06 Feb Beware the Bobble-head: When Closing Sales, Reliable Agreements Start with YES
In client-facing meetings, you and I understand the importance of securing definitive commitments to action from our clients; lining up firm agreements to next steps that close the deal and allow us to do business together with them. We relish the occasions when we walk away believing that our proposals have been accepted. So it’s befuddling when the momentum for action that we thought we’d generated in the closing minutes of a sales call seems to dry up in the days or weeks after the call.
What’s going on?
Beware the Bobble-head Treatment from a client. Clients have many reasons for not saying NO. For some, given the option to be seen as agreeable and nice, they will avoid the need to say NO. They give the impression of saying YES, but, in fact, there is no commitment from their side. For other clients, they realize that they’re in the decision-maker’s seat, and other than the time they are spending in the call with you, they have very little at risk. Still others may not possess the same sense of urgency that you or I might as we sit in the sales-side seat. The client may be gathering information – from us as well as from others. They may be weighing alternatives, content to stretch the conversation out for a period of time to meet their own preference for a slower pace, enabling them to assess their alternatives before being held to a final decision.
When a YES is a YES
There’s a simple way to know when a YES is a reliable YES. It’s when the client actually says YES! So let’s be clear. The moment of a secure, reliable agreement is NOT the appropriate time for the client to respond “Sure” or “ Okay” or “Yeah” (though a friend from Wisconsin assures me that “Sure” means YES out there. I still wonder). For me, anything less than a YES simply triggers my inclination to take note and dig deeper (Wisconsin or otherwise!). Here’s why.
These not-YES responses don’t have the gravitas, enthusiasm and directness of a definitive YES, especially when delivered at a moment that matters. Imagine yourself in one of the following positions and choose your likely response:
A. You’re being offered the candidacy of your political party to run on the ballot for the position of President of the United States of America. Your party chair and the congregation of party big-wigs gather to ask you: “Do you [your name here] agree to run in the election on behalf of our party’s constituents?” to which you reply:
- “Why not?”
- “Umm… okay.”
B. You stand at the head of the aisle with a Justice of the Peace (or other pontificant of your choice). Your would-be spouse stands by your side. The celebrant officiating the ceremony turns to you and says: “Do you [your name here] take this person to be your lawfully wedded spouse?” To this you reply:
- “Why not?”
- “Umm… okay.”
If Not Yes…
The weakness of these responses is all the more detectable when they are accompanied by a slight grimace, a furrowed brow, a fidgety demeanor at the moment that they are uttered by the client. At times, these expressions may come packaged with a hint of diverted eye contact, a sudden cough, a fading tone of voice indicating a lack of enthusiasm, or a tone that rises slightly at the end as if asking a question; uncertainty.
“Sure” or “Okay” will do when you ask the client if they’d like a cup of coffee in a meeting, or when you offer them a copy of the book your CEO just wrote. At those moments, the agreement is loose, low risk, and a NO or MAYBE can be issued without harm, masked with socially acceptable politesse, or a compliant nod.
It’s in the big moments of a sales call that a different response – a clearly articulated and enthusiastically delivered YES – is called for. You’ll want to hear the resonant YES at the point when the client agrees for you and your team of three to fly out to their offices across the country at significant cost to your organization; or when you volunteer to provide a detailed cost analysis for them that will engage your internal resources in days of number crunching; or when you ask them to send the all-important paperwork from their legal team that kick-starts your strategy for working together. In those moments, you are lined up to take actions that will result in investment and risk for you and your company. Those commitments, therefore, are only justifiable if you have a reasonable chance to see a return on the time and money you and your cohorts will be investing.
No Less Than Yes
When it counts, anything less than YES is just that: not a YES. And it’s a signal to find out more. Okay? [There’s only one helpful response to this last question, of course….]