How Do I Know When a Customer Has Decided to Buy?


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I love technology, but I can still be old-fashioned when working with clients. How? Meeting with clients, I like to put pen to paper and illustrate what I am saying with a handcrafted visual aid. My analog PowerPoint serves two purposes:

  1. These handmade creations will hang on a museum wall with a plaque because of the tremendous amount of raw talent exposed (ahem).
  2. I can see when a client is engaged and buying into my pitch, usually because they pick up a pen and start drawing, too.

I also encourage my client’s participation in the exercise by positioning the pen towards their side of the table. The drawing prompts their thought process regarding our topic of discussion.

I bring up my mad scribbling habit because our podcast listener, Jason Bradley, wrote in with a pickle asking us, “how do I decode when a customer has mentally decided to buy?” So I also wanted to share my answer here with you.

However, there are also physical and verbal tells that people give out. For example, some consultants say that during a sales call, when the prospect switches from talking about what you do to what they do, it indicates that they are making a mental switch to the purchasing process.

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Also, when customers start asking you much more detailed questions, they are turning a corner in the decision-making process.

Some examples are:

  • How would we implement that?
  • When would you expect delivery?
  • What are the payment terms going to be?
  • Who’s going to do this now?
  • How would we work this and that together?

These questions indicate a mental choice to begin grappling with the unknowns in a new environment. So, they have recognized that they’ve jumped into the buying zone, but other people in the organization have yet to, and they need to sell it internally.

The Rubicon Model

The Rubicon is a river in Italy. Under the Roman Republic’s laws, they had all these mighty generals in various parts of the Roman Empire. So, if you were one of these generals, you could come to Rome whenever you needed to, but the rule was your army had to stay north of the Rubicon. So, if you brought your army with you, you were committing treason and could be put to death.

When Julius Caesar went to seize control of the Roman Republic and turn it into an empire, he crossed the Rubicon. That was the point of no return. That was treason, and he and his army were fully committed to war.

The Rubicon model is a general-purpose psychological concept. Psychology names this the Rubicon model because if you decide and commit, it’s like crossing the Rubicon. In this mindset switch, our perspective changes from deliberative to implementive.

Therefore, once your customers ask about tactical stuff, like the questions I listed earlier, it represents a mindset about implementation. They had crossed the Rubicon already.

Customers can change their minds. Most decisions can be undone and re-evaluated. However, if they do, they will abandon the implementing mindset and reactivate the deliberative mindset.

Defending Your Position

When people are in a deliberative mindset before they’ve decided, they’re much more open-minded. After deciding, people get defensive about their decisions. We’re committed, and those mental gears switch over. We don’t want to hear any more options or about what’s best for different scenarios. Instead, we want to feel confident about our decision. Anything representing a caveat or a counterpoint can be viewed as a threat.

An implementation mindset makes you much more prone to Confirmation Bias. A study asked people who were still considering an option and those who had decided on one to list the pros and cons of the options. Those in the deliberation phase listed equal numbers of pros and cons. People who chose listed five times as many pros as cons. So, to bring this back to Jason’s Pickle, he could ask the customer to record their pros and cons about moving forward to see if they have crossed the Rubicon.

Another difference is the type of information they need. For example, people still deciding want desirability information, meaning what makes that option work or not. However, those who have opted to buy want to know about the feasibility or how to make it happen. In other words, people in a deliberative mode want abstract information. However, once they have switched mode, they want specifics.

So, if you get somebody saying, “All right, well, what’s the next step?” that’s a pretty good sign that they’ve switched from deliberation to implementation. However, people in an implementation mindset are prone to feeling invulnerable. They have decided, so they are no longer worried about risk. They can handle it. Psychologically, we feel pressure to believe we made the right decision, so we don’t want to feel defensive about it.

Some Other Signs of Moving Into Implementation Mode

Involving more people is another excellent sign of buying. One of the things I have noticed in my work with clients is the change in contacts.

When clients have decided to move forward with the project, they invite more people to our calls. So, for example, you might start meeting subordinates of your initial contact, people in charge of the implementation. Or someone in finance, included because they will help them figure out how to pay for it.

Sometimes a sign of buying is looking for information to sell a project internally. For example, the contact you are working with is convinced, but now they want information with a different benefit that they can use to do the convincing.

Sometimes the person has an even better understanding of the product than you think, which is another sign of implementation. For example, in my experience buying something like a TV, I often know more about the product than the big box electronics store salesperson. That’s because I have decided I want a TV, and now it’s a matter of choosing one, which is implementation behavior.

From a digital perspective, the implementation behavior might be going deeper into detail. For example, you might see a customer dive deeper from the benefits statements on the most forward-facing pages into deliveries or warranty information that you have available elsewhere and deeper on the site. It could also be the number of site visits. If they keep returning to your site, that could be buying behavior.

Getting Through Death Valley

Death Valley is a desert in eastern California in the U.S. During summer, it is the hottest place on earth. Its name comes from pioneers who ostensibly thought this stretch of travel would be their death of them. For some, it was.

We had a sales training about getting through Death Valley in my corporate days. In this context, Death Valley refers to the time between delivering a proposal to an organization and waiting for its answer. Many salespeople think this stretch of silence from a potential customer will be the death of them. For some, it was.

One of the coping mechanisms taught in training was to maintain contact.

Have a plan for connecting with your customer about something other than the proposal. It could be about something unrelated to the deal, like the weekend’s football game (American or British). It could be asking their opinion on something work-related. The idea here is that you are staying in contact and keeping your name in the person’s mind while they decide.

So, How Do We Know A Customer Has Decided to Buy?

To summarize, a customer’s behavior transition will help you determine when they are ready to buy. Look for changes in mindset, perspective, and the types of questions they ask. For example, do they use different language to discuss the product or ask detail-oriented questions? Are they diving deeper into the details online beyond the benefit statements on the home page? All of these changes can indicate a decision—and hopefully one in your favor.

We can help improve your Customer Experience and Marketing and gain growth. Beyond Philosophy has been recognized by the Financial Times as the leading management consultancy for four years.  Why not talk with Colin and his team about how we can help you gain growth. Click here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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