When Clients Won't Make Decisions

You meet with a prospect. You learn about them. You present a proposal. So far so good. They react positively, but want to think about it. The trail goes cold. What can you do to help a prospect focus when they are reluctant to commit?

Why Aren’t They Making a Decision?

There’s lots of reasons. To some, making a change involves taking a risk. To others, they’ve missed the boat if the stock market has risen or they feel they are throwing their money away if the market is declining. Maybe your idea is great from your point of view, but they don’t understand a word of it. In some cases, they actually have the money, but it’s tied up right now. There are lots of reasons.

What Not to Do

In the “Conan the Barbarian” school of prospecting, there’s a winner and a loser in each encounter. Someone has money. Something happens. They no longer have money. If you are addressing their objections head on and tossing them aside, it can appear that you are going in for the kill, rather than sincerely trying to help this person. You are in the business of helping.

Five Approaches to Helping Clients Make Decisions

You want to find common ground and sit on the same side of the table. Here are a few ways to approach the situation.

1. I need a sign.

When the market isn’t doing well, people think it will continue to decline or bottom out and stay there like a damaged submarine. It isn’t coming back to the surface anytime soon. Let’s assume we consider the stock market as a leading indicator of the US economy. Let’s also assume if the economy does well, the stock market does well.

Strategy: Find out which indicators they watch. It might be the DJIA. Interest rates. Unemployment. Corporate earnings. List several. Now, determine what each one needs to do. Does the DJIA need to cross a threshold and trade above that level? Do corporate earnings need to climb, make positive progress by a certain percentage? Fine. Get a criteria for each. How many of these things need to happen before they will feel the market and the economy are headed in the right direction? 3 out of 4? 4 out of 6? Keep in touch periodically and update them on their criteria. You respected their criteria. They may see the sign they are looking for.

2. No decision is a decision.

“Thanks, but I’m not ready to make a decision right now. I’ll just keep things as they are.” They assume taking your advice constitutes making a decision, sitting tight does not. Wrong. They are making a decision because they are saying the current allocation of their money and investments is the right plan for moving forward. However, they don’t get that. It often happens when they feel their current investments are doing just fine. As a Bucks County financial advisor explained: “The client may be ideally invested for the economic cycle we just left.”

Related: Why Do Clients Get So Angry at Me When They Lose Money?

3. Strategy.

Explain their current investments support a set of assumptions. For example, if the majority of their money is in long term bonds and a small amount is in stocks, they may think interest rates will stay low and the economy isn’t going to improve... If you suggest a smaller amount in shorter term bonds and a larger amount in stocks, you are expecting interest rates to rise and the economy will improve. Which set of assumptions do they believe? Can they explain their reasons for sticking with the status quo? You’ve shown them they are making a decision by sitting tight.

4. Dollar cost averaging.

They might be hesitant to make a move, but they don’t want to be left behind either. Perhaps you can reach a compromise by investing a small amount now, with the idea of steadily adding on a monthly basis going forward.

Strategy: There’s a dollar amount somewhere that meets two criteria: If the investments work out, they will be making enough money to make the change worthwhile. If they don’t work out, the majority of their money has been held back. As they see things moving in the right direction (hopefully) they should come around to your way of thinking.

5. Identify a need, then suggest a solution.

Many Americans are unprepared for retirement. Others might have college savings plans in place, but they are underfunded. You meet with a prospect, learn about them, prepare a financial plan and follow with your proposals. The financial plan identified problems. The prospect might choose to not take any action, but the problem isn’t going away. If you get a termite inspection and the report says you have termites, you might choose to take no action, but the termite problem is still there.

Strategy: A cornerstone of sales is: “People want solutions to problems.” You offer a couple of potential solutions with the costs fully explained. They might say no, figuring they will get a second opinion. It’s highly likely that process will reach the same conclusion you did, reinforcing the soundness of your advice. Your upfront explanation of costs should work in your favor. Remember, you can help them towards their goal, but you can’t get them there. You can increase their likelihood of success, but you can’t predict the future.

There are tactful ways to help a prospect make a decision without getting into a confrontational situation.