Nearly every sales rep has faced the situation: A prospect says nice things about your offering but won’t move ahead because there’s a colleague, boss, or other authority to answer to.

Chances are, you’ve heard a litany of phrases:

  • “I need to talk this over with the boss.”
  • “My team will need to be in the loop.”
  • “The committee needs to be involved.”

One good way to address a situation like this is to ask probing questions that will give you the guidance you need to know how to proceed in the deal. Here is a four-step process.

1. Don’t ask if you can meet with the boss
When your prospect says, “That sounds good. I’ll need to take this to my boss,” you might be tempted to jump immediately to a response like this:

“You’ll be taking this idea to your boss? That’s great! We’d love to help present this solution to him. Can we set up a meeting?”

It’s likely your prospect will say “no.” Especially early in the relationship, prospects will want to control your access to others in the organization.

Although it might seem logical, it’s just as bad to ask, “When should I get back in touch with you?” Chances are you’ll hear, “Call me in a week or two.” That response takes you down the path to Endless Callback Land.

You need to probe further to find out if the prospect is dragging his feet for some other reason, or even outright lying. So before you ask about following up, qualify the situation more fully.

2. Make sure it’s a legitimate opportunity
Questions like these will help you determine if there’s a sales opportunity legitimate enough to pursue:

  • “On a 1-to-10 scale, where does this solution rank in terms of your interest?”
  • If your prospect gives your solution a rank of six or seven, ask: “Tell me, what do you think would move this from a six up to 10?”
  • “What do you like best about the ideas we’ve discussed?” (You want clarity around the key points that have sparked interest.)

If you sense any hesitation, ask, “What issues give you pause at this point?” or “What’s holding you back?”

You need to get a feeling for the buyer’s true thoughts and commitment level before your ideas are shared within his or her organization.

3. Determine the level of commitment
Does your prospect intend to champion your cause internally or simply pass along your recommendation? Is the prospect keeping you on the back burner in case negotiations with a competitor don’t pan out?

Buyers often have hidden agendas and priorities. Now is the time to bring them out with skilled questions.

A response like, “Call me next week. That will give me time to discuss this with my team,” tells you nothing about the buyer’s level of commitment.

Best approach: Come out and ask: “Is this something you feel you can recommend? Why or why not?” Now is the time to suss out your strongest selling points and any objections.

4. Ask about next steps
Once you’ve gained commitment, encourage your buyer to visualize – and commit to – next steps. You might say something like this:

“Excellent. I’m happy you’ll be taking our solution to him. Assuming you share this solution – and your boss likes the idea – what do you think the next step will be?”

Listen carefully for the action that might come next. There are a variety of responses that are positive:

  • “You’ll be brought in for a meeting…”
  • “We’ll present it to the board of directors…”
  • “You’ll get a purchase order…”

It’s equally important to test what would happen if the prospect’s talk to the boss doesn’t go well.

At this point it’s best to ask, casually, “What will happen if the boss isn’t interested?” Their response will open a line of questioning that will reveal the prospect’s sincerity and level of commitment.

In the process you will gain further insight into the way the organization makes decisions, as well as other hurdles that may block your progress (finance issues often surface at this point). You should also be able to get a feeling for the boss’s interest in moving ahead.

Listen for language like: “If he says no, he says no.” That suggests you may want to find a stronger internal champion and get that person involved now, before the decision is made.

Bottom line: Don’t assume your work is done when buyers say they have to take the deal upstairs. You’ve just begun.

Source: Based on a posting by Paul Cherry. To learn more from Paul visit

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