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The TACTIC: Lead them back from the future.


Art had just about made up his mind to interrupt Diane and tell her what her problem was. It was so clear to him. The prospect had no budget. But he remembered the promise he had made to himself weeks earlier—lead them, don’t dictate to them.

“So,” went on Diane, “I just don’t understand why Helen Blaker seems to just keep putting me off and off. I’ve been back now twice; each time I hear that things look real good, but nothing ever seems to happen.” She stopped talking and stared at Art.

“Well,” began Art, “from what you said, it does sound like it should close . . .” he paused for a moment and then decided to go ahead with the question, “This may sound like a strange question coming from a sales manager—what do you have to hear so that you don’t waste anymore time on Helen Blaker?”

“You want it over? That is an odd question for a sales manager to ask,” she responded, sitting back in the chair. She looked up at the ceiling for about a minute and then responded, “Helen Blaker would tell me that she went with someone else.”

“She went with someone else,” repeated Art and then asked, “If you got that answer, what would you have learned about what you did?”

“Huh?” responded Diane. “It’s kind of obvious; I learned I didn’t get the sale.”

“There’s a reason you didn’t get the sale. Did they have the budget? Were you talking to the person who decides? Were they looking for free consulting? Did you get pain or just intellectual hot air? Did you . . . ?”

“All right,” said Diane holding up her hand, “I get the point. I get the point.”

“Which is . . .”

“Put it this way, Blaker is definitely in a stall mode because I never found out if she’s the one who really makes the buying decision. That’s it exactly.”

“So, what obstacles do you see yourself dealing with to find out whether she is or isn’t?” asked Art and then silently thanked himself for keeping his thoughts to himself.

“The first thing I should do is . . .” continued Diane.



Art has not told Diane what to do about Helen Blaker in any way. He merely questioned. By asking the right questions, he enabled Diane to alter her perception of a prospect and as a result, she will most likely alter her behavior.



Many salespeople get into a mental rut with a prospect. “I’ve done everything I can do, yet the prospect won’t close.” It’s not unusual for this type of prospect to make up a majority of the prospect list for some salespeople. Once a salesperson gets into this “I’ve done everything” rut with a prospect, the prospect will shortly be scratched off the list as dead. No one enjoys “beating a dead horse.”

What a waste of potential sales!

So the conscientious sales manager digs in and gets trapped spending hour after hour suggesting things for the salesperson to try. With each suggestion made, there will either be the response, “I’ve already done that,” or a simple nod and a mumbled “good suggestion” on the part of the salesperson. Yet nothing new gets tried, even if the salesperson agrees to try it.


When the salesperson reaches this stage with a prospect, the salesperson is looking for the sales manager to say, “You tried everything you could; I can’t come up with anything new either. You have my permission to drop them since you failed and I failed.”

The salesperson wants you to OK her failure at closing. If the sales manager couldn’t figure out a way to close them, then how could a simple salesperson figure out a way?

Think about it. Even the most successful closer still “fails” most of the time. But does the most successful closer view herself as a failure most of the time, and does she need your permission to move on? Not likely.



Force the salesperson to picture the worst that could happen to her in the future with respect to the prospect. The sale doesn’t happen. Now that the worst has happened, what happened that the salesperson had control over? It is important that the salesperson not select something she has no control over. Remember, the only thing she can ever control is her behavior.

Since she now knows what happened in the future to kill the sale, she can determine, if she wants to, what to do about it today, in the present, to get the sale to happen.



Teaching someone how to alter her future behavior is more productive than passing judgment on her past behavior.


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Posted November 30, 2018

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