A rep came to me with the news that he was finally making headway with a prospect, but had trouble with them making the commitment. His new contact had told him that he would “think about” his proposal.  As his manager, that phrase did not trigger enthusiasm. Experience has taught me that “thinking it over” generally is a polite way of saying “no”.

Gaining commitment

I advise our sales reps to seek an unequivocal “yes” or “no” from prospects, but realize they may be faced with a “maybe”.  When this happens, ask the client why he is hesitating. You may be surprised by the response. Here are some common reasons a potential customer may choose to “think about it”:

  • Lack of trust – If you haven’t spent sufficient time getting to know the customer, you haven’t earned the right to ask for an order. Spend more time bonding by asking more questions.
  • Too polite – Some people simply can’t say “no”; it’s against their nature. You need to make them feel comfortable with a negative response. Try saying, “It’s okay for you to tell me “yes” or “no”, but please don’t tell me, “let me think it over.”
  • Not the decision-maker – The person you are dealing with may not be authorized to approve the sale. Ask, “In addition to you and me, who else might be part of a decision like this?”
  • Needs proof – While your sales target may agree with the value of your product as proposed, he may need to see it perform before making a final decision. Offer this — “Would you be willing to give me a purchase order pending an agreed upon trial period of satisfactory performance?”
  • Not in the market – If your client says he is not in the market for your products, you have failed to establish what he needed in the first place. Pursue every sale on the basis of where your customer has a problem or an opportunity to grow their business.

Discovery time

As you can see from the points above, equivocal responses can be avoided if you spend more time discovering and establishing customer needs before making a pitch. “I’ll think it over” is really just a nice way of saying “no”. Invest some time in finding out why.

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