"The Navigator" News Blog

If You Don’t Ask for What You Want, How Do You Expect to Get It?

The meek may inherit the Earth – but they won’t lead the sales rankings.

Recently, I was asked what effect I see from the slow economy on the work of salespeople. We all know the common answers – slow sales, long decision cycles, etc. – but I think it’s worth focusing on another area. For want of a better phrase, I call it “excessive timidity.” This timidity can be a career killer, if you let it.

Understand first, that a salesperson’s role is to assist, and yes, persuade customers in the effort of helping customers to make purchases that are beneficial both to themselves and to the salesperson. This process works best when the salesperson and the customer mutually advance through a process that begins with Prospecting, moves to Discovery/Needs Analysis, to Presentation, to Proposal, to Decision. It’s the salesperson’s job to assess the readiness of the customer to advance through this process, and then to move the customer.

Ideally, in selling, we want each contact with the customer to advance the relationship. This is true even with existing customers with whom we are already doing business. “Advancing the relationship” with current customers can take many forms; we can advocate new products, we can ask for new and different contacts within the customer’s chain of command, or we can get testimonials and referrals.

The common thread between all of those things, however, is that we must ask for the right things to happen. If we want the customer to buy new products, we have to ask. If we want the customer to give us a referral, that typically won’t happen if we don’t ask. In selling, you will not get what you want unless you ask for it.

On the face, it would seem logical that, in tough times, it becomes more important for salespeople to make the most out of every sales call by asking the right questions, and moving relationships forward. In the real world, this is true. The problem is that tough times generate fear, and resultant timidity, in salespeople – which causes them to do the exact OPPOSITE of the desirable behavior.

The key here is that salespeople become defensive with the relationships they have. They become their own worst competitors, and thus they back off from asking the right questions and doing the right things, out of a fear that their customers will perceive them as “pushy” and cut off the relationships. The result is that the biggest time-suck of salespeople (chasing ‘maybe’s’ and deals that won’t happen) becomes a BIGGER time-suck, and the salespeople become less productive. That defensiveness also leaves you ripe for the picking from competitors, because aggressive competitors will work to show your customers new products, and new opportunities – which can leave you out in the cold.

Let’s look at some classic symptoms of sales timidity:

“I was just calling to see if you have any questions about…” This one is normally used in place of competent follow up on a proposal. You’ve issued an offering of a specific service for a specific price, and you’re looking for an answer. But instead of gutting up and asking for what you want, instead you ask if they have ‘any questions,’ with the hope that they will close themselves. What nonsense. If they had questions, they’d have asked. Instead, just ask for what you want – the sale.

“Hi, Mr. Customer. I’m just calling to touch base/follow up…” Again, an agenda-free call. That’s not respectful of your time or your customer’s. Instead, when you call, have a reason and a desired action for the customer to take – and then ask them to take that action.

“Mr. Customer, here’s the price – but…” This is followed by any number of weak phrases that essentially invalidate the price you’ve just given. Anytime you use weasel words after quoting a price, you have hurt yourself in two ways – first, you will not sell at the quoted price, because you have virtually demanded that the customer negotiate you down. Second, you lose the right to close that piece of business, because you haven’t quoted a firm price.

In tough times as well as good times, your job as a salesperson is to ASK for what you want! You will not get it (a sale, a referral, a testimonial) unless you ask. Your customers will not kick you out for asking, and if they do, they’re not really your customers at all. Lose the fear, and get back to selling.