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5-Minute Sales Coach: How to keep hostile decision maker from killing deal

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Let’s say your salesperson is on the phone with Jim, a promising prospect. Your rep has asked great questions and determined that Jim has some pain (a pressing problem or issue that your product or service can help solve) and the budget to solve that pain.

The conversation will eventually shift toward the possibility of a face-to-face meeting. Your rep isn’t done qualifying yet; he’s a skilled salesperson Bill McCraryand will ask Jim for the names of everyone who must sign off on the decision to buy. Then your rep will make sure that every one of those people will be at the meeting, so that he doesn’t waste his time.

But hold on a minute. A salesperson needs to know more than just the name and title of each decision maker. As he takes down the details of each person who will be at the meeting, make sure your rep knows to ask Jim a few questions like these:  

“Who on your team might not think this is a good idea?”

“What would Lisa say if she heard our conversation so far?”

These queries will elicit extremely valuable information. Your rep might hear things like, “Well, Lisa is a little resistant to change,” or “Lisa thinks that what we have is working.”

Red flag alert! Jim has pain that he wants solved, and that’s a good thing for your salesperson. But there could be a hostile force on the prospect’s decision-making team to reckon with before the sale can go through. Maybe it’s the purchasing manager who likes the incumbent, or the CFO who always wants to go with the low bidder. Whatever the situation, your rep needs to have that information now and not later.

The next step is for your rep to throw it back to the prospect. “Jim, how might we get past that resistance, any ideas? How can we position this as an investment and not an expense? What can we say to Lisa to make her feel that this makes sense?”

Now comes the moment of truth. Jim might come back with some ideas. “Once Lisa sees how much these past mistakes have cost us, I think she’ll come around,” or “When Lisa hears how you’ve fixed this problem for other companies, I think she’ll realize that you get what you pay for.”

On the other hand, if Jim sounds defeated, or has no idea how to overcome a team member’s resistance, it might be time for your rep to walk, no matter how eager Jim is to move forward. Basically, your rep needs to ask himself, “Are we going to get past Lisa, or not?” If the answer is no, then further pursuit of this prospect is likely to be a waste of time, at least for now. (But he should check back with Jim in 90 days, because things change. Lisa might not even be there anymore.)

Now, if it seems like Lisa’s mind can be changed, a great technique is for your rep to adopt a you-and-me-against-the-world mentality with the primary contact. Jim has pain. He wants a solution now. Your company can provide a best-fit solution. Jim also knows Lisa better than your rep ever could. The key is for your rep to get the person with the pain—Jim—motivated to figure out how to respectfully overcome Lisa’s reluctance to close the sale.  

One more thing—remember how I started this column? “Your salesperson is on the phone . . ..” Your reps should NOT be getting in their cars or hopping on planes for meetings until they’ve fully qualified the prospect. That includes being confident that they’ll get an honest listen from each and every decision maker.

Bill McCrary, a speaker, coach and trainer, founded Strategic Partner, an authorized Sandler Training Center, in 1997. Contact him at 803-771-0800, or


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