Question: What’s the biggest cost of any selling operation?
Answer: The business you don’t win!
From this truism we quite rightly conclude that we should do everything possible to optimise conversion ratios. Equally true is the fact that wasted time on ‘no hope’ opportunities that have no realistic chance of converting is very expensive both in terms of direct costs, and opportunity costs. We really should be getting on with other things rather than loitering in our quote bank.
The logical conclusion from this is that we should work just as hard to get prospects to say ‘no’ as we do to get them to say ‘yes’. So why do salespeople find this so difficult? Why do prospects find it equally tricky and what can we do about it?
Reasons why we should encourage prospects to say ‘no’
- Away from the comfort of existing opportunities are other, even better opportunities. Borrowing the lyrics of a Michael Buble song: We just haven’t found them yet! By qualifying out low probability deals we give ourselves the time and impetus to develop the quality of our pipeline
- By encouraging a ‘no’ we can find out why! This provides an excellent platform for sharpening our proposition, for honing the sales process and for improving our ability to manage the decision making process. It also will keep the door nicely open.
- Back in the day we often started a new relationship by asking someone to have a dance at a local night club. The volume of rejections — for some of us, was very hard to stomach. A good looking friend of mine had the perfect antidote to this. When asked to dance, as a matter of policy he would refuse them, to get his own back! This may have been expensive in terms of lost opportunities but it sure did make him feel good! In a similar vein, in sales we should keep the initiative and get our retaliation in first! We should keep control of the sale and drive as hard for “no” as we do for “yes”.. as, in a word, it’s motivational.
Why salespeople don’t push for ‘no’
- Most salespeople are genetically engineered to want to be liked! The corollary of this is that they can’t stand rejection. The longer they put it off, the better, because fantasising about a ‘yes’ is infinitely more comfortable than a ‘no’.
- Most people like to win, but with salespeople it’s more fundamental than that — they hate to lose! They would rather keep playing the game of ‘sales chess’ rather than admit defeat — even if they’ve got only a few pieces left on the board lined up against a formidable enemy. Avoiding the pain of defeat until the last possible moment is therefore a very natural course of action.
- They say that 90% of humans have a big ego and that the other 10% have too, but hate to admit it! Some salespeople are extroverts, and others (usually the most successful ones) are introverts — but all enjoy the kudos of a business win. They might want to gloat with self-satisfaction or alternatively, to have their name up in lights in Times Square. Either way, the winning of business is a powerful drug and addicts will hang on, sometimes in a desperate fashion, to keep driving for an impossible ‘yes’ rather than the sometimes inevitable opposite.
- As Gary Player once famously said: “the harder I practise, the luckier I get.” Quite rightly, many salespeople recognise the linkage between sustained, quality, sales effort aimed in the right direction and the achievement of the required results. Unfortunately, some also believe that deals will close simply because they have worked hard and that via ‘divine intervention’, or some other misplaced faith, all of this effort will eventually do them justice. They therefore let deals remain in their pipeline in the hope that they will get lucky! After all, why qualify out if there’s still a glimmer of hope, (I hear them cry).
Downs’ Law: “A salesperson’s ability to qualify out opportunities is directly proportional to the quantity and quality of deals in their pipeline”
If we qualify out, what’s the alternative? If we walk into a negotiation, what are the implications of walking away? What’s our ‘BATNA’ position — Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement?
Successful salespeople have solid and continuous pipelines. They are in a position to encourage ‘no’s’. The opposite is true of mediocre salespeople.
And why do prospects find it so difficult to say the ‘no’ word?
- People buy people, but they don’t always buy what they are selling. The power of face-to-face selling is the personal commitment that it develops. In fact, the number one reason why prospects resist initial meetings is their fear of having to commit! Despite the professional facades displayed by many ‘buyers’, the reality is that many find it very difficult to ‘let down’ the salesperson when a more logical / attractive alternative is available elsewhere. They have also been known to delay the inevitable bad news because in reality it’s not their decision and they don’t like to admit it! Worst still, many go into ‘denial’ and, given a free rein will delay the communication of the decision to the last possible moment.
- Sometimes they just can’t decide. They have a number of alternatives to choose from including direct competition and the ‘do nothing’ or ‘do nothing yet’ option. They don’t necessarily have a compelling need to decide. Again, they may not be the real decision maker and might be either reticent to make recommendations if they are not sure of a gilt edge case or they may be fearful of ‘rattling the cage’ of a more senior executive who might be dragging their feet.
- Some people just don’t care and are indifferent to communicating or making decisions. They are more than happy to suck you (and your resources) dry at the earlier stage of gathering information and proposals but once their initial needs are satisfied, they take you off their priority list. You become a ‘c task’ — not important and not urgent — destined to the ‘do it later’ file.
So, how can we get prospects to say no?
- Be open with the prospect and re-assure them from the beginning of the sales process that you want to hear their feedback — negative, as well as positive. Explain that you don’t ’tilt at windmills believing they are giants’ and that you will pro-actively welcome and encourage all objections and concerns.
- Make sure you really understand the decision-making process and the players within it. Drive for sales interface with the important people even if it risks the relationship with your sponsor.
- Follow-up and keep the initiative. Don’t agree to let them call you. Always call them.
- Communicate that you have ‘other fish to fry’ and that although you would like to do business with them, you are not desperate for it. Develop ‘do or die’ e-mails that flush out a response. Thank them for their time and say that as you haven’t heard anything, you assume that they will not be going ahead and therefore you will not continue to pursue them.
- Work hard on developing your pipeline to psychologically enable the above process.
As a salesperson, you are an expensive and scarce resource. Use your time wisely. Assuming you have sound propositions that add value to the customer, they need you as much as you need them. Don’t let them have the upper hand. Stand your ground and remember that you have a right to select your customers. Don’t take rejection personally; overcome the emotions that sometimes defy the logic of the correct actions. Don’t let your ego get in the way of sound business judgement.
“Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.”
— Colin Powell