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If you believe what a lot of the sales literature and tradition urges, you'll opt for "True." After all, there's an overwhelming amount of advice out there telling you to how to get someone to buy, to say "yes." Google the phrase "sales closing." You'll get 399 million results. So, salespeople should always be trying to get to "yes." True? 

Emphatically, definitively "false." All 399 million be damned.

It's true that salespeople should always be trying to reveal a legitimate "yes" that's buried under ignorance, fear and confusion. But they should not be driving to get to a "yes."

It's about a change of mindset. The successful CEOs quoted in Jim Collins's bestseller, "Good to Great," argue that the not-to-do list is more important than the to-do list. The biggest not-to-do in sales is trying to achieve a pre-determined outcome, i.e., getting someone to buy. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the harsh truth is that, even though we know our product/service can be valuable for people LIKE this prospect, we don't know whether or not THIS SPECIFIC prospect should buy.

Sales is not about persuading. It's about conducting a collaborative, honest, thorough investigation of the prospect's self-interest in relation to a business problem or opportunity, using a process that enables stakeholders to make a well-informed, sustainable, self-interested decision.

The wise salesperson invests in the legitimacy of the decision, not the content of the decision.

If your sales investigation reveals that it's a great idea to do business together, you'll both want to do it; so much for the problem of "closing." If the investigation reveals that it's not a good idea to do business, I would hope that sellers have sufficient integrity to acknowledge that, shake hands and move on, preserving their reputation and future welcome at the decision table.

As the Cluetrain Manifesto argued long ago, "There is no market for pitches."

When you pitch or try to persuade, the buyer is certain that what you urge is good for you. He doesn't yet know whether or not it's good for him, so he must keep you at bay until he resolves that question. That's why salespeople so often get locked outside the decision conversation: If their pitching behaviors show that they're trying to get me to buy, they prove that they've already made a decision about what I should do based on their self-interest, and thereby have no credibility as objective participants in a decision process based on my self-interest.

Conversely, if the seller's behavior shows that his entire purpose is to help me make a great decision, trust escalates and I welcome his contribution. Even if it turns out that there are good reasons why I shouldn't buy this time, the trust he's earned will preserve his seat at my decision table, and increase the odds that I'll refer him to others who would benefit from his decision expertise.

A salesperson's most valuable asset is decision facilitation, not product expertise.

Some ask, "But what if too many of the 'good' decisions I facilitate are not to buy from me?" That's valuable, too. It tells you that you're:

  • in the wrong market,
  • positioned improperly in the right market, or
  • aligned with a problem having too little impact to require a decision, action and investment.

Focus on getting people out of your sales pipeline. There are only two strategies:

  1. Simply walk away, abandon them
  2. Get a decision

Most salespeople do too much of #1, perhaps because they don't know how to do #2, or are afraid to hear a "no." Strategy #1 guarantees no sale, and no knowledge why. Strategy #2 is the only one guaranteed to give you something of value: either a sale, or important knowledge about a "no sale."

Mike O'Horo

For a long time, "No Decision" has had the largest market share, estimated at 30% (and that's for full-time, professional salespeople). Download our eBook, The Blind Spot That Keeps Lawyers from Doubling Their Income to learn why eliminating it pays far greater economic dividends than you'd get by increasing the number of prospects in your pipeline by 50%.