When There’s No ‘No’: How to Avoid the Passive Blow-Off

So much of our work in sales consists of separating the good: the good-good from the not-so and not-at-all.

Sometimes we know great clients from the outset. They’re motivated, easy to work with and know the value of our expertise. They say so via respect and prompt payments.

If we always spotted the keepers so easily, there would be a lot more success stories in sales. But we’ve all had clients who needed to be sold — over weeks, months, years! But once sold, the bond held fast.

Sometimes we must train the client in the ways of quid pro quo. By setting a great standard for engagement, you can coax some people to follow your example.

That leaves the rest. Some prospects won’t ever pan out. It would be nice if they formally announced that, but it’s not their job. We in sales must close the circle, whether it turns into a ‘O’ for opportunity or just a big ‘0’, as in zero.

At a recent workshop, a woman stood up to complain generally about long sales cycles and people who ‘put her off’. I boiled it down: ‘You mean, how do you know when enough is enough?’

If you aren’t proactive, you end up reading tea leaves, wasting time and being frustrated, as this woman clearly (and understandably) was.

But you can set some terms at the outset that can help you determine when it’s time to cross a name off your list.

Make them tell you when to follow up. And don’t let them forget it. This means asking those rote questions we often try to avoid. Don’t. Here’s the sequence:

  • When you meet, ask when a good time to follow up is. And get a straight answer. Write the answer down in your planner.
  • Remember the date.
  • Make the call, and preface your discussion by reminding them that the timing was their idea.

Finesse counts, of course. But if you are clear and firm about the commitment, and professional, you make it easier for them to give you straight answers. Done right, you can help a lot of wishy-washy prospects make a commitment, one way or another.

Trust your rejection instincts. Even when you provide clarity, some prospects still struggle with the rejection thing. They’re too nice, or divorced from their true feelings to say no. If you aren’t feeling any heat, probably you’re picking up what they feel but can’t say.

Instincts are honed by experience and confidence. You might not be ready to go with your gut. In which case:

Ask the hard question. If you don’t like this option, remember that you’re doing it for the prospect as well. Who needs this sort of uncertainty?

Go for tact: ‘Do you want to continue this discussion?’ ‘Do you want to move forward?’

Don’t think aggressively. The subtext is, ‘Look, indecision is lousy for everyone. Let’s do each other a favor and say yes or no. No one’s feelings will be hurt, and we may actually respect each other for being honest!’

If they say ‘no’, believe them. No one much enjoys saying it. A non-committed prospect may fear commitment, but far more often, they just dislike saying a word they perceive as mean-spirited.

So when you hear ‘no’ in this situation, let it go. And always remember there are many others out there ready to say yes. Save your energy for finding them.

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