Marketing Matters Featured

10:05am EDT July 22, 2002
When it comes to selling, I have always believed that the more proposals I put out, the better. However, I have an awful lot of proposals on the street, and I've closed only a few. What should I do to?

I know it sounds crazy, but you should go back to those prospects that have your proposals and ask them to give them back to you. Then you should ask your prospects for permission to close their file. You will be amazed at what happens.

It may sound simplistic, but the secret to closing sales lies in getting your prospects to tell you "no." Great salespeople get an awful lot of "nos." However, in going for the "no," they get an awful lot of "yeses."

What you don't want are think-it-overs. Eliminate the think-it-overs, and you'll blow through quotas faster than a Jerry Rice punt return. Here's how to do it: Tell your prospects up front that it's OK to say "no" and then push for it. Many salespeople push a prospect toward saying "yes." We've all heard the line: "What's it going to take for you to buy from me today? " Or the ubiquitous "If I can show you a way to...will you buy from me?"

In pushing for a "yes," the traditional salesperson makes prospects feel like they are being "sold," and they naturally resist. Tell your prospects up front that, at some point, they will need to make a decision. Obviously, a decision to buy would be wonderful, but a "no" is also OK. The only thing that you can't tolerate is a "think-it-over," and that if they feel like thinking it over, they should simply tell you "no."

Once you have this agreement, push for the "no."

In going for the "no," one of two things will happen. Prospects that aren't really interested in buying your product or service will admit that it's over, thereby freeing up your time to spend with prospects that are truly interested. Prospects that are interested but aren't convinced enough to buy yet will not want you to go away. In going for the "no," you will shake out the hidden obstacles and uncover the real issues that will enable you to help the prospects determine whether they should buy from you. The best part is that the prospects will never feel threatened or manipulated into doing something they don't want to do.

As a sales manager, my biggest challenge is finding people who are strong "closers." Do you have any advice on how to ascertain these qualities in advance of hiring them?

Two hidden weaknesses often prevent salespeople from being able to "close"on a consistent basis. The first weakness is "high need for approval." When sales representatives have a high need for approval, their desire to be liked outweighs their desire for getting the business. As a result, they avoid rejection at all costs and will not bring a selling event to closure for fear that they will not win the business-or a prospect's approval.

The other weakness is a nonsupportive buy cycle. Only decision-makers can get other people to make decisions. A nonsupportive buy cycle refers to the manner in which the salespeople personally make their own buying decisions.

We all tend to project our own values and beliefs on the people with whom we interact It's human nature. Therefore, salespeople who are unwilling to make significant purchases without seeking the advice of other people, checking out the competition, or "sleeping on" their decisions, will have a difficult time getting prospects to make a decision without doing those things.

In other words, their own buying behavior does not support their interest in getting prospects to make a decision. When faced with prospects who want to "think-it-over," the salespeople with nonsupportive buy cycles will subconsciously acquiesce because, if they were the prospect, they would want to think it over as well. As a result, they will not take the steps necessary to bring the sales process to closure. Both of these weaknesses can be uncovered in the employment interview by an astute interviewer, or through the use of a pre-employment screening test. SBN

Larry Lewis is the president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. Send your comments and questions to Lewis via fax at (724)933-9112 or e-mail at He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.