Persuasive Selling Techniques Don't Always Work (& Why JOLT Does)

persuasive selling techniques

Customer indecision is an issue that affects many sellers. Sellers lose up to 60% of deals today to customers who express intent to buy but ultimately do not. Harvard Business Review also reports that sellers who rely on run-​of-​the-​mill techniques to sway indecision don’t have much impact. Why? They aren’t addressing the underlying issue, instead relying on traditional persuasive selling techniques that are ineffective.

In their article, Matthew Dixon and Ted McKenna discuss indecision's impact and how sellers approach it from the wrong angle. Too often, a rep believes a prospect isn’t committing due status quo. “For decades, salespeople have been taught that there is only one possible reason for this outcome: that they have failed to defeat the customer’s status quo,” they explain. “While preference for the status quo is a significant obstacle that every salesperson must overcome if they wish to sell anything, there is a second, more menacing and difficult to defeat, obstacle salespeople must contend with: the customer’s own inability to make a decision.”

Phil M. Jones, Manage Smarter guest and author, agrees that indecision can be a seller's “enemy.” In his Manage Smarter episode, he points out that a buyer’s inability to decide can become “a point of friction…creating huge inefficiencies.”

Sellers need to actively target this indecision, but not in a typical way.

JOLT: The persuasive sales technique that beats indecision

They recommend using the JOLT method. This involves four steps, the first of which is judging the level of customer indecision. 

This first step is vital because indecision can be difficult to detect. “While customers are comfortable articulating their preference for the status quo, the same cannot be said of indecision. Because it is driven by deeply personal fears, indecision is not something that customers openly discuss with salespeople.” They also found that indecision is very prevalent. “87% of sales opportunities contain either moderate or high levels of customer indecision.”

Research revealed that top sellers don’t just observe a buyer’s ability to buy, but also their ability to decide. This helps sellers adjust their close forecast or, perhaps, walk away from a deal that likely won’t ever happen. Effectively gauging the prospect’s ability to decide cuts down on inefficiency and determines how the rep proceeds.

Offer a resolution

Offering a resolution is a persuasive selling technique in itself. But sellers typically emphasize needs diagnosis at this stage rather than the optimal resolution. Instead of devoting complete attention to diagnosing needs, the authors suggest emphasizing making the best choice. “Where reps relied solely on diagnosis skills (and offered no recommendation), we saw win rates were well below average at only 14%,” they explain. “But, when they were able to combine diagnosis with a strong personal recommendation, win rates were 36%.”

A truly persuasive sales technique involves showing the buyer what they need to buy, and the JOLT method emphasizes quality over quantity. Be thoughtful and selective about resolutions you offer to avoid nurturing indecision. Your persuasiveness can lose strength if you overwhelm the buyers with choices, especially if the buyer already is feeling indecisive.

The final two steps bring it all together

The remaining “L” and “T” components of this persuasive sales technique can be found in Dixon and McKenna’s article. Their research shows that top sellers who embrace this method can break through indecision and close deals. As they explain, “The cost of indecision is massive to the average seller, team, and sales organization…It’s no overstatement to say that figuring out a way to overcome customer indecision — to close the gap between ‘I want’ and ‘I did’ — represents the single greatest opportunity to inflect growth for the average business.”

To further polish your skills of persuasion, check out helpful tips.

Photo by Bruce Mars

Jessica Helinski

Jessica Helinski

Jessica is a senior research analyst for SalesFuel focusing on selling to SMB decision-​makers. She also reports on sales and presentation tips for SalesFuel Today. Jessica is a graduate of Ohio University.