Just Ask!

How do you get what you want in 2017? Just ask!

In the late 1980s an American corporation hired a training company to investigate their falling sales figures and rising costs. The company did business across the entire United States with 400 sales professionals covering their territories in 400 cars, each with an expense account and a fuel bill – a very large overhead to the business. The training company were given a specific instruction to uncover where the business must have already known their problem lay. Each salesperson was set up with a mystery customer over a period of six months. During the sales presentation the mystery customer had a simple task. If the sales person asked them for the order, they had to buy. If the sales person didn’t ask for the order, they were not allowed to buy. The results were startling. Out of the 400 meetings, with 400 sales professionals – only 25 got the sale! That means 93.75% of the sales people out on the road were not asking for the business, not closing the sale and not generating revenue for the company. When all they had to do, was ask.

Although this tale is from over 25 years ago it could just as easily be from today. When carrying out analyses on sales teams and spending time on the road coaching sales people, the most common obstacle I find is people shying away from asking for the order – and I can truly empathise with them.


Why don’t we ask for the sale?

When I was learning my craft I would constantly have my manager or trainer screaming at me as I was on a telephone call to stop talking and just ask for the business. Order forms were thrust in front of me with an exasperated finger pointing at the section for payment details. When learning face to face selling I could feel my mentor’s frustration whilst I either waffled on at the prospect or tried to finish the meeting without any attempt to get a decision from prospective customer. I can clearly recall my feelings of anguish and panic as my heart raced and my face reddened trying to squeeze out the phrase “this will be great, should we give it a go?” What if they say no? What if they get angry at my directness and have me escorted from the building? What if they shout? What if they laugh at me? What if they say no!? All that hard work and time wasted, all the preparation and research and it was such a great presentation! Instead I thought, I will play safe and avoid asking for the order. That way, they definitely won’t say no – unfortunately, they would definitely not say yes either.

Avoiding asking for the business, the order, the appointment or payment is very common for a number of reasons. Naturally most people steer themselves away from conflict and discussing opposing views and negotiation is seen by many as a form of conflict. Equally, not receiving the news you want is often taken personally as failure so it is far easier to avoid the situation entirely. And finally, if you avoid any chance of being rejected then in your mind there is always a small chance that you will get the business at some point in time and all is not lost. In the pressure of a sales environment it is easy to fall into these traps and I have done so myself many times. However, by not asking for at least ‘next steps’ in the sales process, all your amazing questions, research, passionate delivery and shining of your shoes that has impressed your prospect so much is meaningless – without moving the sale forward everything you have said is just flirtation.

Stop closing

 A lot of people fear closing the deal when selling more than any other part of the sales process and I believe it is due to the terminology. How would your customer be left feeling if they had been closed? What connotations does closing someone create and how frightening does being asked to close someone sound? It makes me think of a famous scene from the 1992 film ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ where Alec Baldwin plays a sales manager and is giving what is supposed to be a motivational speech to his sales team who are struggling converting sales for an American real estate company. Alec’s character explains what prizes are on offer for top sales people in the company where first place in the team will win a car, second place will get a set of steak knives and whoever is in third place will get fired! The entire scenario is based around highly adversarial sales tactics and bullying in the work place. When Jack Lemon’s character starts to pour himself a coffee he is ordered to stop and put down his cup as “coffee is for closers!” With these representations of closing as a sales skill no wonder it scares both sales people and customers.

To change our approach to closing first of all let’s change the language. In Japanese the word for close roughly translates into ‘horizon’ meaning nothing is really ever closed or finished it has merely entered a new phase and the previous phase has concluded. During the sales cycle look upon each step as a new phase in the customer’s journey rather than the end of a sales process where they either buy from you or walk away from the negotiation. You can always revisit something that isn’t closed, there is no negative feeling or connotation to moving forward in a process and if each stage reaches a new horizon then you will always get value from every sales interaction. If you ensure each interaction has a conclusion with agreed next steps (whatever they may be) then your customer will naturally be moved towards a sale. By always agreeing next steps at the end of every interaction you can shorten your sales process, save time and quickly identify leads that are destined to be a dead end. So instead of closing – conclude.

What would happen if you just asked?

