent and safe. You can get all you want from a new business relationship as long as you become the master of understanding the dynamics of your prospects’ process and consistently engage your own process with quiet confidence. You owe it to your prospects, and you owe it to yourself. The old way is broken. Let’s fix it one conversation at a time. I’m just sayin’.