HOW TO POP THE QUESTION: Honoring Sales Conversation Touchstone #6

pop the questionIn Touchstones #1-5, we’ve seen people’s innate value, connected with them, shared the vision of our offer, and asked what they would want to get out of it if they bought. Now we’re ready to pop the question:

* Would you like to schedule a session?
* Shall we sign you up for the January workshop?
* Would you like to buy the book?

For some people, this is the best part of the conversation. It opens the door for people to say “Yes.” Worst case, it brings the certainty of “No” and everyone can move on. For other people, “the ask” is agony—usually because they’re afraid of sounding pushy, or because it opens the door to “No.”

Fear of pushiness can keep us stuck. It’s like a little piece of carry-on luggage that slipped through when we were doing Soul of Selling Step #1, Put down your baggage—the negative mental chatter we carry around with us about selling. We’re told as children not to be pushy. It’s not polite. People won’t like us if we’re pushy. Plus, we may have been pushed by others and not enjoyed it. Here are some antidotes to fear of pushiness:

  1. Remember that you have to pop the question at some point. We rarely hear “Yes” until we’ve asked people whether or not they want to buy. They expect us to ask, and often wait, mentally tapping their feet, until we work up the courage to do our part in the conversation. As long as we have to do it, we might as well figure out how we want to go about it and what kind of experience we want it to be—for ourselves and for others.
  2. Remember that if you aren’t pushing, people won’t feel pushed. If we’re tense, nervous, and dreading the ordeal, people will sense that—and they may seize up as well. Regardless of whether or not they want our offer, they are likely to mirror where we are. The more comfortable we are with “the ask,” the more at ease they will feel about giving us an honest answer—whatever that answer is.
  3. Choose how you want “the ask” to come across, and practice delivering it that way.

The first thing I ever sold on a large scale was a workshop. I used to agonize when it came time for “the ask.” This is the kind of thing that used to run through my mind: “Oh my God, I’m asking them for money they don’t have and don’t really want to give. They’ll either say ‘No’ and make fun of me, or ‘Yes’ and hate me. Either way, they’ll think I’m a pushy shyster and my relationship with them will be reduced to me breaking their arms and legs to get them to do something they really don’t want to do and being a bad person. Then I’ll go to hell…” I’ll be merciful and stop there, but rest assured that this was only the beginning.

Then a strange thing began to happen. As I postponed “the ask” in conversations, people got impatient. Sometimes they even interrupted me and said, “Look, I’ve heard enough.  What do I have to do to sign up?” I realized that in trying to avoid or delay that moment, I was disturbing the flow of the conversation. They were ready and I wasn’t paying attention.  Instead, I was paying attention to my own discomfort. That was making everything harder for both of us.

When I thought about what had happened, I realized that “the ask” was actually much more uncomfortable for me than it was for them. People expect to be asked to buy. They anticipate it. Our foreboding is much greater than theirs. It is a normal part of sales conversations.

I also realized that avoiding “the ask” was like calling someone up and talking about the dinner party you were throwing—and then not inviting them!  You might know you wanted them to come, and they might even assume it at some level, but the conversation has an uncomfortable quality until you actually say the words, “Would you like to come on Friday night?”

Even when you don’t get a “Yes,” their answer tells you where you are in the selling process. If they need more information, or if they need to voice more objections, “the ask” will bring that forward. Inviting them to participate is the ultimate “Yeah, but”—solicitor—and you need to get those “Yeah, buts” up into the light of day.

Another reason some people dread “the ask” is that they don’t want to hear “No.” I’ve heard explanations for Fear of “No” from all sorts of people, from clinical psychologists to discount superstore salespeople. These answers can get very complex and very deep, and the results are hit-and-miss.

The one antidote I’ve seen work every time is this: Don’t take it personally. It sounds simple, and it is. Here are some ways to make it easier:

  1. Practice with a friend. Take fifteen minutes, and have your friend say “No” to whatever you ask.
  2. Remember that they aren’t saying “No” to you; they’re saying “No” to your offer.
  3. They don’t necessarily dislike your offer. The timing may be bad. They may have other priorities. They may think that both you and your offer are terrific, and still say “No” for reasons that you can’t fathom. Let them do what they have to do.
  4. Focus on the quality of your interaction, not whether their answer is “Yes” or “No.” If you’re connected, honoring, respectful, and gracious, not only do you enjoy the conversation more, but they are also more likely to be back.
  5. Remember that in sales, you will usually get more “No’s” than “Yeses.” It’s just part of the game, and nothing that has to ruin your day.

When we learn not to take “No” personally, we lose our fear of it. When we combine that with managing our fear of pushiness, we are set up to enjoy and succeed with “the ask.” We never again have to be afraid of popping the question.

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