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Deal or No Deal:
Minimize “Definite Maybes”

Unbeknownst to most salespeople is the idea that selling is all about getting prospects to make decisions, both small and large. Getting decisions that reach a conclusive “no” or “yes” and getting decisions that allow the prospects the freedom to decide “no,” without the fear of a salesperson’s full frontal counterattack. Therefore, selling isn’t as much about persuasion and convincing as it is about self-discovery.

What sets up most stalls delays isn’t salespeople’s inability to close, but rather engaging prematurely prospects who aren’t in a favorable position to make a change. Salespeople’s misdirected desire to sell and provide solutions set themselves up to be used and have their time wasted by chasing phantom prospects.

To facilitate minimizing stalls, salespeople should take on a non-selling posture. This posture allows salespeople to be objective, impartial and allows their prospects to sell themselves as to whether it is in their best interest to change or not, regardless of the salesperson’s personal agenda.

To understand why stalls are so widely tolerated and dealt with so poorly by salespeople, we must first understand the personal beliefs that salespeople unwittingly bring to their profession. These beliefs must be acknowledged and understood before salespeople can hope to change their behavior and improve their ability to deal with indecisive prospects.

  • Need For Approval

      Too many salespeople enter sales to be liked and to make friends. By having a high need for approval salespeople aren’t willing to ask the tough questions and call prospects on their stalling strategies. They avoid healthy confrontation because they put too much faith in the honesty of customers.

  • Buy Cycle

      If you take alot of time to buy you will be predisposed to taking alot of time to sell. Like attracts like. This protracted way of selling and buying will naturally attract prospects who will stall and delay. The travesty is salespeople who are like this will have an overly-developed sense of buyer empathy and will be vulnerable to long selling cycles and the corresponding frustrations that come with it. If you aren’t a decisive decision maker yourself, how can you expect other people to be?

    • Taking Personal Responsibility

        Salespeople who take personal responsibility tend to have shorter selling cycles because they don’t make excuses and put the blame on the prospect for not making a decision. They take ownership, that ultimately they are responsible for deciding who to pursue and who to let go of.

    Salespeople who also have long selling cycles and are vulnerable to stalls consistently don’t manage these five key assets:

    Time They squander their time on deals that they haven’t properly qualified. They aren’t discriminatory as to who they’ll engage, and who they won't.

    Information They don’t judiciously guard their information. They freely and loosely give out their information early on, not realizing that they are losing their leverage and being reduced to free consultants

    Resources They allow valuable company resources to be deployed without getting anything in return.

    Relationships They act like goodwill ambassadors, indiscriminately building relationships with prospects who can’t make decisions or don’t have the influence to buy.

    Self-esteem They set themselves up for failure by putting themselves in selling situations where they have a high likelihood of not succeeding without any regard as to how it will ultimately affect their confidence and long-term performance.

    By squandering these five assets, they lose control and leverage and easily fall victim to prospects who mislead them, stall them, and abuse them.

    The following tactics for stalls and put offs require a non-selling posture. These strategies are based more on getting your prospect to make a decision one way or another instead of forcing their hand and railroading them to agree to do something that eventually won’t stick. These questions require finesse and a nurturing posture since they can be perceived as assertive in nature.

    By honoring your prospect’s independence to make decisions free of your agenda, you are making it easy for them to express the naked truth about their situation. This strategy can be used for closing deals or closing out deals, following up on appointments, locking down demos, presentations, or seminars, handling overly extended stalls, getting final approval from a decision maker or incessant requests for future call backs.

    Since on average 70% of your sales efforts go to naught, than it makes sense to be just as good at closing deals as you are at closing out of deals. So much time is spent chasing losing causes. It is always very advantageous to get “no’s” early and effortlessly without squandering undue time and effort. If you are discriminatory with whom you spend time with, under what circumstances, for how long and at what cost to your organization, you’ll be able to maximize your assets. Also, by enhancing and perfecting your own personal buying habits to ones of low need for approval, short decisive buying cycle, emotional detachment and taking personal responsibility, you’ll attract like-minded prospects who will be less inclined to use stalls and put-offs.

    Generally, salespeople are reluctant to ask tough questions that put their offering at risk, and to get their prospect to share bad news. But, if you really want to be an advocate for your prospect, you need to give them every chance to disqualify themselves. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you instantly roll over. However, when you and your prospect don’t waste each other’s time, everyone comes out a winner.

    The following questions strategically invite prospects to meet one half-way. Since these questions are “masters of the obvious”, you need to present them in a nurturing way. Any way you can uses stories and metaphors to emotionally engage your prospects, the better. It helps them connect with the spirit of the message.

