I was asked by a Fellow in the CHF Business Accelerator Program if I could shed some light on buying signals and behaviors–what they are and how to recognize them. I absolutely can, though it must be fairly brief. I will try to cull the necessary high points in the hopes anyone selling anything might come away with some actionable tips to up their close rate and their income.
Buying Signals vs. Buying Behaviors
For most purposes, buying behaviors and buying signals are the same, but you can distinguish between them. For instance, browsing at a shop might be a buying behavior; it’s looking through a lot of things for sale. Asking questions about a particular item might be a buying signal; it’s focused on a particular purchase. This applies to services, just the same. If someone is asking about the guarantee if you repair their driveway, that’s a buying signal.
Buying signals and buying behaviors tell you when someone is ready for the close–ready for you to ask for the sale. Alternately, they signal readiness to proceed further into the buying/sales process. To imagine this, you might need a little background on what a sales process looks like. Here’s a brief outline of two sales processes, for purposes of imagining the dialogue:
The Stages of Two Kinds of Sales
There are stages of a sale, and they differ depending on what kind of sales you’re doing. Most selling breaks down into two types, consultative and transactional. To understand how buying signals work, you want to imagine what you’re selling and how, and where you are in a sales conversation when the signal occurs. For this purpose, it doesn’t matter much whether it’s happening in person, by phone, over e-mail, etc.
If you’re selling consultatively (they’re coming to you, and they have a need):
- You greet and interact with someone. You find common ground on which to like each other. People buy from people they like.
- You peel back the layers of what they’re after–their ideal world or the problem they’re trying to solve or what they want. “Talk to me about…”
- You make a recommendation. “Based on what you’ve said, and what you’re trying to do, this is what I’d do or go with…”
- You ask for the business–ask for the sale. “Shall we do this?” “Do you want to get out of here?” etc.
If you’re selling transactionally (you’re going to them, and you need to get to the point):
- You qualify them (research or ask a few quick questions to see if they meet your most likely or desirable profile) and introduce yourself.
- You ask some pointed questions about their pain or needs. “I think you’re a growing concern that is trying to place highly professionalized talent, is that right?”
- You make your pitch. “This is what I’m looking to do.”
- You overcome objections. “I get that you’re all booked up. I think you got that way by keeping serious talent in your pipeline. What I’d like to do is…”
- You close the deal. “I’m available Wednesday at 3, Thursday at 4, or Friday at 11. Which of those works for you?”
Regardless of the type of selling, you’re looking to elicit buying signals. They’re your cue to move forward in the sales process.
The Most Common Buying Signals
Let’s start with a list. You really want to have a taxonomy of buying signals in your head, so you can start recognizing them in your experience. Here’s a big but simple list of buying signals:
- Asking for details about the product or service
- Asking about support or post-purchase (how would it be shipped, wrapped, how to minimize risk, etc)
- Asking about price (sometimes)
- Asking about payment method or terms of sale (always)
- Asking about timeline (“when would I get this?” or “when would this start?”)
- Asking you to repeat the details (“go over how you’d ship it again?”)
- Asking about next steps
- Relating the product or service back to you/your business (“how many of these have you done?”)
- A positive shift in body state after getting their questions answered (e.g. relaxing, getting excited, etc.)
- Repeating the benefits, making positive statements or comparisons, and expressing surprise (“Really? I like that, and I could see it on my office wall. Well, I will have this all my life, I guess.”)
- Nodding along, leaning in (You’re getting nonverbal yesses, as you go.) Move forward in the sales process.
- Weighing options (“I’m not sure if I want the green one or the tall one.”) Help them decide–do NOT leave them in indecision.
- Asking about fit (“Would this work, do you think, in a room with an 18’ high ceiling, and not much furniture?”)
- Mentioning someone else who bought from you (People buy socially–through referrals. “Another lawyer in my building got one of your pieces. Cheryl.” That’s a strong buying signal.)
When you encounter any of these, take them as cues to keep going. Whatever you do, don’t flop. This is the point where a lot of sellers go limp, quiet, and don’t assist with moving the process forward. Often, it’s because they’re scared or just don’t want to seem like they’re pressuring someone. In short, it’s about the seller, not the buyer. Flip the attitude and, when the buyer gives you a signal, go with it. Be them-centered.
The Buying Signal Most People Ignore
In our taxonomy, there’s a loose hierarchy. The second biggest buying signal (we’ll talk about the biggest momentarily) is… staying in the conversation. As long as they’re staying in, keep assuming the eventual yes. If they stop engaging, it doesn’t mean they’ve left. Until there’s a no, it’s yes. It’s amazing how many sellers abandon a conversation BEFORE the prospect has, leaving a potential “yes” on the table. Staying in the conversation is the prospect indicating they are still willing to be convinced and can be, with the right motivation (a benefit, an add-on offer, or just some more time in the conversation).
