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Are You Too Nice to Close the Deal?

By Connie Kadansky

In forming relationships with prospects, do you lack assertiveness? Do you constantly seek approval? Do you lack the ability to close a sale? These symptoms point to a costly form of call reluctance that may well be the Achilles’ heel of the sales industry.

Jon has been in sales for nearly 12 years. He has great customers, but he wants more! He knows what he needs to do: commit to prospect consistently, build better strategic alliances, and buckle down and close more sales.

So what’s the problem? By analyzing his prospecting activity, Jon has come to the conclusion that he’s spending an inordinate amount of time volunteering and building relationships. But the activities haven’t added enough new clients to justify his time and financial expenditures.

Jon isn’t the only salesperson who has difficulty transitioning from relationship-building to solid business-building. He isn’t aware of it, but he exhibits a form of Sales Call Reluctance, and it’s interfering with his closing new business.

This type of call reluctance has been identified as “yielder” call reluctance. It is common among salespeople, who rarely recognize it. You see, salespeople with yielder call reluctance are people pleasers. They are approval seekers who lack assertiveness, often much to their own detriment.

People pleasers don’t move forward unless someone gives them a crystal clear signal to proceed. They don’t control the process of moving a prospect along the pipeline to becoming a client. They let the prospect maintain control, and hence they just can’t seem to close a deal.

Perhaps these salespeople:

  • Feel that the prospect would be offended by sales efforts
  • Leave appointments without getting a firm commitment from the prospect for the next step
  • Have many unanswered questions they are afraid to ask
  • String out closing the sale

Does this sound familiar? Do you lack assertiveness? (When you think about it, prospecting is contact initiation -‑ and that’s an assertive act.) Pause for a moment and think about the relationship that you want to take one step closer to a bona fide customer. If you aren’t turning networking opportunities and qualified prospects into new clients, perhaps it’s time to look a little deeper.

A word about relationships

In the book Hard Truth about Soft Selling, author George Dudley says: “You can’t depend on relationship-building skills alone to make the sale for you. Hone those skills and make them work for you, but don’t confuse making friends with making sales. When is the last time your firm sent you a check for a friendship bonus?”

You know value-added customer service can be the deciding factor when a prospect chooses you over a competitor. But salespeople get their wires crossed when they believe that the buyer-seller relationship is more important than the sale. There must be a balance. In the end, relationships and friendships do not pay the bills. Selling products and services pay the bills.

Don’t get me wrong, relationships are important. But buyers primarily want you to fulfill their needs and provide solutions. They want you to know your product. They want you to care about them. You can do this by taking action and keeping them moving forward. Trying to gain their approval is a misspent effort. Keep working on yourself, developing your skills, and doing the activity that puts you in front of people. Your confidence will escalate. Here are a few thought-provoking questions to ask yourself:

  • Can you close a sale without developing rapport?
  • Can you develop a relationship without closing a sale?
  • Can you strike a balance between these two concepts?

A successful salesperson finds the middle ground. He’s clear on goals and understands that it is okay to sell his services to meet his production goals.

It should be noted that yielder call reluctance is the most common and the most costly. It has become more prevalent as sales training programs within organizations that promote soft selling approaches. In fact, in some companies and some industries there are toxic levels of call reluctance throughout their sales force.

That’s great news for some salespeople -‑ at least for the non-yielders -‑ because it gives them a huge advantage. Every once in a while you may meet a salesperson who isn’t any more knowledgeable than you, yet they have a better business. They aren’t really all that experienced or even as competent as you are, but they seem to always get new business. Why? They win the business because they’re assertive and consistent in their prospecting and self-promotion, and they close the business.

Understanding yielder call reluctance

The first step in overcoming yielder call reluctance is to understand what it is and how it could be affecting you. The following questions will help you determine if you have this costly form of call reluctance:

  • Are you not prospecting consistently because you have difficulty asserting yourself?
  • Are you afraid to incite conflict by asking qualifier questions?
  • Are you afraid you will appear pushy or intrusive?
  • Are you afraid to bother the busy, disturb the indisposed, or interrupt the otherwise engaged?
  • Are you sociable but not necessarily outgoing?
  • Are you building a number of relationships but not meeting your production goals?
  • Are you paying for lunches, dinners, and golf games but not breaking even?

If you answered “Yes” to three or more of the above questions, you may be suffering from yielder sales call reluctance. Here are five steps to get you moving forward:

Step 1: Awareness

Be acutely aware of the behavior. When you find yourself yielding, simply observe your actions without getting angry with yourself. Your recognition of the problem is a positive step. If you judge and berate your actions, you are doing more harm than good. If this happens, you must stop the exercise because it will take you backward instead of forward. You must learn to become a scientist of your behavior. Self-reflection is the capacity to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about you. It is one of the best ways to self-correct. It’s particularly helpful to reflect on your actions through writing. After a meeting, prospecting session, networking event or similar effort, ask yourself the following four questions. Don’t just do it mentally, write your answers down in a notebook.

