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Do you suffer from "Maybe-itis"?

By Landy Chase, MBA, CSP

Health bulletin for sales people: The dread disease Maybe-itis continues to be a major health hazard to the careers of many in the sales profession. Symptoms of this disease are readily apparent upon close inspection of an individual's selling skills, and commonly include the following:

  • An inability to get people to make a decision, resulting in a perpetual sense of false hope in something that isn't going to happen

  • A presentations-to-sales percentage in the range of 10% to 15%

  • Mindless follow-up with people who say they are "kicking it around"

  • High frustration and anxiety over the impact on sales performance

  • An income not representative of the time and effort being expended

If left untreated, Maybe-itis can be lethal to the career of a sales person. How does one expunge oneself this dread affliction?

You already know that most buying decisions are not made immediately after your presentation. Most people will not make an on-the-spot decision, period. This is not an attempt to ruin your day, it is simply human nature, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. Some people will tell you that they need time to "think it over", and others will need to "run the proposal by a partner", or want to "study it", or "sleep on it", or whatever. Contrary to what you might have learned at the last "don't take no for an answer" sales seminar, they have every right to do this, and attempting to push them to act immediately is a bad idea. I know that some of you may have been told otherwise, but practically speaking, high-pressure gimmicks are not only a waste of time, they are unprofessional and unnecessary. At the same time, however, getting up and leaving without getting closure is the worst thing that you can do - because it often causes a long-term case of Maybe-itis. What's a good sales person to do?

Whenever you are faced with a situation where the decision is not going to be made immediately, the first step is always to immediately establish a firm deadline for a decision. You have every right to do this. The best approach is to ask the buyer how much time they need to make a decision, and then offer a deadline yourself.

For example:

Buyer: "We need some time to think this over".

You: "That’s fine. How much time do you require; is a week from today adequate?"

Buyer: "Yes, a week from today would be fine."

What does this do for you? Simply stated, it draws a line in the sand for the decision - yes or no - to be made. It also stops "maybe" dead in its tracks.

Now that you have an agreed upon date for the decision, the next step is to verify that there are no other outstanding issues. This is critical, because it allows you to ensure that the decision itself is the only thing left on the table. This is simply done as follows:

You: "Do you have everything you need at this point to make a decision?"

Buyer: "Yes, you've been very helpful."

Now that you have (1) agreed upon a date for the decision, and (2) agreed that all of the buyer's questions have been answered, move to the third and final step. Ask for a tentative commitment to move forward, while respecting their need to "think it over". This should be presented as follows:

You: "Recognizing that you need a week to arrive at your decision, what is the likelihood of us doing business together, based on what you've seen at this point?

Your prospective client will answer this question in one of two ways - and this will tell you, with a high level of accuracy, whether or not you are going to be doing business together. Let’s look at the ramifications of each.

The first response we'll look at is the response you want here, which is what I call a "conditional yes" - a verbal commitment that they want to move forward pending the "think it over" step, whatever that step may be.

For example: “I plan to move forward with you. I just need to _________." Some of you may think that 'buyers are liars'. You may be thinking, "Oh, they'll just say that to get you out of their office". My experience has been otherwise. A response like this indicates, in my experience, that you have a high likelihood - about 75% - that you will be doing business together, this is because the buyer, upon your request, is indicating the direction they are leaning with regard to your recommendation.

This is the type of situation where good follow-up is critical and well-worth your time. Immediately after this meeting, send the person a thank you in the mail. Include in your thank-you note this statement: "I would also like to thank you for your commitment to make a prompt business decision. I really appreciate it!"

Now, let’s take a look at what you don't want to hear. The response that you don't want to the commitment request is - anything else! The most common example is the following:

"Well, give me a call in a week, and we'll let you know."

Ouch! You asked for a commitment and didn't get one! There is something here that is keeping your sale from moving forward. At least you know! Try asking "what concerns you at this point?" and see if you can get the remaining issues on the table. And if you can't - get over it! For whatever reason, you weren't able to convince this person to do business with you. Politely end the meeting and gear up for another opportunity elsewhere.

Follow-up here is brief, as well. Give this person one follow up phone call. (You will almost always get their voice mail). Say, "I was following up on my proposal to see if you had made a decision. Please call me when you're ready to proceed. Thank you!" Click! End of follow up. Why? Because if they are going to do business with you, they'll call you, that’s why! And if they are not, you won't hear back from them. This frees you up to pursue other, quality opportunities.

You see, learning to love the word "no" is an important step to good time management. "No" means "closure". "No" is permission to get on with other opportunities. "No is a green light to refocus on productive tasks, while discarding this unproductive one.” “No" is a step forward - a move in the right direction. "No" means permission to get over it, and get on with your life. Getting to "No" is a superb time-management skill.

As the great sales trainer Tom Hopkins used to say, if you get one 'yes' for every thirteen 'no's', then every 'no' that you get is one less 'no' you have to deal with until you get to the next 'yes.' Sounds like a cure for “maybe-it is” might be within your reach, after all.

Read other articles and learn more about Landy Chase.

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