Michael O'Grady
Michael O’Grady

Have you ever been out to dinner with a group of people and, when it comes time to order, there is that one person completely overwhelmed by this decision? “Come back to me after everyone else orders,” he’ll say. When the waiter comes back, he still needs coaching from the group.

In the book People Smart in Business by Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O’Connor, the way people make buying decisions is explored. You would most likely categorize this indecisive and overwhelmed dinner guest as a cautious thinker. This is a person who will prolong and agonize over a buying decision, especially if there is a significant dollar amount at stake.

After being in the residential HVAC replacement business for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen my share of cautious thinkers. When the cautious thinker is in research mode (getting estimates), it can be painstaking for a sales person. To win this person’s business, you need to be patient and understand the cautious thinker’s process. I have success selling to cautious thinkers and maintain my 50 percent closing rate. I also know when it’s time to walk away (for my own well being and sanity).

One of the most challenging situations for a cautious thinker is when they are forced to make a decision prior to completing their psychological process. I encountered one of these situations when I recently met one of my service technicians out at a house. The customer had his 50-year-old hot water gas boiler shut down by the gas company for an unsafe condition. As I arrived, my service technician was explaining for the fifth time that the heating system had to be replaced. The customer wanted the service technician to try to clean the 50-year-old leaking gas boiler and then turn the gas back on.

Empathizing and Taking Charge

To most people that sounds like a ridiculous and unsafe request. To the customer, the epitome of a cautious thinker, his request was quite natural. It was 10°F outside and the temperature in the house was down to 45° and dropping. The customer was beside himself because he was unable to do his research, get his six estimates, and make the buying decision at his own pace.

After empathizing with the customer, I needed to take charge quickly. I re-explained the safety issues we were facing: carbon monoxide poisoning, freezing cold temperatures, and the potential of pipes that will burst.

I was able to calm the customer with my credibility book. This is a book full of testimonial letters, references, copies of my certificate of insurance, and some notable organizations with which we were members. The last piece of the puzzle was a copy of my competitor’s estimates to prove our prices were competitive. In the end, I needed to have a take charge attitude with the customer for his own good.

I said to the customer, “I need your authorization right at the X and I’ll get this heating system in for you today.” To ease the burden we were able to offer him a one-year interest-free payment plan. If I didn’t take control of the situation, the customer could have been a victim of his own cautious thinker personality type. This could have cost him and his family time, misery, and more money in the long run.

Michael O’Grady’s book, Selling at the Kitchen Table: A Contractor’s Guide to Closing the Deal, is available at www.SellingattheKitchenTable.com.

Publication date: 01/09/2012