The New Action Selling: Act 7: Ask for Commitment
Act 7 Ask for Commitment
Don’t leave a call without it.
Matt glanced out the window at the mountainous terrain passing slowly below. The plane’s scheduled arrival in Denver was half an hour away. Quick flight, he thought. Or maybe it just seems that way because I’ve learned more about selling on this plane than I did in nine years on the job.
64% of all salespeople don’t close.
“What do you think?” he asked Joe. “Are we ready to close this sale?”
“Action Selling calls it ‘gaining commitment,’” Joe said. “Depending on your Commitment Objective for any given call, that can mean a number of things—scheduling a proposal meeting with a group of decision-makers, for instance. Regardless, when you get to Act 7 you’ve reached the heart of every salesperson’s primary mission. Remember what that is?”
“To gain commitment from others,” Matt said, repeating what he’d learned in Act 1. “Since my Commitment Objective for tomorrow’s call is to get Iverson to agree to buy our software, that’s the commitment I’m after.”
“To get it, you’ll have to ask for it,” Joe said. “It’s amazing how many so-called salespeople don’t. One study found that 64 percent of all salespeople fail to ask for commitment when completing a call. They present their product, they quote a price, the client says something like, ‘I’ll think it over and get back to you,’ or ‘Can I keep the brochures for a few days?’ and these comedians say, ‘Gee, sure, here’s my card, thanks for your time, bye.’ They’re strictly amateurs, no matter how long they’ve been selling for a living.”
Let’s not go there again, Matt thought, cringing at the memory of how he’d patted himself on the back that morning after leaving his brochures with Bob Howell.
“In my experience,” Joe said, “every time you leave a call without gaining commitment, your chances of getting a commitment later drop by at least 50 percent.”
Matt just nodded an acknowledgment. In his mind, however, he was banging his head on his tray table, visualizing all the chances he had let slip away.
“There are three main reasons why most salespeople don’t ask for commitment,” Joe said. “They don’t plan for it, they have no procedure for it, and they miss opportunities for it.”
“Since Action Selling begins with a Commitment Objective for every call, from now on I’ll always have a plan,” Matt said. “I assume you’re going to give me a procedure. What about missed opportunities?”
“An opportunity is a buying signal you get from a customer just before or just after you quote a price: ‘This looks good.’ ‘How much is it?’ ‘What are your terms?’ ‘What’s the next step?’ Be alert for those buying signals. Whenever you hear one, provided it comes just before or after you quote price, ask for commitment. And after you’ve talked price, you must always ask for commitment.”
Three reasons why
salespeople don’t close:
- No Plan
- No Procedure
- Missed Opportunities
“Okay,” Matt said, “what is Action Selling’s procedure for asking for commitment?”
“First, here’s what not to do,” Joe said. “Never try to pressure, manipulate, trap or trick the customer into buying. This is not the time to throw away the trust and momentum you’ve built by whipping out some cute gimmick.” He let a sly, smirking expression steal over his face: “‘Those are all the reasons to buy my product, Mr. Wright. Can you think of any reason not to buy it?’
“Customers have seen that kind of junk before,” Joe said, resuming his normal tone. “They’re wary of being manipulated.”
“You’re preaching to the converted,” Matt said. “I’ve tried a few of those gimmicks over the years. There’s no faster way to get thrown out of a client’s office. What does Action Selling want me to do instead?”
Never try to pressure, manipulate, trap or trick the customer into buying.
“Three simple and straight forward steps that bring the conversation to a logical conclusion,” Joe said. He drew them on his notepad.
“Step 1,” Joe said, pointing to his drawing: “Summarize the product features that the client liked – the TFBRs from Act 6 – and quote the price. Step 2: Ask, ‘How does that sound?'”
Matt made a note.
“The customer will give you either a positive response or a negative one,” Joe continued. “A positive response is a buying signal: ‘Sounds good,’ or whatever. So you proceed to Step 3 and ask for commitment. Action Selling recommends that you use the phrase, ‘Would you like to go ahead with this?’ And here’s an important point: After you ask that question, don’t say anything else. Be patient, and wait for the customer to respond. If you speak first, you’ll lose.”
