One of my favorite sales stories was told to me by Tom Searcy, author of Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company.
Tom was once asked to make a presentation to a huge prospect. The other two contenders were industry giants. His company wasn’t.
He smelled a rat. He was pretty sure the buyer would pick his brain, maybe use him to wring some concessions out of the other players – and send him on his way.
Now, Tom could have set aside his misgivings and approached this sale with supreme optimism and confidence. He might have explained, for example, how his smaller organization could be faster on its feet, more flexible and a whole lot cheaper.
But he didn’t. Instead, he went negative. He told the prospect: “Let’s face it – there’s no way I’m going to get your business.”
Tom was willing to do what many salespeople won’t do: He was willing to hear “no.” In fact, he invited his buyer to tell him no. And when the prospect hemmed and hawed and insisted that he really did have as good a shot as anyone, Tom pushed harder. Finally, he got them to admit that, well, actually, they probably weren’t going to hire his firm in the end.
That’s when the real conversation started. (He ended up winning the business, by the way.)
There are countless reasons why salespeople avoid the “no.” Until they hear no, they have a reason to keep calling back. They can keep the prospect in the pipeline, at least as a possible sale if not a probable sale. They can hope for a little while longer that they’ll find some way to get a return on all the work they’ve invested up until now.
Prospects have their own reasons for not wanting to say no. Contrary to popular opinion, they’re human. They know the salesperson would like to sell them something, and they don’t like to disappoint.
Plus, they don’t want to have that big long discussion about why they can’t say yes.
When you invite your prospect to say “no,” it can set you free. You’re free to stop wasting your time trying to address objections that are really just a smokescreen and get to real obstacles. And if you find you’re unlikely to overcome those obstacles, you’re free to focus on more promising opportunities. In other words, you can either move forward or move on.
So the next time you find yourself with a sale that seems to be going nowhere, embrace the no.
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