”We were very impressed with the offers and are happy to go with you. But let’s keep in touch and see how the situation is this fall, in terms of cash flow and lockdown measures.”
I recently had this conversation with a client when following up on my quotes for an in-company training course on “writing winning quotes. The current situation puts bid scoring on edge. After all, how do you deal with all those clients who are freezing their budgets and passing on assignments? The short answer: that depends on how the customer reacts on a subconscious level.
The autopilot in control
As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, neuroscientific insights now indicate otherwise. We make our decisions 95% to 98% of the time unconsciously, on autopilotus. That in itself is fine. At the very least, we would get pretty tired if we had to consciously process all the incoming information. Try saying your phone number backwards. That is still by no means easy.
Economic downturn as saber-toothed tiger
The social and economic situation in which we now find ourselves is for our unconscious brain like a saber-toothed tiger lurking on us. Stressful, in other words. And whether it’s fronting offers, threatening layoffs or being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, our unconscious brain reacts the same way: on autopilot. These take roughly three forms:
- Freeze: rigidity and inaction.
- Fight: trying to avert danger by going on the (counter)attack.
- Flight: running away as fast as possible in the hope that this will eliminate the danger.
Winning bids = understanding customer reaction
Many companies are currently facing a saber-toothed tiger. Assignments are declining, layoffs are looming, perhaps even bankruptcy, and no one knows how long it will last or how bad it will get. This is relevant to realize if you want to win an offer. The client is presented with that offer at a stressful time. So be prepared for a freeze, fight or flight response.
Freeze: ‘We’ll postpone the assignment for a while’
This client cannot, may not, or dare not make decisions now regarding offers. Budgets are frozen even though it is rationally crystal clear that certain investments are better not postponed. This customer is probably not requesting new quotes anymore. The bids you had already written are still received positively in terms of content, but you don’t get agreement on them.
How to deal with the freeze customer?
Following up on the offer is important here. It’s understandable if you want to close the deal, but the customer’s unconscious brain can’t handle it. Be sure to stay in conversation with the customer about a small follow-up step. In sales terms, apply the “salami technique. Offer small slices that end up filling enough together as a whole meal. See what is the first slice you can serve the customer. Of course, this is not just something you want to sell, but a focused step toward the customer’s desired solution. In doing so, you build the relationship and increase the chances that when the budget thaws again, you will still get the job.
Fight: “Can we get a discount?
This client bravely takes on the saber-toothed tiger (Corona). The deployed weapon in the battle: asking for a discount. You get to hear things like: ”Very strong offers, we are happy to go into business with you. But we really have to pay every euro three times over. I assume that you are also having a hard time and need this job badly. Can’t we agree on a discount? Experienced sales professionals know that discounting is not smart for many reasons. One is that client subconsciously registers that you are (too) eager and thus possibly really needy for work. And that makes unattractive or implausible. This aside, it raises questions about the calculated margin when you discount so easily.
How to deal with this fight-client?
Ideally, you avoid asking the customer for a discount. You do this by presenting multiple options already in the conversation and then in your offer. In fact, customers are subconsciously more likely to choose if you give them something to choose from. So don’t dish them a “take it or leave it scenario,” but be creative. Break down the service or product offered into 3 options, increasing in severity. So in doing so, you also give the customer an option with a lower price.
Does the customer even start talking about discounts after receiving the offer? Then discuss which option he prefers and dress it down. So the customer gets a lower price, but also gets less in return. Subconsciously, people are very sensitive to loss and losing things. So chances are that the customer will not want to lose the points previously offered and will still agree.
Flight: ‘…’ – the stalking effect
‘We haven’t discussed the quote internally yet, can I call you back next week?’ Or: ‘It’s not convenient right now, pressured by Corona. I’ll call you back this week. Then you hear nothing more. This is the client in flight mode and he is using the crisis to flee. The tricky part is that you also have yet to hear a hard “no. So you don’t want to just “kill” this prospect and keep making attempts to make contact. Meanwhile, you begin to feel like a stalker and that threatens the equal relationship you do want to have in a collaborative relationship.
How to deal with this flight customer?
The challenge here is to limit the customer’s tendency to flee. You do this by building a few reassuring elements into the offer:
- Offer options just like the fight-client. This gives you something to choose from and the client sees that they don’t have to go for the biggest, immersive project right away.
- Use closure to direct the client to a (small) next step. Write down that you are going to call, suggest two dates/times and ask which one is most convenient for the client.
- Keep it low key. Make it clear that you are not calling for an immediate agreement on the offer, but to go over the response to the options offered.
Your own autopilot
This article was about customers’ unconscious, automatic response to offers in times of crisis. Offer writers themselves have just as much of a freeze, fight or flight response. Be aware of it and don’t get caught up in it. Try to place the customer’s unconscious reaction and then consciously choose your next step. This leads to a firmer, long-term , sustainable customer relationship .
About Saskia Kerkhof
Saskia is owner of Winning Quotations Writing and helps companies win more quotations by applying neuropsychology in quotation texts. She studied Applied Communication Studies at the University of Twente. She then completed a second master’s degree, cum laude, in Management Consultancy at the Rotterdam School of Management. As a consultant, trainer and outdoor doctoral student, she immerses herself in techniques for communicating persuasively and truly reaching the other person. Saskia also regularly appears as a guest lecturer, speaker and columnist on these topics.