Matt made another note.
“If the answer is yes,” Joe said, “you’ve got your commitment, and Act 7 is over. The customer has made the final buying decision, which is ‘Time to Buy.’ If you have played out the previous acts in the drama completely, you have an excellent chance of gaining commitment the first time you ask for it.”
“Great,” Matt said. “But what if I get a negative response?”
The flight attendant interrupted with an announcement that the plane was beginning its descent into the Denver area. Joe waited for her to finish.
“If you ask for commitment and don’t get it, what you’ll get instead will be either a stall or an objection,” he said.
“Handling those has always been the toughest part of my job,” Matt admitted. “This is the point where every other sales system I know sort of kicks me outside the boundaries of the process and says, ‘Here are some gimmicks to fall back on.’ How does Action Selling want me to deal with stalls and objections?”
“To begin with, stop thinking of them as different names for the same thing,” Joe replied. “Action Selling says that stalls and objections are two entirely different animals, and they call for different strategies. A stall means the customer is not quite sold yet but has no specific reason for not buying. ‘I want to think it over.’ ‘Why don’t you call me next week?’ ‘Let me kick it around with the staff and I’ll get back to you.’ When you hear something like that, you’re listening to a stall.
A stall means the customer is not quite sold yet but has no specific reason.
“An objection arises,” Joe continued, “when you hear a specific reason why the prospect isn’t ready to buy from you yet. Objections always tie to one of the customer’s five buying decisions. When prospects challenge you on the price or say they want to meet with your competitor or question whether they really need your product to solve their problem—those are objections.”
“Good distinction,” Matt said, after thinking about it briefly.
“If you ask for commitment and don’t get a ‘yes,’ most of the time the first negative response you get will be a stall,” Joe said.
Sounds right, Matt thought, considering his past experience. “Okay, how do I deal with stalls?”
“Never challenge a stall,” Joe warned. “Since the customer has given you no specific reason for stalling, there’s nothing to challenge. If you argue or get defensive, the customer will feel pressured to invent a reason not to buy. So no pressure, no challenge, no argument.”
“Instead, I do what?” Matt asked.
With an objection, the customer has a specific reason for not buying yet.
“Instead, you do exactly what the customer is asking you to do. A stall means, ‘I’m not sold yet; sell me a little more.’ So for crying out loud, sell a little more. Remember the product feature you saved in Act 6? The one you held back so you could use it as an extra TFBR if you needed it?”
Never challenge a stall.
“Tie-back, feature, benefit, reaction-TFBR. Sure, I remember,” Matt said.
“Well, now you need it,” Joe said. “Here’s how to handle a stall.” He sketched a quick diagram.
“Imagine you’ve reached Act 7 with Gary Iverson tomorrow,” Joe said. “You ask for commitment. You hear a stall – he wants to think it over, he wants you to get back to him after Christmas or after the Kentucky Derby or whatever. You don’t challenge the stall. You just say, ‘I understand, Gary.’ Then you briefly restate the TFBRs from Act 6 that he agreed were appealing: ‘You liked the fact that our All-In-One system allows you to leverage the strengths of your direct sales force with Internet marketing.’ And so on.
When you ask for commitment the second time and don’t gain it, what you will hear is almost certainly an objection.
“Then,” Joe said, “you bring in a new TFBR—one you held in reserve. It’s a good idea to keep a standard company or product feature in your hip pocket that you can always pull out to deal with stalls. In our case, for instance, All-In-One’s two-year performance guarantee comes to mind.”
“I get it,” Matt said: “After I review the TFBRs he liked, I step back into Act 6 and give him one more: ‘Gary, in addition to the capabilities we’ve covered, our All-In-One system comes with the best performance guarantee in the industry. If, for any reason, the software fails to perform up to specs for two full years, we’ll fix it for free. The longest warranty you’ll get from anyone else is 90 days. So there’s really no risk for you.’”
“Exactly,” Joe said. “And don’t forget the ‘R’ in TFBR. Ask for his reaction: ‘How do you see that helping in your situation?’ Then you ask for commitment again.”
