Written by: Sandy O’Dell
Salespeople are charged with, well, selling. And it doesn’t matter whether we do it in person, on the phone, or even through email.
When, at any point, prospects say “no” or “call me in a few months,” (translation: “no”), we have a knee-jerk reaction. We press forward, invoke our services’ singular benefits, and gently persuade even the most recalcitrant prospect that our firm is the right solution.
Put plainly, “no,” to us, is not an acceptable answer.
But “no,” though the bête noire of all salespeople, is a fact of life. There are many occasions where prospects simply will not budge. Their objections are usually around insufficient funds in the budget or a high level of satisfaction with a current service provider.
After exhausting the long list of maneuvers to overcome objections, the customary sales reaction is to walk away and hope that they will keep our name and our collateral “on file,” (along with piles from like providers), and call at some point in the future.
These rejections, however, actually represent a rich opportunity to:
- Initiate meaningful dialogue
- Learn more about your target market
- Better inform your sales approach moving forward
- Forge a trusting relationship
This last bullet is the most important. Selling professional services is all about building trust. Trust takes time to develop, and you nourish it in an environment where the prospect perceives you as acting in his or her best interest.
When selling, (especially when cold selling), prospects are typically defensive, wary, and dismissive. They often do not offer forthright and detailed information about their challenges and pain points because they don’t know you. They don’t trust you. And most of all, they can feel strong-armed even when your advance is far from aggressive.
Curiously, when your prospects say “no,” and believe that you have genuinely accepted that as their response, you create trust. They become far more likely to speak openly about all of the trying issues that mire their progress. And, if managed correctly, you can begin to emerge as their expert advisor, and the one your prospects will most likely turn to when the time is ripe.
Take, for example, my recent experience with a Vice President of Sales and Marketing at a mid-sized financial services firm. We had spoken a half a dozen times over the course of eight months. While she appeared to be interested in using our firm to develop a comprehensive lead generation strategy, she gave little insight into her short- and long-term targets, and what exactly was standing in the way of getting there.
No matter how delicately I probed, she always kept the conversation at a very high, and very vague, level, ending with a half-hearted promise to be in touch soon, (which she never was).
When I finally told her that it was clear she was not ready to pursue a possible partnership, and assured her that that was okay, really, her relief was palpable.
No longer encumbered by the pressure of deflecting the overtures of a nice, but dogged salesperson, (me), her posture changed immediately. She became at ease. She willing talked.
No Longer a Salesperson
Once I accepted her “no,” I shifted my goal to simply sharing relevant insights and expertise. I crafted a new series of questions accordingly. I asked her:
- What is your current lead generation strategy and how successful has it been?
- What chief barriers are preventing you from reaching your goals?
- If you could identify one or two “wish list” resources to improve the performance of your division, what would they be?
Her answers were lengthy and specific enough so that I could recommend a number of tactical and strategic measures to minimize her threats and improve the efficacy of her sales and marketing programs.
I accomplished two vital objectives with this conversation:
- First, it kick-started the process of building trust, increasing the odds that she would turn to our firm for sales and marketing consulting when she needed it.
- Second, it secured vital intelligence that deepened my understanding of the market – the risks that confronted it, the frustrations that beleaguered it – thereby sharpening my effectiveness as a salesperson.
There are countless iterations of questions you can ask, depending on the circumstances of your prospects as you understand them. Be careful not to use these questions as a ruse to elbow your way back to the Sales Front.
The important point here is to learn enough of your prospect’s current situation, as it relates to your services, so that you can give them the benefit of your expertise and provide value, even when they have no interest in buying.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that as salespeople, we roll over and give up prematurely. But I do argue that we must recognize when “yes” is a long way out, and treat “no” as a door opening, not slamming shut.
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