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Sales Techniques: Determining If Customers Are Ready, Willing and Able

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


For successful sales, customers must be ready, willing, and able—yes, all three! But sometimes, it's tough for salespeople to determine if a customer qualifies on all three levels. Customers may not be entirely upfront with their ability to complete a sale. Even asking them outright may not elicit the answers needed.

Let's look at each qualification and what it means in the sales process.

Ready Customers

Customers who are ready to buy have gone through the mental process of determining if a particular product or service is right for them; they recognize and want the benefits offered. They may also be "sold" on a particular seller to buy from. Essentially, the needs and wants aspects of a desired purchase are satisfied.

People who are seeking solutions will often contact a business either for more information or to actually start the sales process. They've self-qualified themselves as ready potential buyers. To facilitate these contacts in today's Internet-centric world, businesses need to pay attention to inbound marketing and SEO keyword strategies.

It sounds like the deal is just about done, right? Nope, not yet. All of us want many different things, even those that are unattainable or inappropriate for us at any given time.

That's where "willing" and "able" come into the picture.

Willing Customers

Customers who are willing have not only realized their need for a particular product or service but are willing to fork over cash (or credit card!) to complete the purchase.

Ironically, even though some customers may be desperate to solve their problems and needs, the thought of parting with their resources is so unsettling that they don't buy. Unwilling customers may be afraid or embarrassed to buy what could make their life or business better. This could be a situational problem related to the actual purchase or could be an instinctual response for some personality types.

Sometimes unwillingness is exhibited by hiding behind a go-between contact. Though this does happen on the consumer level ("I'll have to ask my wife/husband/dog/cat."), finding real decision-makers is a common problem with business sales. What happens is that the information-gathering process for a purchase can be delegated to a staffer that is introduced to the salesperson as the contact for the company.

Then when the buying decision time comes up, the salesperson can be incessantly put off or given "I'm just waiting for my manager" responses. On either the consumer or commercial level, hiding behind "contacts" can signal that the actual decisionmaker is unwilling (maybe unready or unable to buy, too) but is interested at some level.

If a customer is ready and willing to buy, they won't usually hide behind other contacts.

If a customer is ready and willing to buy, they won't usually hide behind other contacts.

Able Customers

Determining a customer's ability to buy can be one of the most difficult things a salesperson does, though it seems so obvious.

As with willingness, customers may not want to reveal that they are not financially able to make a desired purchase that they are ready and willing to make. So they go through the motions of the sales process and then are hesitant to actually close the deal.

In a related way, customers may also be unable to purchase because they do not have the qualifications to buy. For example, to purchase goods wholesale for retail resale, a retailer may need to be set up with a sales tax number in their state. Until that happens, they will usually not be able to purchase from wholesalers, or wholesalers will charge them higher prices and sales tax.

The good news is that unable customers may become able at some point in the future. Depending on the nature of the purchase, the sale could also be enabled through financing or special sales promotions. However, if the purchase is a continuing or frequent one, offering discounts or other sales incentives can become an expectation for future buys. So carefully evaluate the potential negative impact of offering discounts and other promotions.

When "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" for Sales

Of course, those in sales want customers who are all three: ready, willing, and able. But more likely, salespeople will encounter those who are qualified in two out of the three qualifications. But as the classic Meatloaf song says, "Two out of three ain't bad." Let's see how that plays itself out in the sales process:

  • Ready, Willing, but Not Able. Just like in the song, these customers are crooning, "I want you. I need you..." They both want and need what's being offered. They just can't commit because they don't have the finances or ability to purchase (such as not having the proper qualifications or authority to buy). As discussed earlier, if the inability is due to financial reasons, throwing a financing or other sales promotion into the mix might enable them to make the deal. But proceed with caution; make sure that the deal is good for both the customer AND the seller. Occasionally keeping in touch until these folks resolve their financial, legal, or other issues can keep the lead alive. This is where more cost-effective marketing and advertising programs such as email marketing can help.
  • Ready, Able, but Not Willing. They've got the cash and the authority to buy. They've got the need and know they need it. But parting with the cash? Not happening. Something else is keeping these customers from closing the deal. This can be one of the most difficult selling scenarios since the reasons can run the psychological gamut. They could be scared, embarrassed, or distracted—and it can be tricky business to figure out what's the problem. Plus, their reasons may have absolutely nothing to do with the selling company or salesperson. It's an internal matter for them. Tread carefully, but occasionally keep in touch (translation: don't bug them too much, or you'll turn your follow-up into fouling up!). One day their mind or emotions may clear, and they'll be ready to buy.
  • Willing, Able, but Not Ready. Unready prospects do not yet have a need for a seller's wares or services, even though they may have positive regard for what's being offered, the company or the salesperson selling it and may even have the cash to pull the sales trigger. This is a common scenario in networking groups or even on social media. These future prospects know, like and trust the vendor and their offerings but just don't have the need at the moment—or maybe never will. If these market segment pools really are ideal customer prospects, keeping the company in top-of-mind awareness is essential for when that need arises.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2015:

Thanks, Bobby! I think we've all run into customers who are definitely not ready, willing and able. Glad you could relate. Appreciate the kind comments and sharing. Cheers!

Robert Morgan on August 06, 2015:

Hi, Hedi, another really helpful hub. I like your writing and your subjects. Just shared this with my wife. Blessings, Bobby.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2014:

Epbooks/Elizabeth, I have a lot more online sales these days, too! And you're right, many times (especially with books), they happen without us even being aware until the sales reports or royalties come in. In those instances, the three factors happen in the background before they click the Buy Now or Add to Cart button. But in my more complex and larger online sales, such as on my ecommerce sites, some of these factors are still very obvious. Thanks for taking a moment to stop by and add that angle to the conversation! Have a wonderful week!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on May 19, 2014:

You definitely give some good advice here, Heidi. It's been a while since I have been in sales, but these tips would have been very helpful. Now, I do have book sales, but most of the time it's online without any of my intervention! :)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2014:

Well, FlourishAnyway, seems we're both old enough to appreciate and remember who Meatloaf is. :) But it's a perfect song that was running through my head while I was writing it. Thanks for reading & have a beautiful week ahead!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 19, 2014:

I love that you included Meatloaf here with your good advice. How appropriate!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 18, 2014:

So true, billybuc! If only it was as simple as doing an amazing sales presentation and--tah! dah!--customers buy. There's so much going on behind the scenes that it's amazing anything gets sold. ;) Thanks for stopping by today! It's been beautiful this weekend (finally!) in Chicago... and the Blackhawks just won Game 1 against the LA Kings. Yep, it's a great weekend. Have a beautiful week ahead!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 18, 2014:

Ah, the psychology of sales. It is a tangled web we find ourselves in from time to time, isn't it? Great points in this little treasure chest of information. Your "truths" apply to writers as well as those business people with store fronts or travelling the highways in search of sales.

I hope you are enjoying your weekend, Heidi!