Often, I’ll find myself staring at my blog backlog, trying to figure out which posts I’m going to write tomorrow. For some reason, it’s always a tough decision at the end of the day.

Earlier that morning, I had no problem choosing which stories I wanted to write. But after a long day, the decision feels a lot more difficult.

This predicament is due to a psychological phenomenon called decision fatigue. It means not being able to decide on something -- simple or hard, it doesn’t matter -- because you’ve already fought an uphill battle all day and you’re out of mental energy. It’s why you buy junk food at the grocery store after a long day instead of fruit. Your ability to weigh the options and make a good decision in the aisle is gone, so you just go with your impulses -- yes, you do want that bag of cookies. Now.

But decision fatigue doesn’t just affect how we buy -- it also affects how sales reps sell. Reps often schedule calls with prospects for 5 or 6 p.m. local time because that’s when busy business leaders are available. However, when these prospects hop on the phone after a long day, they might not be able to critically think through and decide if this is the product or service for them.

So what is a rep supposed to do when decision fatigue strikes their buyers? The key is to understand the phenomenon, and then respond correctly.

Good news: We’re here to help. Here are the signs of decision fatigue in prospects, and how to beat it.

4 Signs of Decision Fatigue

When you notice a prospect is acting differently than usual on a late afternoon call, you’ll first need to determine whether they’re suffering from decision fatigue or whether their behavioral change can be attributed to something else (disinterest, genuine indecisiveness, etc.).  

Look for these signs to assess if you’re dealing with decision fatigue.

1) Decision avoidance

The first tip off is if the buyer can’t seem to make up their mind at all -- even on relatively insignificant decisions. For example, you might have kicked off the call by asking “How are you?” and found that they can’t decide if they are great, bad, or fine.

A few more indications of buyer decision avoidance:

  • Dodging questions by asking for new, detailed information
  • Pausing for several moments after every question
  • Expressing a desire to go back and review old conversations at length
  • Continuously asking you for your opinion on what they should do

2) Hurried thoughts

Is the prospect rushing you? Although your call is scheduled for an hour, are they talking and moving quickly, obviously trying to get through the meeting so they can go home?

Watch for these behavioral indications of hurried thoughts:

  • Hopping around in the presentation
  • Pushing you through important information to get to the end
  • Asking the same question multiple times

3) Raising new concerns

Salespeople should never blow past legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, buyers sometimes raise phony objections simply to put off making a decision.

Is your prospect suddenly worried about price or need when they seemed rock solid on these points before? An abundance of new concerns might signal that the prospect doesn’t want to make a decision at this time. If they ask for more information, they can end the conversation and revisit the issue later on.

4) Forgetting key information

We all forget things, but sudden amnesia of key information during a call should raise a red flag. If the prospect is unable to recall their business need, your name, or the last time you spoke, they might have hit their mental wall.

3 Tips to Beat Buyer Decision Fatigue

Unfortunately, behaviors that arise from decision fatigue can make a great prospect seem like a bad one.

Keeping the behavioral signs above in mind is the first step for reps to start noticing this problem. But what should you do once you’ve diagnosed your buyer with decision fatigue?

The following action steps can help.

1) Catch prospects in the morning.

If your prospect is too exhausted to think clearly during a late meeting, reschedule it for the next day, ideally between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. Not only will they be refreshed and their stores of mental energy restored, but science says they are likely to be more honest with you.

2) Focus on one thing at a time.

Decision fatigue can make information seem overwhelming. If you’re asking someone to stare at the analytics on their business unit or explain their strategy to you after a long day, respect that they might not be in the mood.

If you sense decision fatigue in your buyer, scale back your presentation to keep it simple and concise. Avoid throwing out too much information, and instead focus on key concepts. Hit a few singles, and don’t worry about the home run.

3) Know when to reschedule the meeting.

If you aren’t getting through to your prospect at all, end the call and reschedule it.

Some signs that it might be better to cut your losses include dismissive behavior, heaving sighs and overly lengthy pauses, or a difficulty remembering information you’ve already discussed.

Instead of souring the relationship by continuing a disastrous call, give the prospect a chance to relax. This will allow you to not only schedule more time with them, but it’ll also showcase your emotional intelligence.

Decision fatigue can be difficult to diagnose because a prospect might not know when they're experiencing it. Unlike physical fatigue, people don’t always feel when their brain is low on energy, and so it’s not something a sales rep can ask about directly.

It’s up to the rep to determine whether or not their buyer has enough energy to make a decision. By learning to recognize the signs and taking the steps to counteract decision fatigue, reps can ensure they’re getting the best of their prospect each time they speak.

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Originally published Dec 9, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

How People Make Decisions