    Generally, when your prospect wants to think things over, the only one who is thinking things over is the salesperson. The key is to empower your prospect to see the truth and reality of their situation. As long as you are engaging your prospect with thought-provoking questions and the prospect is answering them, you are getting closer to a resolution one way or another. By playing devil’s advocate, you aren’t afraid of putting a price on your prospect’s procrastination. These questions are designed to flush out and contest the empty words and promises that prospects commonly dish out when you are getting stalled on a final decision.

    The following are examples of handling stalls and delays:

    • “In the past when you’ve been forced into an awkward position where you’ve had to delay and postpone something, historically, do these matters revive themselves, or is it one of those things that if you haven’t done it by now it will never happen?”
    • “I’m willing to go the extra distance, invest my time and resources and follow this through if you are. But if you have too many irons in the fire and if you are ambivalent, then maybe we should drop it.”
    • “Mr. Prospect, I firmly believe when my prospect and I don’t waste one another’s time, everyone wins. Am I wasting your time here?”
    • “Usually I find if it has dragged on this far it is the kiss of death. I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I sense we’ve lost momentum on putting this deal to bed. What do you think?”
    • “The road to hell is paved with great intentions. In relationship to this problem is it possible your grasp exceeds your reach?”
    • “Can you level with me? You strike me as a straight shooter. We are facing the law of diminishing returns here. How realistic and viable is it that we’ll do business together in a time frame we both can live with?”
    • “You know if you put a frog into hot water, it will immediately jump out? But put it into cold water, and slowly turn up the temperature, the frog keeps adapting to increasing temperature until it adapts itself to death. I’m sensing our delay on this proposal is facing a similar fate.”
    • “It seems like the trail has gone cold here. Is that a fair assumption?”
    • “Is this proposal a real hail mary and a shot in the dark or is the timing still on the money?”
    • “You definitely have one leg in the icebox and one leg in the oven. What can we do to make it one way or another?”
    • “I’m afraid if it hasn’t happened by now, it never will. From your perspective, is this reviving or is this deal DOA?”
    • “Before we drag this out further, and have me call you again next week, can we have a come to Jesus meeting now to see if this is still a good fit for you?”
    • “Do you owe it to yourself or your company to consider this deal any further?”
    • “Before we both jump to even more commitments to further follow up, which we both might regret, can we take a minute and be sure we are in sync about your interest and commitment?”
    • “Would it be foolhardy and overly ambitious to say you are totally committed at this stage?”
    • “Is this worth you sticking your neck out any further and prioritizing this initiative?”
    • “I know you weren’t planning to approve this until next month. Does it make sense to take the bull by the horns and resolve this now?”
    • “What do we have to do to get you to make a decision on this one way or another so we can put this proposal to rest?”
    • “I believe we have reached an impasse because of the classic saying, the devil you know is always better than the devil you don’t know. It is always far easier to delay with something you know and have grown accustomed to no matter how bad it is than to risk the unknown regardless of the potential.”
    • “Is your interest active or inactive?”
    • “I know even if a prospect may choose to delay or be forced to delay, deep down they don’t like to procrastinate. The best thing to do is try to make a decision while everything is fresh in your mind. If you don’t, as each day passes, you’ll be less likely to make a decision. If I let you delay, I would be negligent in my job and do you a disservice. I’m too much of a professional to do that because I want to do what’s right for you. That’s why I’d like you to make a decision now, yes or no.”
    • “Let’s recap why you originally chose to meet with us and consider us a possible partner, and find out whether or not it still makes sense for us to move forward. This way we can get some resolution on this matter one way or another.”
    • “I’m getting mixed signals. I hear you loud and clear that you are still interested, but your lack of action speaks volumes. Am I to believe your words or your actions?”
    • “Let’s draw a line in the sand, a drop-dead date. If nothing changes by that date, we’ll consider it a dead issue.”
    • “The million dollar question is, does your interest have any more traction?”
    • “How uncomfortable would you be if I asked you to make a decision today while the irons are hot?”
    • “What part of you wants to go forward and what part of you wants to cut your losses?”
    • “It sounds like you still have a healthy dose of skepticism.”
    • “Even Congress doesn’t take this long to make a decision.”
    • “Is there anything we can do to entice you before you cool your heels? Waiting out the worst and hoping for the best isn’t always the best strategy.”
    • “I get the idea from your actions that your interest is fading and fleeting as we speak.”
    • “Is your interest conditional and up in the air, or is it a slam dunk and a no brainer?”
    • “Usually when I give someone a proposal they really are in love with it or they have some questions or concerns. Which fits for you? It sounds like a “no.” If it isn’t a “no” and you don’t have any questions of concerns, then it must be…”
