One of the most difficult lessons for salespeople to learn is the importance of getting a decision. Without a decision, you have nothing. No client. No work. No revenue.

Over time, as we gain experience (and, hopefully, pay attention to it) we begin to recognize that "Yes" arrives quickly, whereas "No" takes forever. 

"Yes" is simple, and the reasons for a quick "Yes" are obvious. If the prospect recognizes that you understand his problem or challenge and the context within which he must address it, the real constraints that define his range of options, and the impact and value of the solution you propose relative to what it will cost him in time, money and disruption, he has no reason to delay. He wants to buy because he wants to get started producing the desired outcome.

"No," on the other hand, is far more difficult for most of us. It requires us to do two things we'd rather avoid:

  1. Shut off our options
  2. Give someone bad news

We all hope to have purchase decision information so complete and clear that the decision is obvious and easy. Unfortunately, that's rarely available. Usually, we have to make buying decisions among imperfect solution options, with imperfect information, in less than optimal time frames. We'd prefer to delay the decision as long as possible in the hopes that the picture clarifies or that a more perfect solution option presents itself.

We only make the decisions we must make. That's why so many happen at the last minute. Whether it's a case settling the night before trial, or us making a purchase minutes before the promotional offer deadline expires, we wait as long as possible to decide, hoping that something will arise to make the decision easier or less risky. Once we say "no," it's over. There's no hope of a nirvana solution showing up to make the decision easy for us.

"No" adds another, emotional, layer of reason to delay. "No" means we have to give bad news to someone whom we know has worked really hard for, and was really hoping for (and, based on our behavior and comments, was perhaps counting on) a "yes." As buyers, we don't like to give bad news to anyone, so we wait, hoping that something happens that causes the seller to conclude that the sale is dead, saving us the discomfort of delivering the bad news. After we've avoided the seller for awhile, we've compounded our problem. Not only must we tell them "no," but we have to face the fact that it will be clear that we've been inconsiderate, maybe even unprofessional.

If a sale has been dragging along, stuck somewhere, should you simply walk away and cut your losses? No. Instead, send the person an email that offers them "no" on a silver platter:

"When we began discussing [prospect's problem] ____ weeks ago, you said that [solution you're offering] made a lot of sense. Since then, you've been unavailable to me and we seem to have lost all momentum. Has something changed that has rendered our discussion irrelevant? Is this now an idea whose time has come and gone? If so, please let me know and I'll get out of your way. If not, please let me know what next steps make sense to you."

By allowing them to simply confirm the "no" you've offered, you've made it easier for them to withdraw. Or, if they're still interested and they've simply been very busy, they'll apologize for going dark on you and suggest a next step. Either way, you've created movement, i.e., joint movement toward a shared purpose or your individual movement away from a dead end.

The takeaway: Pursue a decision -- without regard to whether it's "yes" or "no."

Mike O'Horo

To see the economic impact of "no-decision," download our free e-book, The Mistake Lawyers Make that Keeps Them from Doubling Their Income.