Common Sense Selling: A Continuance Is Worse than a “No”

Stop celebrating continuances. They aren’t as likely to result in a sale as you think they are.

Think about your sales process. It has specific steps that progress from opening the sale to closing the sale. There is no step in that process where the seller sits on the sidelines. So why do sellers breathe a sigh of relief or rejoice when they get a continuance?

The dictionary definition of continuance is “an act of continuing or remaining in the same place.” In sales, a continuance is when the buyer doesn’t buy but gives the seller a glimmer of hope by saying something like “call me back” or “let me think about it.” Since this is not an outright no, optimistic sellers everywhere misunderstand that a continuance is not good news. In fact, the classic continuance is worse than being turned down. Continuances will consume way too much time, cause you to put your proverbial eggs in the wrong basket, and keep you from focusing on other prospects that are more likely to advance all the way to a close.

A solid “no” is much better than a continuance. When a prospect offers a continuance, it should be handled just like an objection. Instead, many sellers view continuances as buying signals. They leave the call beaming and report back to their team that “the deal is almost done.” It’s not. Sellers need to know what it is that prevented the buyer from saying “yes” today. Whatever doubt or hesitation caused the continuance is only going to grow so long as it remains unchallenged.

Some prospects don’t like to say “no” because they don’t want to hurt a seller’s feelings. They choose, instead, to give the softer rejection of a continuance. You know what happens next – they don’t call back, they don’t take your calls and don’t respond to your e-mails and voice mails. What those prospects don’t understand is that a continuance is costly for a seller. Every repeat attempt to reach the prospect is wasted time. Every follow-up call, e-mail, voice mail and visit represents lost opportunities that could be spent with other prospects who are truly interested.

Sellers should strive in every meeting to get clarity on the next steps for advancing the sale. Here are some questions to get that clarity instead of accepting that continuance. If a buyer says “let me think about it,” “let me talk it over with my partner,” or “give me a call next month,” asking at least one of these questions is absolutely essential. Use the one(s) that best fit your own personal style and the situation. The answer you hear will give you clarity on how much more time and effort is appropriate with this prospect.

  • What would make it easier for you to move forward with me today?
  • What is causing this delay in getting started?
  • Is that just your way of politely saying “no” or “not now?”
  • What, specifically, will you be thinking about? (or talking with your partner about?)
  • What will change between now and the time we meet again?

You may find that you are working with someone who genuinely does need time to think it over or talk with other decision makers. These questions will not be offensive if that’s the case. These types of buyers will also not mind if you set the follow-up appointment before you leave (a best practice in all sales calls, by the way).

You may, however, find that you are just being brushed aside and that there is no real intention or interest in buying from you. Knowing that now instead of slowly coming to that conclusion after weeks of attempted follow through will be a blessing in disguise.

Given a choice, go for clarity instead of a continuance.

One more thing. Don’t initiate continuances. In the heat of the sales call when the pressure is mounting, don’t ever say “Why don’t you think this over and I’ll call you back next week?” Every time I’ve seen this happen, I’ve also seen a confused buyer left wondering what just happened.

You’ve got to give your buyers the chance to say “yes” or “no” or to ask questions. Ending a presentation without giving the buyer an opportunity to respond borders on being disrespectful. It’s not effective to do this. Why? Because what they’re going to think about isn’t what you’ve proposed. What they will think about is how you cut them off or how you dodged their questions. They’ll be thinking about how awkward your departure was and how you didn’t even try to make a sale.

Continuances that are introduced by the seller presume that the buyer will accept being put on hold, will act on the assignment to think it over, and will welcome the seller back in to pick up the conversation where it left off. These presumptions are wildly off base.

Don’t initiate a continuance. Don’t accept one until you’ve probed to see what’s behind it. Remember that your job is to advance the sale, so don’t let it get stalled out by a continuance.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThe CONNECT2Sell Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Visit our website for more sales resources and tools. To learn more about our training programs, take a look at our 2015 course catalog.  

Common Sense Selling: Are You Really Assessing Your Buyer’s Needs?

Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten the meaning of needs-based selling. Everyone in sales seems to agree, in theory, that selling solutions based on customer’s needs is a good idea. But in practice, it seems that many selling professionals have lost their way.

It doesn’t matter whether you subscribe to Solutions Selling, Consultative Selling, S.P.I.N. Selling, Challenger Selling or a whole host of other programs and methodologies that demonstrate the value of identifying customer needs and then offering a value proposition that meets those needs. The problem I’m seeing in the execution of these concepts is widespread.