    • “Usually when someone says they haven’t gotten to it, what they somewhat mean is that they really aren’t interested, but are uncomfortable telling me that.”
    • “I can’t convince you that you need this. If you really needed training, my guess is you would have already done something about this on your own. So we have to decide if this is worth going out on a limb to execute. You probably are wrestling with ‘don’t fix it if it isn’t really broke‘. Or, don’t rock the boat on something that you can afford to hedge your bets on.”
    • “What can we do to make this more than an idle, arbitrary curiosity? Otherwise, it will be easy for you to take the path of least resistance here.”
    • “You’ve been sitting on our proposal for a while. Does it make sense for us to think about sitting down again and wrapping up the details?”
    • “What, if anything, can we do to upgrade and prioritize this deal so it isn’t just one of those 2nd tier wish list projects? And if this isn’t possible, do you have the stamina to continue down this path?”
    • “I’m surprised you haven’t made a decision on this. You strike me as a take-charge decisive person.”
    • “You aren’t going to have me believe you are going to be indecisive and draw this decision out, are you?”
    • “Let me play devil’s advocate. You probably haven’t made a decision on this for a good reason. Is that reason at all related to this no longer being a priority for you? Then what is it?”
    • “I get the sense that you are dangerously getting to that point that you can easily write this off as an idea past its prime.”
    • “I’m doing some forecasting on this account with corporate. They want me to find out from you realistically as to where you stand, for better or for worse. So where do you stand?”
    • “I’m afraid that the longer we draw this out the more these problems get factored into the cost of doing business and are looked upon as something that just comes with the territory and nothing will change because of that.”
    • “Has this fallen off your radar screen?”
    • “Have I grossly overestimated your interest and commitment and if I have, may I apologize?”
    • “As I see it, I have two choices here. I can be real patient and persistent, or we can jointly decide now one way or another as to whether we proceed. Which do you prefer?”
    • “Sometimes clients lack resolve, commitment and conviction to move forward. In principle, they are sold, but in respect to practicality, it is too inconvenient and not high enough on their radar screen to take action.”
    • “Does it disappoint you or surprise you that you haven’t made a decision on this as of yet?”
    • “When you’ve had something in the past that was important to make a decision about, what was your sense of urgency? What’s different now?”
    • “I must, like you, spend my time very judiciously and productively. Please don’t spare my feelings by telling me what you think I want to hear.”
    • “What can we do to pull the trigger or pull the plug?”
    • “The biggest challenge I face is customers have a genuine and sincere interest to change, but for a variety of reasons have a passive, casual and idle interest to do anything about it. Does this describe your quandary?”
    • “I get the sense that there is a little part of you that says if it hasn’t happened by now, it unfortunately will never happen.”
    • “Is this something you have to think long and hard about or is this pretty straightforward?”
    • “Are you afraid haste will make waste?”
    • “What I want to try to avoid is going through the motions of making a decision two months from now that could have just as easily been done two months earlier.”
    • “Are there any advantages from your perspective to doing this sooner rather than later?”
    • “Is this a problem that has run its course? You seem not to be under the gun to fix it. Do you now have bigger fish to fry?”
    • “Have we reached a point of diminishing returns here?”
    • “You strike me as a take charge-person, the kind who takes the bull by its horns. Can we make a decision today?”
    • “You aren’t 100% sold on moving forward, are you?”
    • “From your perspective, what would you have to gain or to lose by not moving ahead with this?”
    • “So that I can follow up with you in the most professional manner and not be a stereotypical salesperson who is going to waste your time and be a pest, is your interest passive and casual or is it genuine and actionable?”
    • “If you were a betting man, would you say this deal is getting ready to close or implode?”
    • “I get the sense we’ve been in a holding pattern on this proposal because I’m pushing you to do something that isn’t in your best interests or the timing isn’t optimal for you.”
    • “You are dangerously in that grey zone where you are getting just enough to be comfortable but you aren’t getting enough to be very content. Are you willing to back up your intentions with action?”
    • “Let’s say you had to make a decision today. If I put a gun to my head and told you which will it be, yea or nay, what would your answer be?”
    • “What exactly did you want to think over?”
    • “What are you going to think about? What more do you need? Then it sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”
    • “If your schedule hasn’t permitted you to commit to taking 10 minutes to review this with your boss, then what does that tell you about your problem?”
    • “You are between a rock and a hard place. At this stage which is more important: the problem at hand and the fact that it is costing you $1 million a year, or the problem of finding time to decide on this?”
