This education decade has been a perfect storm of new standards, moving accountability targets, disruptive technology opportunities and the nerve-wracking expectation that it will all lead to miraculous improvement. Not an easy time to lead a school or district. Not an easy time to get a buyer to make a decision. When unknowns and unfamiliar territory lead to the inability to act we call it purchase paralysis.   It can be overcome, and here’s how.

Focus on big picture goals

Before you start pitching your ideas, you must find out if the makings of purchase paralysis are present. If your initial need questions reveal “not sure” or “wait and see” responses, turn the focus toward local priorities, because admins are usually clear on those. Keeping it local will draw lines between the things they control and the things they don’t.

“What are the highest district priorities for your students?”

“Tell me about the non-negotiables in your curriculum plan.”

“What learning outcomes have you made the biggest strides in over the past few years? Do you expect anything to change about how you address those in light of [new academic standards, teaching standards, state test]?”

After hearing their responses to the above, recap: “To make sure I understand, these [list] are the core goals you are working toward regardless of any policy shifts at the state or federal level?” Your goal is to repeat their own convictions that teaching and learning march on regardless of the white noise created by policy-makers.

Now you are both talking about solid goals that are NOT in flux, and can draw connections between these goals and how your product supports them.

Employ visual tools to simplify complex decisions

You can help simplify the decision-making process with visuals. Ask your marketing team for graphic organizers to diagram choices on the road to implementation. Check out consumer websites for how they help shoppers “choose the model right for you.” Here’s one from Microsoft and another from Runner’s World. After you walk through the process, you feel far more confident in your decision, even if they don’t factor in all criteria.

Hand your prospects a comparison chart or evaluation rubric that juxtaposes your solution with others. These serve to not only highlight product features, they help buyers concentrate on the right criteria. Be sure yours includes criteria that are beneficial in a shifting landscape—things like adaptability, customer responsiveness, in-house developers, device/platform agnosticism.

Oversimplification serves to reduce decision-making criteria. Maybe there’s pop science wisdom you can adopt to reduce the issues in play.  I love this Venn diagram methodology for choosing the right college. Or if your client is really in the weeds, this easy to sketch graphic demonstrates the worst outcome (unhappy face) appears only in the “don’t act” line in almost any scenario. If you act, that outcome can’t occur:  Decision diagram

If you don’t have the resources to create collateral of your own, look around for a buyer’s guide to solutions in your category, or articles from experts that address how to choose.

Safety in numbers

It’s scientific fact that we are more satisfied with our purchase decisions when we follow group behavior. If one thing is going to move an admin, it will be knowing others have paved the way.

  • Keep saying “districts like yours” or “people like you” in your presentation, as in “Districts like yours are implementing our solution in this way…”  This tactic is proven to increase purchase decisions 3x when used by customer service agents.  (Thanks Freakonomics.)
  • Share case studies and client quotes. If you are so new as to not have case studies, create “Day in the Life” case studies which walk through the day of various types of end users using your solution.
  • Host a webinar in which a client specifically discusses how they arrived at the decision to buy your solution. People respond to empathy. “I’ve been where you are, wondering how to get started with a seemingly monumental shift…”
  • If you can, lean on your brand name to imply a safe decision. If your brand is less established, coattail either a business model, technology, or familiar foundational research. “Our solution was built on the exact same recommendation principle that powers Amazon.”

Introduce a deadline

It’s always important to introduce the concept of a deadline for next steps and purchase decisions when selling. For one thing, if the prospect brushes off a real date, you know they are not convinced yet. In the case of purchase paralysis, you are helping them see the light that delaying their action has consequences.

“When should [this need] be addressed?” You can’t get more direct than that.

“If [this need] isn’t addressed for the current semester, will you do anything differently to up that ground next semester?” Reminds the prospect they are digging a hole if they don’t get moving.

“What expectations do your feeder schools have about the readiness of elementary and middle school students for next fall?” Another way to say kicking the can up the road exacerbates a problem.

Whenever you can, confirm next steps and put dates to them.

Is this craziness going away?

Purchase paralysis isn’t new and it isn’t going anywhere. Things will settle down with standards, testing, and platforms, BUT additional paradigm shifts will replace those.  Think of all the emerging disruption coming from blended learning for example.  Learning to guide buyers through the complex choices they have to make in the absence of all the information is a skill worth mastering if you’re in B2E for the long haul.

Bottom line: Confidence is the antidote to paralysis. Stay upbeat, keep buyers focused on teaching and learning, provide expert recommendations, and you’ll give those buyers the confidence they need to get on track toward implementation.

2 thoughts on “How to Fix Purchase Paralysis

  1. Thanks Julie! This is quite a problem and has been for some time. I always tell my reps to keep doing all those things that they know will bring in sales, meetings, quotes, presentations etc, as purchase paralysis will eventually end and you always want to be in the forefront of their minds. Don’t give up!

    • Yes! On top of all these tactics, we should be like water over rocks–keep at it and you’ll eventually reshape things!

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