Are you really getting somewhere with that prospect of yours? Or is he/she just stringing you along? If salespeople could always answer that question accurately, they’d waste less time. And be a lot happier.

Problem is, it’s really tough to see inside most people’s heads. They aren’t made out of clear plastic, like the Visible Man.

You can get some reliable indicators of where you are with a prospect, however, if you know what to look for.

Take stock of your sales prospects

The famed sales researcher Neil Rackham recommends that salespeople take stock after each contact with a potential buyer, and ask themselves whether they’ve achieved what Rackham calls an Advance, or settled for a Continuation.

Advances represent real progress, while Continuations are faux progress. An Advance is an event that moves the sale forward toward a decision. And it almost always means the prospect has agreed to do something, whether that be to see you again at a specific time, set up a product trial, or put you in touch with another key decision-maker.

If, on the other hand, you have unilaterally agreed to do something — like write up a proposal, send literature, or contact the buyer again at some unspecified time in the future — you have a Continuation, not an Advance.

Why you didn’t Advance

Now, if you’ve managed only a Continuation, it’s probably for one of two reasons:

  1. You could have gotten an Advance if you’d managed the contact better, or
  2. The prospect isn’t really interested enough to Advance

You can easily see the implications for your future behavior. ALWAYS be looking to advance the process. Once you’ve spent some time with prospects, and done your necessary discovery, seek to win some commitment for future action from them. Every time.

If you do, and they still want to fob you off with a Continuation, you’ll have gained some useful knowledge. You’ll have a pretty good idea that this is somebody you don’t want to spend any more time on, or that you haven’t yet uncovered the need that will move him/her to action.

Either way, you’ll be ready to take a next step with confidence. Which is what every good rep wants.

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