Complicating the problem is that so many sellers (and sales managers and sales trainers, too) are not recognizing that there’s a problem. Look at your own sales practices and those of your co-workers. It seems like everyone is conducting needs assessment before offering a solution, right?

It’s an illusion. What so many sellers are doing in name of needs assessment is a far cry from actually assessing the needs, concerns, problems or interests of their buyers.

What passes instead for needs assessment is a cursory set of self-serving questions. Questions that are designed to identify which product(s) and how much, which delivery date, what specifications, or what contract – all of these are NOT based on the needs of the customer. They are based on the wants of the seller. They are based on an assumption that the buyer both needs and wants your products.

Needs assessment should reach beyond finding out the buyer’s “need” for your product. If all you are talking about are the transactional details, then please don’t call this needs-based selling. It isn’t.

Consultative selling, needs-based selling and solution selling all aim higher. They focus on the buyer’s broader needs, the ones that supersede the purchase of any particular product. For this reason, a customer-centric sales process or approach includes steps related to researching the buyer and to asking questions about the buyer’s business and goals and problems.

Note the difference in these two sets of questions:

Product-based questions:

  • What quantity do you use in a typical month?
  • Who have you been buying from?
  • How are you set up for shipping and receiving?
  • What are you currently paying per unit?
  • Who is the decision maker on this?

Needs-based questions:

  • What obstacles are you facing as you work toward your department goal?
  • What is the impact if you do not achieve the goals set in your strategic plan?
  • In what ways have you prepared for this expansion? What gaps remain?
  • What is your strategy for attracting new business? For retaining established customers?
  • What is the real cost of shipping delays? How does this affect you? Others in the supply chain?

The first set of questions focus on putting the order together. They are appropriate when the customer is ready to buy, after the solution has been accepted. They are premature if the seller has not yet asked questions like the ones in the second set, questions that probe to understand the buyer’s real needs and problems.

Sellers start with product-based questions for these reasons:

  1. They are not familiar with the buyer’s business and would prefer to keep the conversation narrowly focused on their own products. They do not want to be exposed for a lack of business acumen.
  2. They are rushing to close, mistakenly believing that these product-based questions will suffice. They have not discovered the value of time spent in first opening the business relationship, building trust and connecting in a meaningful way.
  3. They do not understand the point of probing the buyer’s problem and needs. They may even feel uncomfortable in doing so, preferring to keep the conversation at a superficial and transactional level.
  4. They do not see the sales process from the buyer’s perspective. They are so intent on making the pitch that they miss opportunities to understand and empathize with their buyers.
  5. They don’t know how to connect revealed needs and problems with solutions they can offer. This happens when a seller doesn’t believe in his or her own products. It also happens when a seller doesn’t understand the way(s) their products work and how their products are part of a bigger picture.

When sellers start with product-based questions, they fail to demonstrate the value of their products. Since they haven’t uncovered a problem, the solution isn’t really addressing a problem. If, luckily, the buyer figures out on his or her own that the unspoken problem could be solved by the product, then a sale may occur – without any real credit to the seller’s efforts.

To truly solve a problem, a seller must first uncover the problem (many need to be surfaced because buyers – like all of us – may ignore the problem or procrastinate about it). Once the problem has been brought to light, it must then be thoroughly understood and examined. Additionally, the seller has to figure out if the buyer is sufficiently motivated to address the problem.

Questions that start with a natural curiosity and seek to understand (rather than sell) will always be more effective in surfacing problems. What’s more, merely asking needs-based questions creates value for the buyer. The rare seller who makes a buyer pause and think through a problem is a genuine resource. This is the kind of competitive differentiation that every seller should strive for.

It doesn’t take long to ask needs-based questions. In fact, most sales processes advance faster when the seller quickly surfaces the need and has more to talk about then their products. Of course, buyers are far more interested in talking about their problem and in hearing about solid solutions than they are in hearing about any products.

If you are avoiding needs-based questions for any of the five reasons listed above, be sure to step back and assess why you are stuck in that mode. It’s holding you back from reaching your true selling potential.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThe CONNECT2Sell Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Visit our website for more sales resources and tools. To learn about asking questions that will truly advance the sale, be sure to get a copy of the best-seller DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected. To learn more about our training programs, take a look at our 2015 course catalog

Common Sense Selling: The Difference between a Proposal and a Presentation

In selling, these two words are often used interchangeably as if they have the same meaning. They don’t. This is more than a matter of semantics. Many sellers truly don’t understand the difference between a proposal and a presentation. Not knowing can lead to a lot of wasted time and squandered opportunities.

