It sometimes happens to every sales professional. Every so often, buyers change direction in surprising and unforeseen ways.

For example, after engaging with a salesperson, collaborating to find an optimal solution, and receiving a summary proposal, buyers suddenly demand a whole new set of requirements. Or they introduce another group of people into the evaluation process. Or they inexplicably postpone the final decision, after a lengthy and exhaustive evaluation. The list of potential surprise actions that buyers can take is endless, much to the chagrin of even the most experienced sales professional.

Why do buyers sometimes act in surprising and unpredictable ways, and what can sales professionals do about it?

Buyers aren’t crazy

Usually, sellers who find themselves surprised by unforeseen buyer actions have only themselves to blame. Too many sellers engage with buyers as they have been taught to do, or as they have learned from past success: in a rote, routine, and invariably consistent fashion – these sellers treat all sales opportunities the same way, every time. This may sound like a good thing to do, but it can easily lead to a lack of alignment with individual buyers’ preferences, resulting in decisions that make perfect sense to the buyer, but come as a complete surprise to the seller.

Buyers are not crazy. They do not make purchase decisions randomly. Buyers generally follow a logical process to determine their needs, evaluate alternatives, weigh potential risks, and make a final decision.

Before the age of the Internet, sellers typically engaged with buyers early in their evaluation process, because buyers needed sellers to provide the information required to make a good decision. Today, however, buyers can get much of the information they need by themselves, before they ever approach potential solution providers. As a result, buyers can now engage sellers at any stage of their decision process – from very early when buyer needs are undefined or latent, to very late when the buyer already has a clear idea of what solution they intend to buy.

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