  • What did I do well? Whatever you did right, embellish it. You might write: I showed up. I had plenty of business cards. I had a great elevator speech when someone asked me what I do for a living. I asked qualifying questions. You get the picture, right?
  • What would I do differently next time? Think about different choices you could have made. Your reflection could say: I would ask for an appointment. I would create a sense of urgency about getting together. I would ask for their contact information.
  • What would I never do again? Dig deep. Is there anything you would never do again? You might promise yourself: I will never pay for another thing, unless I get concrete commitment for action. I will never walk away without asking for referrals. I will never again not have an answer to, “Let me think it over.”
  • What did I learn about myself as a salesperson from this event? This is a key question. Don’t give it short shrift. You could reflect: I learned that there is a real need for my services. I learned that I am pretty good at answering tough objections. I learned that my confidence spirals downward when I walk away without asking for the sale. Allow yourself to be honest and candid both about what’s improving in your approach and what’s not working.

Step 2: Assessment

Pinpoint the extent of the problem. Here’s a great tip: Record your prospecting calls -‑ there’s no better way to self-correct. Athletes watch the video of their games to improve their plays. If athletes are so interested in the subtleties and intricacies of performance improvement, couldn’t the same type of scrutiny help you?

For $112 you can purchase a telephone recorder that you plug into the wall and into the phone line. Or talk with Ryan Pitts at www.newcallsolutions.com. He can set you up with a temporary or permanent account to record your calls for training purposes. If you use it only for instructional purposes and nothing else, nondisclosure should be OK legally. However, it’s a good idea to speak with your compliance department or an attorney before you begin recording. Depends on what state you are in also.

First of all, listen to the general impression your voice is making on the phone. When you make the calls, 73% of the communication is your tonality. How do you sound? Would you talk to you? Second, listen for the opportunities you missed. Third, you can pinpoint what you said and how you said it on the call that landed you the appointment.

Step3: Admission

The hardest part of changing behavior is admitting that the behavior is costing you big bucks, not to mention your self-esteem and confidence. Here’s an exercise to help you see how different personality types handle sales situations.

  • Look up the following words in a dictionary: “aggressive,” “assertive,” and “passive.” Then, with real scenarios in your day-to-day business, write out how an aggressive salesperson would handle the situation. Next, write down how an assertive salesperson would handle it, and then a passive salesperson. Sometimes yielders believe that assertive behavior is actually aggressive. A major key to success is to distinguish the difference between these behaviors.
  • Look up the words “like” and “respect” in a dictionary. What’s the difference? Would you rather be respected or liked? Have you ever done business with a professional whom you respected but really didn’t like? Also notice that when you do not follow your process and you let prospects control the process, and when you walk away without getting firm commitments, you do not like yourself.

Step 4: Application

Now you can begin to use proven techniques and overcome the behavior. For example, notice when you don’t ask a question or don’t say something because you become afraid. Top salespeople ask the tough questions when they are in front of their prospects. Mediocre salespeople ask the tough questions as they are driving away in their cars.

Step 5: Analysis

Continue to examine and analyze your behavior so that you don’t relapse. One way to do this is to always make a note of what makes you speechless. Then you can take steps to get the response you need. Here are some suggestions:

  • Look to the experts. Consult your manager, review training material, and dig deep to find the proper responses to situation that stymie you. The answers are out there. If you are a financial advisor, highly recommend www.horsesmouth.com. When you find the right ideas, new behaviors will come easier to you and old habits will be easier to break.
  • Role-play. Find a motivated, goal-oriented person who will role-play key scenarios with you. It’s fun if you find someone who will courageously throw you curve balls. You can record your role-plays and analyze them just as you would a phone call.

Some final tips

Decide that you will control the process early on with clients. Think about other professionals, such as lawyers, doctors, or accountants – they all control their process and wouldn’t allow a patient/client to change their methods. Like you, they are experts and they know what works and what doesn’t.

Give people freedom to think about you how they want to think about you. Be confident, be honest, have a high regard for people, and create a sense of entitlement when you are prospecting and meeting with clients. Some of you have put in years of study and work to understand your business. Stop projecting your fears onto your prospects. You are the qualified professional to help them develop achieve their goals.

Remember, this will take some real work. The desire to be liked above all else has probably been with you for a long time. With some effort, you can gently become more assertive and take charge of your sales. People will still like you. The most important thing is that you’ll learn to like yourself. And when you self-manage these issues, you will finally be earning what you are worth.