Getting a Yes from a buyer is nice, feels good, but can be deceiving, and lead to disappointment. Good sellers borrow from Ronald Reagan, “Yes, but validate”
I understand the concept behind gaining “small” or “incremental” agreements from prospects through every meeting and throughout the sales cycle. However, as with many things in sales it comes down to execution. The idea is to get the customer to agree to those things that are relevant to their objectives, and things that specifically make a difference, thereby moving the deal forward. Just getting the prospect to nod yes is not enough, and will certainly not get you a deal.
One common approach, used by many sellers, is particularly insidious. I am talking about those questions that come early on in a sale, before anything of substance has been shared, but there are sellers who use it right through the sale. They usually start with:
“Joan, wouldn’t you agree that…”
This is then followed by a statement, so basic, so true, that no sane or sober person would disagree with it, at least not in public, (you know like your mother always said, “you can think it, but you better not say it!). While these questions get a yes, there is little behind the word, except a prospect who just became a little suspect about the rep selling to them.
Here is a real example, straight from the real world, only the name was changed to protect the innocent, in this case the VP of Sales:
“Joan, wouldn’t you agree that if each of your reps closed one more deal each month, with a higher deal value, you would drive more revenue, and that would be good wouldn’t you agree?”
Who is going to say no to that?
It’s like asking
“Joan wouldn’t you agree that milkmen should stop bludgeoning neighborhood puppies and kittens with curd lined empty milk bottles?” The only who would agree with that statement, is a milkman with aspirations to work at the post office, and since milkmen no longer exist, it makes the question meaningless. But just because it is meaningless and fraught with risk and downside, many still use it as a centre piece in their discovery calls. While the prospect may be saying yes, they are thinking entirely in a different direction.
Let’s Break It Down
First, there is zero correlation between agreeing that more sales would be good, or paying less per month for office space being good, and a given vendor’s ability to actually do what is inherently claimed in the statement. Most sellers ask the question hoping to hear the obvious Yes, most miss the fact that there is little real agreement, the sale is not any closer, in fact could be negatively impacted. Agreeing to a to a set of facts as being correct, does not make it good or right. Many sellers mistake a prospect’s agreement with the facts of the statement with the prospects agreeing to the self-serving conclusion.
Being forced to say yes, leaves people being felt like they are being manipulated, or deceived, just a general discomfort of being trapped. You can’t say no because it is just illogical, but the yes you give lacks conviction and becomes a barrier to sharing information. If you feel that what you say will be manipulated to get you do or say something you otherwise may not, you’ll revert to providing answer, but not information. Many reps using this dated technique fail to see that the one thing they really want, the opportunity to build trust and become a valuable supplier/partner, being nullified and made more difficult when they use this line of questions. Sometimes the quickest and easiest way to get through a sales call like that is to just say yes! For a greater understanding of this, grab “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It”, by Chris Voss.
For me it is a sign of laziness. How hard would it be to craft a question that actually engaged the prospect, got them to think, and no matter whether they completely agree or not, their answer leads to more sharing by both parties. When we ask something that gets the customer to think about something in a different light, explore how that may impact their outlook, it may not always be an instant yes, but it leads to more engagement.
The goal in interviewing a prospect is not to have them to agree with everything you say, but to get meaningful forward movement with the opportunity. While there are a number of reasons why there are many questionable opportunities in the pipeline, like getting the prospect to agree to preposterous statements, but no specific next step, and why so many opportunities ending in no decision; but the number one reason is that many sellers confuse an empty yes, with agreement.
A further unanticipated negative, is that in many instances, there is a deal to be had, but due to lazy questioning, it takes longer, consumes more resources, costing other opportunities. Multiply this over a number of deals, and cost becomes real. Finally, everyone in sales knows that the most important Yes, comes at the end, a no there, wipes out all the yeses along the way. Work for your Yes, but validate to make sure it is real and moves the buyer closer to a decision.