Joe paused. “Notice how far ahead of the game you are at this point?” he said. “If 64 percent of salespeople fail to ask for commitment even once, how many do you suppose ask twice?”
“But what if Iverson doesn’t say yes this time?” Matt asked.
“Again, a negative response will be either a stall or an objection,” Joe said. “As I mentioned, if you ask for commitment the first time and don’t get it, most often you’ll hear a stall. If you handle the stall with a new TFBR and fail to get commitment the second time, the odds are almost certain that you’ll hear an objection: They don’t like the price, they’re loyal to their current supplier, they don’t really need your product until next year, they’re just not sure it’s a good match for them.”
“You say that as if a specific objection is a good thing,” Matt observed.
Joe shrugged. “Objections can be dealt with,” he said matterof-factly. “In fact, they must be dealt with. Ask me how Action Selling defines an objection.”
“I’ll bite. How does Action Selling define an objection?”
“Action Selling defines an objection as a customer’s response to an unasked question,” Joe said. “Every objection you’ll ever hear will relate to one of the customer’s five buying decisions. And all of the objections you hear could have been uncovered during Act 3 instead of in Act 7.”
“Come again?” Matt asked.
Action Selling defines an objection as a customer’s response to an unasked question.
“This is important, so listen up,” Joe said. “If you had followed the “Ask the Best Questions Map” carefully in Act 3 to determine the needs, issues, competition, budget, buying influences, and time frame, then objections you hear at the end of the sales call would have turned up near the beginning instead.
You’d have had all your sales ammunition—your features and benefits—available in Acts 5 and 6 to deal with those objections. When they pop up in Act 7, you have already spent most of your ammunition.”
Joe gave Matt a pointed look, as if to say, Have I made it clear enough yet that Act 3 is hugely significant?
Matt nodded in answer to the silent question. Yes, Joe, I understand.
When an objection surfaces, return to Act 3.
“Okay,” Joe said. “But we all make mistakes, so sometimes we face an objection in Act 7. How do we deal with it? I’ve already given you a big hint. Here’s another one. Remember when you said that other sales-training systems throw you outside the process when it’s time to handle objections? In Action Selling, you stay within the system.”
Matt didn’t hesitate. “If I hear an objection from Iverson in Act 7 tomorrow, I go straight back to Act 3. I do not pass ‘Go,’ I do not collect $200. I ask him Act 3-type questions to clarify the situation.”
“Right,” Joe said. “Then you move quickly forward again to return to Act 7. Here’s what it looks like.” He sketched another figure.
“I see,” Matt said, looking at the diagram. “I jump back to Act 3 and treat the objection as a new need or issue that has been uncovered. When I have gathered enough information, I check my understanding the same way I do in Act 4: I summarize the situation and ask, ‘Do I have that right?’ Then I take Iverson quickly through his next two buying decisions—my company and my product. First I say something about my company’s ability to deal with problems like this. Then I use a product feature to create another TFBR for a short version of Act 6. That brings me back to Act 7, and I ask for commitment again.”
Joe nodded. “You stay within the system,” he said. “You jump back a few Acts, but you remain within the structure of Action Selling. Because an objection is just the customer’s response to an unasked question.”
Use the Action Selling process to solve stalls and objections.
“And I keep my Commitment Objective in mind at all times,” Matt added. “No matter where the client may lead me, I return eventually to Act 7. I ask for commitment.”
The flight attendant broke in again to announce the aircraft’s final approach into Denver. Matt and Joe raised their tray tables, adjusted their seats, and stowed their paraphernalia in their briefcases.
“Selling is all about gaining commitment,” Joe agreed, when they’d finished the seats-fully-upright routine. “You want a positive way to think about stalls and objections? Here it is: If you don’t ask for commitment, you won’t hear a stall. And if you don’t ask twice, you’ll never hear an objection. Objections mean that you overlooked something in Act 3, but they’re also a sign that you’re pursuing your primary mission—you’re trying to gain commitment.”
He let Matt think about that while the big jet glided over the barren plains east of the Rocky Mountains and touched down in Denver.