Maybe it will help to consider the dictionary definition of both words. They do have distinct meanings, and the words themselves set up a certain expectation for the buyer. Expecting a proposal and then getting a presentation often leaves buyers feeling disappointed.

A presentation is “an introduction, exhibition, display, demonstration or performance.” The word suggests that something will be shown or made known.

By contrast, a proposal is “a suggestion, recommendation or plan.” The word implies a certain level of personalization – after all, it is the word we use when an offer of marriage is made.

Sellers seem to get confused when they have a wealth of presentation components and pitch elements available to them – collateral materials, sell sheets, pre-fabricated slideshows, product demos and samples, videotaped customer testimonials, etc. All this stuff, usually quite professional and eye-appealing, lacks the substance needed to stand alone as a proposal. Pre-made materials, produced by the marketing department, will always be the stuff of presentations, not proposals.

Of course, there is a right time, right place and right way to use presentation materials. But they don’t belong in proposals. I’ve worked with many sales professionals who have never drafted a proposal. But they think they are delivering proposals every time they take out marketing materials and a price quote. A presentation plus a price quote still does not equal a proposal.

First things first. The right time, place and way to make a presentation is when you are introducing, exhibiting, displaying, demonstrating or performing. All these actions require you to talk about and provide information related to the product or service you sell. That’s what they are for, and that’s all they do.

Presentations ought to be made when you are speaking to group of people or are required to talk to many people briefly and as quickly as possible. Trade show and exhibition sellers, telemarketers and guest speakers at meetings make presentations. They do “show and tell” to describe what’s interesting about what they are selling.

A presentation is used to generate buyer awareness and interest. It might even trigger some buyer desire. But presentations seldom cause a buyer to take the final step in their process which is action. The act of buying isn’t the natural or typical response to a presentation.

That’s why sellers need to do more than make presentations. They need to make proposals. When a buyer sees or hears a specific suggestion, recommendation or plan, they will have more to consider and will be more likely to take action. The more specific the suggestion, recommendation or plan is, the better. Better yet is when that specific suggestion, recommendation or plan is linked directly to the needs or problems that this buyer is experiencing right now.

You can think of this as the difference between what the sales department does and what the marketing department does. Marketing provide product information to the masses. They have a generic message that is intended to appeal to a lot of people. But they aren’t closing sales. That’s why a sales team is needed, too. It’s the job of sellers to build on the buzz created by marketing and see the sale all the way through to the close. Marketing, through its presentation materials (distributed in various media and formats), can connect with the buyer early in the buyer’s process to generate awareness and stimulate interest, perhaps even desire.

Sellers can’t over-rely on the very same materials to advance the sale to a close. Those materials are not designed to build desire or prompt action. That’s because doing something for the masses is inherently limited. People buy when something is personalized for them. They need to have a suggestion, a recommendation or a plan that includes them.

Here’s an example we can all relate to. Marketing presentations like television commercials and online tools and magazine articles cause us to become aware of and perhaps even interested in new car models. You may become highly interested in a car you see at an auto show, and your desire may build up as you research the car and learn more about it. That’s why you stop by the dealership one Saturday.

What happens next is up to the sales team. If they hand you a brochure (produced by marketing) and start listing all the features you already know as if they are demonstrating or exhibiting the product, it’s unlikely that your desire will build. On the other hand, if a seller learns a little bit about your needs and makes some suggestions for the features you would like to have, your desire will grow. You might even take the action of buying if the sales proposal (i.e. payment plan, recommendation of how to get behind the wheel and take ownership, etc.) is compelling enough.

Proposals pick up where presentations leave off. When a seller stops short of personalizing and putting together a plan that seller often misses the opportunity to close a sale.

So remember, proposals are about the customer but presentations are all about your product. Make proposals in order to make more sales.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThe CONNECT2Sell Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Visit our website for more sales resources and tools. To learn more about our training programs, take a look at our 2015 course catalog.  

Common Sense Selling: Are You Missing the Buying Signals?

Buyers have a process for buying, just like sellers have a sales process. When the buying and selling processes line up neatly, everyone feels good about the transaction and about the relationship.

Sometimes, though, things aren’t quite so tidy. Usually, this misalignment happens when a seller gets ahead of a buyer – for example, trying to close the sale before the buyer is ready to take action. There’s another way that misalignment can happen, though. Sometimes, the buyer is ahead of the seller. The seller misses clear buying signals because he or she doesn’t think it’s the right time to close the sale.

The unfortunate result of sellers not selling at that moment of buyer readiness? Buyers change their minds. They get “unsold” when sellers belabor the process or don’t seem fully confident in their products or services. After a transaction like this, buyers are left feeling both confused and relieved – confused because the seller didn’t sell and relieved because they believe there must have been something they missed, a reason the seller didn’t close the deal.

