From Glengarry Glen Ross's "always be closing" to the "never stop selling" ethic of The Wolf of Wall Street, it seems whenever Selling is portrayed in movies or on TV, it's always about driving hard to get to that elusive "yes." If you Google "how to get to yes," you'll see literally millions of results, just as you will if you Google "sales books about closing." Lots of people are urging you to push relentlessly to "yes." 

They're all wrong.

What if "yes" is the wrong outcome for the buyer? What if, for this prospect, at that company, under current conditions, hiring you is a bad idea? Will you still try to get them to hire you anyway?

A singular focus on getting someone to hire you is flawed in three important ways:

  1. It ignores half of the potential legitimate outcomes
  2. It undermines your credibility
  3. It creates the barriers that salespeople spend so much effort trying to overcome

There are only two potential good decisions: hire us; don't hire us. "Maybe" isn't a decision. How can a process that is blind to half the potential good decisions have any integrity? Prospects aren't stupid; they can tell when the only outcome we're entertaining is "hire me." We claim that once we're hired, we'll act solely in the client's interest. Yet, all the evidence so far is that we're acting solely in our own interests. Do we expect prospects to believe that after we're hired we'll flip 180 degrees and become solely focused on what's good for them? ("Honest, honey. I know I'm being selfish and inconsiderate now, but once we're married, I'll be nothing but thoughtful and solicitous.") 

When we begin a sale, we have no idea what's best for the prospect. We only know what's best for us, i.e., getting hired. Prospects know that hiring us is good for us. They don't yet know whether or not it's good for them. As a result, they have to hold us off and keep us at arm's length until they figure out what's good for them. That's how we erect the barriers that sales coaches spend so much time figuring out how to overcome.

To Do: Pursue a Decision, Not a "Yes"

What if, instead of trying to get a "yes," we pursued a decision? Not just any decision, but a fully-informed, eyes-open, sustainable decision based solely on the buyer's self-interest, without regard to whether it was "yes" or "no"? Where you're invested in the legitimacy of the decision, not its content? (Gee, isn't this how you conduct yourself after you get hired?)

The entire prospect/salesperson dynamic changes for the better:

  1. Prospects recognize that you're only trying to learn what's best for them, so they cooperate, which eliminates traditional barriers such as identifying the decision-makers, overcoming objections, closing, etc.
  2. You learn at the same pace as the prospect whether or not you're a good fit, so you can disinvest early if it becomes clear that you're not. This preserves your credibility, and your future welcome at the decision table. If I can count on your objectivity, and your decision process works, I'll engage you again to help make decisions.
  3. If too many of those good decisions are not to hire you, you learn that you have a marketing problem, not a sales problem. If it's a bad idea to hire you, you're either in the wrong market, or if you're in the right market, you're positioned incorrectly, i.e., you're selling against the wrong problem. This is critical intelligence to enable you to correct your course before over-investing in a losing concept.
  4. You get people out of your sales pipeline quickly and inexpensively, reducing your cost of sales. As long as someone remains in your pipeline, you have obligations and overhead. A decision ends that.

Who is your biggest competitor? If the name of another firm or lawyer came to mind, or a non-lawyer solution seller, you're wrong. Your biggest competitor, with an estimated 30% market share, is "no decision." That's right, in roughly a third of selling situations, nobody gets the sale because the problem driving the sale doesn't require them to do anything. The problem's impact is acceptable, so they have the luxury of doing nothing. (That's why it's so important for you to master the Cost of Doing Nothing.)

So, set aside your personal interest and focus on helping the buyer make the best-informed decision possible. By doing so, you'll reliably climb the Impact Ladder (if it's not displayed, click View Images above). Your discussions will be Relevant. Your decision process is absolutely Useful and very likely to be perceived as Valuable. And if they've previously experienced difficulty making decisions among a diverse group of stakeholders, you've got a decent chance of being seen as Indispensable, which is the status that we all really aspire to, isn't it?

Mike O'Horo