No…

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The one word sales people often fear, irrationally.

Often perceived as absolute in its meaning; usually negatively at that. For sales people, it has the perception of the end. An inability to do business or continue doing business with a client and, emotionally, also strikes at the ego of sales people as it resonates with the client not wishing to do business with you. Ouch.

We encounter it regularly in life – and it is often a response we ourselves fall on unconsciously. Think about when you’re window shopping and approached by a sales assistant – you’ll probably say ‘No, I just looking thanks’ often without thinking; even if you do actually need help. Think about parenting and how we learn to say ‘no’ rather than ‘maybe’ so we don’t enter in to a circuitous debate or fall foul of the fantastic situational memory kids have.

The reality is you’ll struggle to find any sales person, no matter how successful they’ve been or are, who hasn’t had a client say ‘no’ to them. Sometimes repeatedly, even from the same client.

If you roll your memory back to school and your affection for your school crush.  Did you ask them out? If you didn’t – why not? I can pretty much guarantee you it wasn’t because you were scared they’d say ‘yes’.  Instead, subtle hints are planted in the hopes they notice you and something happens naturally. Nothing does and you’re left wondering ‘what if?’. Sometimes the most attractive opportunities go wanting as no one is prepared to ask for it – not only are we scared of a ‘no’, we actually grow to expect it so can avoid situations where it happens.

The problem with this fear of ‘no’ for sales people is the same. Through the fear of receiving a ‘no’, we can often stop ourselves from asking for their business because we don’t want ‘no’ as an answer.  Worse, we can often not undertake any actions to avoid receiving a ‘no’ in the first place. Think of cold calling as an example. However, in doing this, we also never get a ‘yes’. Instead, we dance around our desire to do business with them in the hopes the client asks to do business with us, or sit at our desks wondering why clients aren’t ringing us to do business.

Why do we often have as many closing strategies in sales training as we have for those to overcome objections? I wonder if is because the client isn’t the problem – but it is because sales people often never ask for the business, at the wrong time or poorly. One of the biggest flaws many sales people have is they don’t actually ask for the business. They can often do all the right things on the way through, but never come out explicitly and ask their clients to do business together.  You’re probably shaking your head…..how about this old sales adage then:

‘I don’t sell to clients, they buy from me’

Ask yourself when you hear this (from you or someone else) – is this just a euphemism for this very problem in sales?  Sometimes, this may as well say ‘I don’t like asking for my clients business, so I wait until they ask if they can do business with me’. Successful sales people sell to their clients – unashamedly.

The other issue with fear of the ‘no’ is we often wait until the end of the sales process to ask our clients if we can do business together.  We dither and delay around asking the question. Sure, we can convince ourselves that we are laying a ground work of value first before asking…but are we? Or do we just not have the confidence to ask our clients outright?   Successful sales people start closing from the outset. They are discussing with their clients what their buying drivers are from the beginning of the sales process and asking ‘if I can deliver these for you, could we do business?’.  They close on a ‘conditional’ basis from the beginning of the sale, knowing what the client values and that they could and should do business.

Why is this important? Both your clients time and your time is expensive and finite.  Unfortunately and surprisingly, some clients will spend time in the sales process with no intention of actually buying unless explicitly asked. Excuse the crude analogy – but it is like flirting and never asking for their phone number. You have fun at the time, but go home alone. So if you don’t ask, you’ll spend a fair amount of time going no where. Yes, this does happen more often than we realise. Meanwhile, there are far more motivated clients who you could and should be doing business with, but aren’t.

One of the biggest issues with the fear of the ‘no’ is that it isn’t actually the end….if you’ve sold properly on the way through the process.  Most, if not all, successful sales people will have examples of clients who have said ‘no’, only for them to go on and do business together later.

Why? A ‘no’ doesn’t scare the successful sales person off. A ‘no’ puts a stake in the ground and provokes the conversation to change tone. It allows the sales person to explore the hurdles between the current state and them doing business with their clients.  Clients say ‘no’ for many reasons and are often, unless you’ve truly destroyed the sales process, a point in time decision. Some clients, like our shopping example, saying ‘no’ instinctively.

They can be a reflection of the fact you haven’t addressed all their needs, or address them properly. They can be resultant from a change in thinking mid-way through the sales process. There are a plethora of reasons which you can find out, if you’re willing to stay in the game. The absolutely wrong things you can do as a sales person when a client says ‘no’ is to a) run off with your tail between your legs (woe is me) or, worse, b) throw your toys (&^%#$ the client).  This is almost certain to burn a bridge with the client.

The right thing to do is to explore why, determine whether it is end game or simply pause and form a strategy to move on. If it is a firm ‘no’ – knowing why is crucial in sales. It is where you learn and change. To simply walk away is dooming you to repeat your past. Ask the client if you can stay in touch (things to change, and rapidly in this market) and agree to this (and don’t let yourself down by not following through!).

Also, even if their ‘no’ is completely definitive, it is still useful. It allows you to redirect your activity to other opportunities. You have qualified that client as one you can’t (currently) do business with. Whilst it is obviously preferable to do business with them, a no is still useful. It takes the ‘what if’ off the table. It is certain and therefore actionable. It saves you, and your client, from investing any more time and you can focus on more promising opportunities.

Successful sales people aren’t afraid of clients saying ‘no’ – sure they do everything in their power to minimise situations where it happens, but they appreciate the a ‘no’ can be as useful as a ‘yes’ in sales. They certainly don’t avoid asking for business through fear of receiving one.

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