Stop celebrating continuances. They aren’t as likely to result in a sale as you think they are.
Think about your sales process. It has specific steps that progress from opening the sale to closing the sale. There is no step in that process where the seller sits on the sidelines. So why do sellers breathe a sigh of relief or rejoice when they get a continuance?
The dictionary definition of continuance is “an act of continuing or remaining in the same place.” In sales, a continuance is when the buyer doesn’t buy but gives the seller a glimmer of hope by saying something like “call me back” or “let me think about it.” Since this is not an outright no, optimistic sellers everywhere misunderstand that a continuance is not good news. In fact, the classic continuance is worse than being turned down. Continuances will consume way too much time, cause you to put your proverbial eggs in the wrong basket, and keep you from focusing on other prospects that are more likely to advance all the way to a close.
A solid “no” is much better than a continuance. When a prospect offers a continuance, it should be handled just like an objection. Instead, many sellers view continuances as buying signals. They leave the call beaming and report back to their team that “the deal is almost done.” It’s not. Sellers need to know what it is that prevented the buyer from saying “yes” today. Whatever doubt or hesitation caused the continuance is only going to grow so long as it remains unchallenged.
Some prospects don’t like to say “no” because they don’t want to hurt a seller’s feelings. They choose, instead, to give the softer rejection of a continuance. You know what happens next – they don’t call back, they don’t take your calls and don’t respond to your e-mails and voice mails. What those prospects don’t understand is that a continuance is costly for a seller. Every repeat attempt to reach the prospect is wasted time. Every follow-up call, e-mail, voice mail and visit represents lost opportunities that could be spent with other prospects who are truly interested.
Sellers should strive in every meeting to get clarity on the next steps for advancing the sale. Here are some questions to get that clarity instead of accepting that continuance. If a buyer says “let me think about it,” “let me talk it over with my partner,” or “give me a call next month,” asking at least one of these questions is absolutely essential. Use the one(s) that best fit your own personal style and the situation. The answer you hear will give you clarity on how much more time and effort is appropriate with this prospect.
- What would make it easier for you to move forward with me today?
- What is causing this delay in getting started?
- Is that just your way of politely saying “no” or “not now?”
- What, specifically, will you be thinking about? (or talking with your partner about?)
- What will change between now and the time we meet again?
You may find that you are working with someone who genuinely does need time to think it over or talk with other decision makers. These questions will not be offensive if that’s the case. These types of buyers will also not mind if you set the follow-up appointment before you leave (a best practice in all sales calls, by the way).
You may, however, find that you are just being brushed aside and that there is no real intention or interest in buying from you. Knowing that now instead of slowly coming to that conclusion after weeks of attempted follow through will be a blessing in disguise.
Given a choice, go for clarity instead of a continuance.
One more thing. Don’t initiate continuances. In the heat of the sales call when the pressure is mounting, don’t ever say “Why don’t you think this over and I’ll call you back next week?” Every time I’ve seen this happen, I’ve also seen a confused buyer left wondering what just happened.
You’ve got to give your buyers the chance to say “yes” or “no” or to ask questions. Ending a presentation without giving the buyer an opportunity to respond borders on being disrespectful. It’s not effective to do this. Why? Because what they’re going to think about isn’t what you’ve proposed. What they will think about is how you cut them off or how you dodged their questions. They’ll be thinking about how awkward your departure was and how you didn’t even try to make a sale.
Continuances that are introduced by the seller presume that the buyer will accept being put on hold, will act on the assignment to think it over, and will welcome the seller back in to pick up the conversation where it left off. These presumptions are wildly off base.
Don’t initiate a continuance. Don’t accept one until you’ve probed to see what’s behind it. Remember that your job is to advance the sale, so don’t let it get stalled out by a continuance.