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Is Your Prospect Controlling the Selling Process?


If you don’t have a sales system in place that you follow every time, then yes, your prospect is in control.

It's not your fault. We’ve been training prospects how to develop their own system to defend against the traditional salesperson’s process.

For the last 100 plus years, salespeople have routinely relied upon their “people skills” and vast product knowledge to “make the sale”.

Unfortunately, no matter how great your “people skills” are and how much product knowledge you have, this approach inevitably puts the prospect in control and leaves you in reactive mode.

The Buyer-Seller Dance

When a couple is dancing a waltz, the lead partner controls:

  • The direction of the dance.
  • The tempo of the dance.
  • How much of the dance floor is covered.
  • When the dance ends.

Similar to ballroom dancing, the selling process can resemble a dance, except the prospect and salesperson are competing to see who will lead for one simple reason.


The Prospect’s System vs Traditional Selling

The prospect has become quite savvy, using their own system to negate or circumnavigate traditional selling techniques.

Now, more than ever, people buy in spite of the hard sell, not because of it.

Let’s look at how the prospects system confounds traditional selling when comparing strategies head-to-head.

Prospect Strategy 1 – Withhold Information

Prospects will usually give you just enough information to get you excited about the potential they represent.

They are vague about their situation or intentions and may even mislead about things such as their relationships with current vendors.

They won’t talk about money or budgets. They may not be up-front about their vendor selection criteria—if they say anything about it at all.

Prospects believe not giving up this information protects them from a potential pushy salesperson gaining an advantage and manipulating the situation.

Traditional Sales Strategy 1 – Qualify for Interest

Although there are multiple techniques to accomplish it, salespeople are looking for people who have an interest or need for what they sell in order to engage them in the selling process.

If the prospect is vague, many salespeople get “happy ears,” hear what they want to hear and dive right into the selling process.

Prospect Strategy 2 – Gather Information

The prospect may not trust you, but they know you have something they want. Sometimes, it may be your product or service, but almost always, it’s your knowledge.

They will ask lots of questions, such as:

  • What makes your product unique?
  • How do you compare with your competition?
  • What would you recommend to solve this problem?
  • What have you seen other companies do to solve this problem?
  • What do you think we should do first?
  • How would you implement this change?

Traditional Sales Strategy 2 – Present

The traditional sales presentation or “dog and pony show” gives you the chance to show all the features and benefits of your product. All of your charts, graphs, videos, brochures and fact sheets are put on display to try to wow the prospect and convince them to buy.

When the prospect pumps you for more information, you’re eager to impress them with your depth and breadth of knowledge.

Typically, what you’re actually doing is providing free consulting—exactly what the prospect wants! To the prospect, this is a match made in heaven, but is it, really?

Prospect Strategy 3 – Commit to Nothing

If allowed to do so, prospects will drag their feet as long as possible without making any commitments. They are great at coming up with reasonable-sounding excuses:

  • They need a little more information.
  • They need input from someone on their team.
  • They need to run it by their partner, boss, etc.

Maybe they are just trying to wear you down so you’ll go away, and they won’t have to “confront” you with a no.

Traditional Sales Strategy 3 – Close (Or at Least Try to Close)

There’s an old saying in sales, “Always be closing.”
Traditional sales trainers have been coming up with, and teaching, “sure fire” closing techniques since selling began.
If you’ve been in sales for very long, you’re probably familiar with these worn out close tactics:

  • The Ben Franklin – you list all the pluses and minuses side-by-side to facilitate the decision.
  • Puppy Dog – holding the product makes it harder to resist.
  • Impending Event – “The price goes up on Monday.”
  • Yes, Yes, Yes – get the prospect to repeatedly say yes to a chain of questions so the can’t say no.
  • Alternative Choice – “Do you want one dozen or two?” “Would a Tuesday delivery be ok, or would Thursday work better for you?”
  • Testimonials – an overwhelming collection of success stories by others.