    • “It sounds like you are in a position to make a commitment only under ideal and optimal conditions and since you don’t have that luxury now, should we pursue this any more with you?”
    • “I want to apologize. We are at a standstill here. I might have grossly misjudged your intentions. Here I’m trying to get closure and you aren’t even sure if you are really interested anymore. Where do we stand?”
    • “When something is relatively unimportant and not a high priority for you, how do you usually dispense with it? Is that any different from our situation?”
    • “My guess is that we will continue to have this conversation until the pain of change is less than the pain of the status quo. You can afford to drag your feet on this because for the time being, you have a high threshold for your problem based on your other priorities.”
    • “My experience tells me that people rarely want more of what they already have in abundance. Since business is very good for you now, I could see where you don’t have a compelling reason to act now.”
    • “I’m not so naïve as to recognize that a satisfied need is rarely a motivation. If for example, you go to your favorite French restaurant and have a wonderful 4-course meal, and you are totally full and satisfied and they bring you your favorite soufflé dessert, you will turn them down because you are full and satisfied. I get the sense you are in a similar situation.”
    • “You have not yet overcome or reconciled the ‘twin evil forces’ of change, which are time and habit. You are in the classic dead man’s zone. You are getting just enough to make it worthwhile but not enough to really get what you want. I believe that is why we are at an impasse or standstill on this proposal.”
    • “It sounds like you are overextended, overcommitted and stretched too thin. So does it make sense for me to commit my time to follow up with you?”
    • “Sounds like you want to commit, but you aren’t sure what you are committing to.”
    • “Based on my many years in the business, can I tell you what has happened many times in the past? It might not be relevant here. When I call you back in 10 days and your secretary tells you that I am on the line, that is when you’ll make a decision. If this is the case, can w possibly accelerate this process?”
    • “Are you willing to go out on a limb, grab the bull by the horns and expedite this?”
    • “I am afraid the longer I drag this out with you, that it will become a problem past its prime.”
    • “I always feel a little awkward and embarrassed to ask this, but I feel I must ask in all fairness to you. One of my greatest fears is that I railroaded you into agreeing to consider us without giving you the chance to do otherwise. Did I force your hand in this?”
    • “Let me throw caution to the wind and possibly shoot myself in the foot. I know your time is very precious but if you truly believed in your gut that we could help you, you would have already made a decision. And the fact that you haven’t tells me that maybe this decision is possibly past its prime.”
    • “I get the sense your interest is chilling and is possibly going into a deep freeze. Is this a cold lead now?”
    • “Wouldn’t it be safe to characterize your interest as no longer being hot to trot?”
    • “I think we’ve hit a brick wall. So that I can adjust my follow-up with you appropriately, how timely or untimely is this for you?”
    • “Just so we both understand one another. This isn’t my hobby, although I love it and can’t think of doing anything else. This is how I clothe, feed, and support my family. So it is critical I respect your time as much as mine. If you aren’t convinced this is right for you, I would greatly appreciate you telling me so. That way I won’t waste either of our precious time.”
    • “On your to-do list, where does this fit? My intention isn’t to push, but we’ve met quite a few times and I have followed up with you diligently many times. It seems we aren’t getting any closer to getting a resolution. Can I ask, is there a decision on this in our future?”
    • “I know you want to think it over some and get all your ducks in a row, and I think you should. I don’t want to take that away from you. Sometimes I can help my prospects by asking them some questions that will lead them to realize that this isn’t a good decision, or to firm up and strengthen their conviction that this is the right decision. Let’s take a few moments to review the pros and cons of moving forward and maybe it can help us get a decision.”
    • “We have potentially a classic conflict of interest here. You have problems but don’t have the time to give them top priority. Unfortunately, the status quo usually prevails in these cases. Unless you are the exception to the rule, your delay fondly reminds me of my bachelor days when I had leftover food in my refrigerator and it wasn’t bad enough to throw out but it wasn’t appealing enough to eat. And I finally took action when my fiancée threatened to throw me out. I get the sense you are facing a similar quandary.”

    Hope springs eternal in the peddler’s heart. Ask questions that get the truth, instead of just getting a glimmer of hope. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that could render your “sales cause” hopeless. Don’t be deluded into thinking that if you don’t bring up something negative, they won’t bring it up on their own or won’t think about it. And, if they aren’t willing to make a decision and you think you are at a point of no return, don’t hesitate to force the issue and accept the inevitable “no”. This strategy clearly has its risks, yet so does the long drawn-out patient route that obviously leads nowhere.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com