When I observe this on a sales call and debrief the seller after the call, the most common reaction is surprise. Sellers are not aware that there was a buying signal given. Oftentimes, the buying signal is misunderstood. Sellers often think that buying signals, especially early ones, are objections.

Give yourself a quick assessment. Regardless of where they come up in the sales process or how they are said, consider the five following responses from a buyer. Which ones do you think are buying signals? Which ones are more likely to be objections?

  1. Can you work with me on the price?
  2. Is that the best you can do on the cost?
  3. That’s just too expensive.
  4. Our current supplier gives us a deal.
  5. I’d take it at a 10% discount.

All of these are expressions of interest. We don’t talk about price unless we are at least mildly interested in a product or service. Mentally, we don’t take the time to evaluate whether or not we can afford something unless we are considering a purchase. It might be a quick mental calculation, but the buyer’s process always goes in this order:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

So a question or comment about price is at the stage of interest. Price considerations may suppress the desire and prevent the action of buying. As a seller, though, you need to understand that there is an element of interest because that gives you something to work with.

When it’s an objection, you’d handle this in a way that magnified desire by looking through the lens of value. Rather than focusing exclusively on price, you’d figure out what else is in this particular buyer’s value equation – what personalized benefits can they realize from your product or service?

The problem is that overreacting to the price objection takes the focus off the interest that’s been expressed and may overlook all the other aspects of value. Sellers accidentally minimize a buyer’s interest when they make the whole conversation about price alone. Maybe you’ve experienced this – the buyer brings up price, you reduce the price, and they still say “no.” Why? Because price alone didn’t build on interest and create desire.

Step 1, then, is recognizing an expression of interest. Next is the determination about whether this is a buying signal that indicates the buyer is considering an action or whether it’s an objection that is preventing the buyer’s desire from intensifying.

In general, when there is a question posed it is more likely to be a buying signal. Statements that sound factual (the buyer believes them to be true) are more likely to be objections.

If a buyer asks “is that he best you can do on cost?” it is a strong indication of an action being considered. But if the buyer says “that’s just too expensive” then you know you have work to do on magnifying the value.

When you are dealing with a buying signal, your response should be focused on advancing to the close. When it’s an objection, your response should be to return the conversation to the value that trumps cost (everyone values something more than price – your needs assessment can reveal that primary value). In other words, slow down with an objection and speed up with a buying signal.

If you are not sure which one you’re dealing with, try this simple technique. Ask the buyer to tell you more. Say simply “Tell me more about that.”

You’ll get one of two things in response to this question – a green light with exactly what you need to do to close (e.g. “Well, I like what you’ve offered but I’m hoping you can come down on a price…”) or a yellow light to proceed with caution through the detour back to value (e.g. “Your prices are higher than anyone else’s… I can’t spend that kind of money.”)

With that kind of clarity, you’ll respond in alignment with the buyer’s process and stay on track.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThe CONNECT2Sell Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Visit our website for more sales resources and tools. To learn more about our training programs, take a look at our 2015 course catalog


Common Sense Selling: Honor Your Appointments

In the category of things that shouldn’t have to be said but obviously need to be said…

Sellers: do not set appointments or meetings unless you are ready, willing and able to keep them.

This includes these three non-negotiables if you are truly a professional.

1. Be on time every time.

If you run into a truly impossible situation, notify your buyer as soon as possible so he or she can reallocate the time. They will appreciate it even if you notify them when you were only a few minutes late. It is courteous and respectful to do so. It signals that you will be courteous and respectful of them in other ways, too, when they are doing business with you.

2. If you say you will call back on a certain day or time, do it.

Your intention to give a general range or to float an idea of when you might reconnect is not sufficient. Your best bet is to schedule a firm appointment for your call back. This demonstrates your commitment and also compels your buyer to be more available for the follow up.

3. Never blow off a scheduled appointment, even if it’s just a phone call.

It is stunning to me how many sellers promise to call me once I’ve agreed to take their meeting… But at the appointed time, they are no-shows. There is no faster way to be blacklisted by a buyer.

When I ask sellers why they view callbacks and appointments so casually, the most common response I hear is some variation of “they didn’t really want to talk to me anyway.”

Then why did you set the meeting in the first place? And by not keeping your commitment, all you’ve done is ensure that they will never want to talk to you.

To honor your buyers and your own professionalism, honor the appointments and follow up you commit to.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThe CONNECT2Sell Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Visit our website for more sales resources and tools. To learn more about our training programs, take a look at our 2015 course catalog.  

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