The problem is that most prospects have heard these before and know how to defuse them—many of your prospects even know them by name!

Prospect System Strategy 4 – Disappear

The final strategy in the prospect’s arsenal is to simply disappear.

They tell you how wonderful you are and how your product sounds like it’s the perfect solution for them.

They ask you to follow up in a few days. Then…

They don’t respond to emails. They don’t answer the phone or respond to voicemail. They just vanish.

Traditional Sales Strategy 4 – Chase

When the prospect stops responding, you believe you should keep pursuing them until you get a definite no. Unfortunately, you’re probably never going to get it.

You call, leave voicemail, send more emails. At this point you’re practically a stalker. It’s very frustrating and demoralizing.

Question: Why do we let prospects get away with this?
Answer: Because it’s the way we’ve always done it!

Resolve to no longer be treated like a sales rep. Instead, look for win-win deals where both parties share an equal business stature and be a trusted advisor.

Having an Efficient and Effective Selling System Changes All That

The definition a selling system is a process that guides you step-by-step, allowing you to develop an opportunity from start to finish—whether that finish is closing the sale or closing the file.

A process:

  • Is a systematic series of actions that is directed at achieving an end.
  • Defines how you get something done.
  • Is a course of action that leads to a decision about a sale.
  • Gives each actin its place in a specific order, and requires that it must be completed in that order if the process is to be effective.

Following a system puts you in control because you always know where you are in the process and what’s coming next. This eliminates most of the uncertainty and anxiety you experience when you try to “wing” it or “go with the flow.”

By gaining control of enough variables, you experience positive outcomes more frequently and with greater predictability.

Requirements of an Effective, Efficient Selling System

An effective system delivers your desired outcome over and over.
An efficient system achieves that outcome without wasting time, energy, money or other resources.
In order for a selling system to be consistently successful, it must demand you achieve five essential tasks.

  1. You must uncover your prospect’s emotional motivation to buy.
  2. You must get all the investment issues out on the table.
  3. You must discover their vendor selection criteria.
  4. You must match your product or service to the prospect’s motivation.
  5. You must confirm your sale and prevent buyer’s remorse.

An Effective, Efficient Selling System Drives Your Success

When you follow an effective, efficient selling system every time, three great things happen:

  • Your behavior and actions become manageable.
  • Your behavior and actions become measurable.
  • The outcome becomes predictable.

Implementing this system consistently improves your success rate by delivering these additional benefits:

  • You now maintain control over the process because you know where you are and what comes next.
  • You save time by qualifying or disqualifying the opportunity early in the process.
  • You stay on track by establishing an understanding with the prospect of exactly what will happen and when.
  • You recognize problems and can address them before they become deal killers.
  • You are able to focus your attention and energy on your prospect instead of worrying about what will happen next.
  • You duplicate successful behavior and eliminate unsuccessful behavior because you’re following defined action steps in a specific order, saving you and your prospect time.
  • You can strategize or debrief a sales call more effectively because your team has a common sales language and an understanding of the specific steps and their order in the process.
  • You can expect more consistent wins because the system is replicable every time for every prospect.

Do You Want to Close More Sales?

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

If you want different results than what you’re getting, you have to try something different.

Ideally, you want to try something with a proven track record of success.

I work with sales professionals every day, helping them learn and implement an effective, efficient selling system that delivers career-changing and life-changing results when followed every time.

If you’re tired of hit-or-miss results in your sales efforts and would like to start consistently getting more wins, I’d like to invite you to join me as my guest at our next executive briefing.

If you can’t wait that long to start getting better results, or you’re located too far away to attend in person, send me an email at

We can schedule a one-hour Zoom call so I can personally show you how the selling system works and answer all your questions.

There’s a popular Chinese proverb that states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Here’s to your success!

P.S. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments below. Feel free to include your experiences—good or bad—with your sales process in the comments as well.

Frank Gustafson

Frank Gustafson