Failing to Ask for The Sale: Why & How to Overcome It
Closing should be the easiest part of selling. It's the natural culmination of a sales conversation. You've helped the buyer identify a problem and then proposed a solution.
Nevertheless, I've met many sales professionals who in spite of having excellent selling skills are reluctant to ask for the sale. This reluctance can, of course, impair a sales career and be intensely frustrating to sales managers.
In the movies, the solution to reluctance to close is simple: the sales manager gives an impassioned Always Be Closing speech (see Alec Baldwin Glengarry Glen Ross or Ben Affleck in Boiler Room). The reality, however, is more complicated since the root cause of this reluctance can often be psychological.
Here are the most common forms of reluctance and recommendations on how to overcome them:
#1 Fear of Rejection
The most common reason sales professionals are reluctant to ask for the sale is a fear of rejection. No one likes rejection; however, when a buyer says no it means that the buyer doesn’t want your product or service now. It doesn’t mean that the buyer rejects you as a person. In other words, don’t take it personally.
#2 Lack of Confidence in the Solution
Some sales professionals are reluctant to ask because they lack confidence in their own solution. For example, they convince themselves that there is no difference between their own product and a lower priced competitor, or that the competitor’s solution is somehow superior.
An effective way of building confidence in your own solution before asking for a commitment is to ask yourself: How will the buyer benefit from my solution? What makes my solution unique? By focusing on how your solution will benefit the buyer, you'll increase your own confidence.
#3 Fear of Jeopardizing the Relationship
Strong business relationships are the foundation of successful selling. A strong relationship increases your influence because the buyer respects your experience and advice. But sales professionals can confuse strong business relationships with their customer for friendship. These sales professionals are then reluctant to ask for a commitment because they fear that doing so will somehow jeopardize the relationship with the customer.
But nothing could be further from reality. According to the Harvard Business Review, buyers expect three things from a sales professional: product and industry expertise, professionalism and for the sales representative to ask them to take a specific action. Remember, the buyer knows that you're a sales professional and that your job is to ask for a commitment – they're expecting you to ask.
#4 Reluctant Salesperson Syndrome
As sales organizations look to become more proactive, one common initiative is transforming certain non-selling roles (e.g., customer service reps or account managers) into selling roles. The thinking here by a typical sales leader is that “the buyer service reps are talking to customers all day, so why not also have them sell?”
In our experience, these initiatives often fall flat because of the “reluctant salesperson syndrome.” Specifically, these non-selling job roles were never designed to include proactive selling responsibilities. So the people hired to fill these positions typically don’t have the desire, nor the selling skills, to be sales professionals. In fact, they often perceive themselves as customer advocates, and view sales professionals as having an inherent conflict of interest when dealing with customers.
As a result, they reluctantly perform their selling duties, including asking for the sale, and ultimately gravitate back to their comfort zone – i.e., customer service or account management.
The most effective solution is to address the root cause of reluctant salesperson syndrome: the mindset that sales is somehow bad for the buyer.
This can be accomplished through a sales training program that focuses on how the elements of great business relationships – trust, listening and providing value – are the same for both sales and non-sales people. Sales professionals provide value to their customers by helping them solve their business problems through the solutions that they sell. They're not in conflict with their buyers; they're in partnership with them.
#5 Not Sure When to Ask
Less experienced sales professionals are often not sure when to ask for the sale. Ask too early, and you come across as being pushy; while by asking too late, you may miss the optimal moment. The best time to ask for a commitment is when the buyer has completed his or her purchase process and is ready to make a decision. That means the buyer has articulated problem that he or she wants to solve and has acknowledged that your solution is the best way of solving that problem.
At this point, assuming you've helped the buyer identify their need and presented a solution that ties to such need, you've earned the right to ask for a commitment.
Another appropriate time to ask for a commitment is when you receive positive commitment signals from the buyer. Common commitment signals include questions about terms, delivery, implementation, next steps or financing; asking specific product related questions, looking for assurances (“Is that your best price?” Or, “What does the warranty cover?”); or being open to trial closes (“Sure, go ahead and send over the agreement to our legal department.”)
#6 Not Sure How to Ask
Another problem for newer sales professionals is not knowing how to ask for the sale. While there are many different ways to ask for the sale (e.g., choice, assumptive, urgency), I always recommend that when in doubt use the direct approach: simply ask the buyer to buy. For example, “Would you like to move forward with this?"
Two additional points to help sales professionals overcoming reluctance to close. First, set realistic objectives. If it isn't possible to ask for the sale at your next meeting because the ultimate decision maker hasn’t yet approved the order, ask to meet with that person to review your proposal. If your goals are realistic, failure is much less likely. Next, practice makes perfect. In our experience the most successful sales professionals do significant pre-call planning, including preparing how to ask for the sale.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.