As part of my work I travel regularly and spend a lot of hours in airports killing time looking around shops and duty free. One year I visited the same shop six times trying on the same pair of sunglasses before placing them back on the stand and walking away. On my seventh visit I placed the glasses on my face, looked in the mirror imagining myself as Tom Cruise when the shop assistant shouted over to me from their till “they look good, you should buy them”, and guess what, I did! What made the difference on my seventh trip to the shop? Was I cajoled and forced into a sale by an aggressive shop assistant? Quite often it’s the slightest nudge from a third party that eases us into making a decision. The simplest of conclusions to a sale can often get the best results. If I hadn’t been given the little push that I needed I may still be trying on the glasses during my twentieth trip to the shop. Frequently a warm smile and a genuine motive for someone to buy from you is the magic wand that sales people have been looking for. Simply ask and you shall receive.

What turns people off buying?

The sales person runs out of things to say – Quite often when selling you can exhaust every benefit, list every feature and smile until your mouth aches but if you run out of conversation things quickly become awkward and the sale is lost. Remember, always have a two way conversation and ask lots of great questions. If you are spending 80% of your time listening to the customer you will never encounter an awkward silence.

The customer is unsure of what to do next; so does nothing – Ensure that your customer is aware of exactly how to buy from you. Clearly and simply explain the process that will take the sale forward and how you will help them and support them along the way.

The customer is confused so takes the safest option and says no – It is one of the oldest sayings in sales but it will always be relevant; Keep it simple. If you overcomplicate your proposal and you are not understood you will lose the sale. People don’t buy what they don’t understand so when you are asking for the order give a simple recap of everything you can help them with and check for understanding.

The sales person keeps talking until the customer switches off – Verbal diarrhea is common and is often read by the customer as a sign of nerves or potentially a sign that you are lying. If you feel like your mouth is out of control ask the customer a wonderful open question about their business and then remain silent whilst they answer. Alternatively, try bringing the presentation to an end by asking for the order. Customers appreciate being listened to far more than they appreciate being talked at and often sales are missed by talking passed the point where the deal should have been done and frustrating the customer. In sales – less is more.

The customer feels intimidated or threatened by obvious sales tactics and loses faith – If your customer senses an obvious sales tactic or feels you are being dishonest then alarm bells will ring. If you attempt to hard sell and close a customer down more often than not they will become defensive, rapport will be broken and the sale (and future sales) will be lost. Remain calm, listen attentively and propose goods and services that will honestly help your customer. If you always have your customer’s best interest at the core of what you do then you will shine and asking for orders will become simpler.

The sales person’s products or services are of no benefit to the customer – Do your research as you cannot sell ice to Eskimos. If your prospect has a sturdy and logical argument why your goods and services are not relevant to them then the greatest salesperson in the world cannot get their business. People buy products that solve their problems or achieve their desires and by preparing in advance exactly how you feel you can help someone you will have a stronger and more powerful proposition. This isn’t to say that you won’t get it wrong now and again. If you feel you’ve made a mistake and discover that what you are offering isn’t relevant to that person’s needs even after exploring different avenues with them then don’t be afraid to walk away from a sale. You will build on your brand name for being honest and reliable as well as save time that can be spent helping people who will benefit from doing business with you.

Make asking for what you want a habit

As children we have no fear when it comes to asking for the business. When children see sweets or chocolate they ask straight away and they are never deterred by objections. When my children were young they went through the phase of asking why? after everything that I said. If I refused them on any request I would be repeatedly asked for logical reasoning as to why I had said no, quite often until I caved in and said yes. They had a habit of asking for what they wanted and no inhibition or doubt crept into their mind about whether they should ask or not.

As we get older our confidence in asking for what we want decreases as we approach adulthood. Whether this is a natural part of development or lead by society pressures, pier groups and environmental factors I don’t know. I think back to my adolescent years when I started dating and found I couldn’t summon the courage to ask out a girl that I went to school with. I felt the same fear of rejection that I did when I started my sales career. Only to discover years later at a reunion that she always wanted to go out with me but as I never asked her she assumed I didn’t like her and I missed my chance.

Starting from today form a new habit. Become the inquisitive fearless child that asks for what they want as they truly believe it is right for them and explain passionately why you think it is right for your customer. In 2017 don’t just dream about what you want – ask for it!