Don’t make the rookie mistake of cutting your price when they stay in but don’t say “yes” either. Add value– free wrapping and delivery–before you cut your price. And never offer a price cut without being asked and without a clear reason. If the item is damaged, ok. If I’m a referral from an important connection, maybe. If all they want is a discount to get a discount, briefly (one sentence) reaffirm the value they’re getting, and potentially add something (“I’d be willing to hang it for you.”).
Also, people will nudge your boundaries. They’ll ask if you’d take $2,000 when your price is $3,000, just to see if you have boundaries. If you don’t, then you don’t value the piece, so they’re going to decide not to value it either. I’d rather look a guy in the eye, grin, and say, “Surely, sir, you jest! But I do have a spare cat you can have for that price, if you’re looking for a deal.” Don’t make them feel bad or cheap or unsophisticated when they see if a Honda price can fetch a Tesla. Treat it as playful and then go back to the benefits. “It is one of my absolute favorites, though. I stare at it often. You see how it…”
The Buying Signal That Scares You Broke
The biggest and scariest buying signal is the prospect saying yes. It’s amazing how many sellers talk the customer out of the sale from nervousness once they’ve gotten a yes. Stop convincing, and stop adding details. If you get a “yes,” then take the yes, and get the money, now.
Another scary one, for a lot of sellers, is being asked about competition. An effective salesperson differs in one primary way from everyone else. He is relaxed when others are tense. When a prospect raises an objection, he knows it’s just part of the process. In his mind, there are steps, and he thinks “ah, that’s where you are.” He recognizes buying signals. He knows how he can add value, and when price is at stake. And he isn’t afraid of other sellers. He’s not afraid, because an effective seller *chooses* to view things in advantageous rather than disadvantageous ways. Staying in the conversation means you’re still open–it’s a buying signal. Asking for details means you’re coming closer–it’s a buying signal.
Asking about competition means “I want to be convinced that I’ll be glad I chose you, and NOT the other guy.” It means, in short, “I WANT to be convinced.” That’s a lovely thing to hear in translation.
“I might wait for the auction. My sister bought at the annual auction, and she has loved that piece for eight years.” Your answer, “It’s true, there are occasionally good deals there, but increasingly the work is getting snapped up before it hits the auction. Unfortunately, everyone is on to that now. I do some auctions, too, and my stuff goes really fast. Tell me, can you see yourself loving this piece for eight years?”
A Quick Look at Buying Behaviors
Lumping them together, here are some common buying behaviors:
- Lingering around a single product
- Looking around for someone to answer questions
- Holding something possessively
- Looking at their money, or doing math
- Asking another person’s opinion–seeking confirmation
Buying behaviors should prompt a seller to make initial contact. You’ll want to do it deftly, and it takes practice to become deft. If you’re new at selling, accept doing it awkwardly at first. Effective sellers become effective by getting lots of practice.
Not all buying behaviors are in-person, of course. Someone asking for your portfolio by email is certainly a buying behavior. Someone looking through an online market is possibly a buying behavior. Responding to a sales letter you’ve sent is likely a buying behavior, but it’s possibly even a buying signal. It’s saying, “let’s engage in a sales conversation”.
If you’re at an art event, you don’t want to maul anyone who lingers around one of your paintings. But you do want to introduce yourself as the artist, make yourself available, be friendly. If you’re wondering WHEN to introduce yourself, why do it over the wine and cheese? You’re not selling the wine and cheese. I’d much rather meet the artist when I’m looking at his art. And you’d much rather know if I’m positively disposed to it than if I really like cheddar.
That’s it. Thank you to artist Peter Scaturro for asking this question. And let me say, you should really be looking at his stuff. You can see it at PeterScaturro.com–pay special attention to his “Unknowing Series” and his incredible silk scarves. You can get one for you and one for an adoring relative to introduce them to your newfound creative discovery.
Is your close rate better? Be sure and give 10% of the next sale you make using this knowledge to the Clark Hulings Fund (see our Donate button). We’re building a bedrock economy of creative talent by teaching visual artists tangible, actionable entrepreneurial skills. We think we can live in a culture that is simultaneously prosperous and filled with beauty. Visual artists with business education are the key to that. I’m asking for the sale. If you want to join me in buying a chunk of the future of our society, click here to donate, or here to learn more.
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