Sales Advice: How To Get Past The Put-Off

“I’m tired of getting put off — I’d rather they just say no.”

salespeople can't wait for the put-off

Photo by MNStudio/dpc


Jane has been selling broadcast for about a year, and is finding her sales efforts blocked by clients who either can’t or won’t commit. In her post on TV Sales Cafe, she writes

I’ll meet with someone and they’ll ask for a proposal. When I bring it back they usually react well, but they don’t sign. Sometimes they’ll tell me to call them in a week, but when I call a week later they tell me they can’t do anything yet, and I should call in three months. Three months later, same thing. It’s not the right time and I should call back in three months.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in the world of sales. Customers buy when they want to buy — not when we want to sell. And sometimes there are perfectly good reasons why now is just not the right time.

But if you’re hearing the same refrain over and over again, it’s time to take a good look at why this might be happening.

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Before each contact with your customer, you should have a planned objective for the interaction. Ideally, you want to be looking for an advance – defined by Neil Rackham in the classic Spin Selling as an event “either in a call or after it, which moves the sale forward toward a decision.”

An advance can be something like:

  1. Scheduling a follow-up meeting to present requested changes for the proposal
  2. Arranging for you to meet with the committee that will actually make the decision.
  3. Requesting production of a spec ad – and scheduling the meeting for the right people to watch or listen to the commercial.

Each of these advances has potential… as long as you and the client agree on what the result will be.

Anthony Iannarino says that“the first reason deals stall is that the salesperson doesn’t ask for or obtain an advance during the sales call.”

As the process moves forward, you should be asking questions like:

  1. “Once I make the changes you requested to the proposal, will you be ready to go ahead with the plan?” If the answer’s not yes, make sure you understand what else has to happen to get the client ready to buy.
  1. If the committee likes what I present to them, can they sign for it at the meeting?” If not, you should fully understand how the committee comes to a decision… and how long it should take.
  1. If you like the sample ad we produce, can we formalize the plan and get started?” Spec ads may not be perfect, but they do take a significant amount of work. In return for that work, the client should be willing to make a tentative commitment to move forward.

TV advertising people should be on TV Sales Cafe

Sales expert Michael Boyette offers these tips on interpreting a stall:

Prospects who stall are sending you a message. And you will never make the sale unless you figure out what that message is.

Here are some possibilities:

“I don’t really have the authority to say yes … but I like feeling important.”

“You’re not really hitting my hot button … but I’m too polite to say so.”

“There’s something that’s making me hesitate … but if I tell you what it is, I won’t be in a strong negotiating position”

“I’m afraid to make a decision … but I’ll never admit it.”

“If I keep putting you off, you might offer me a better deal.”

There’s one more possibility: a legitimate reason for the delay.

Sometimes there’s a reason why three months from now is better than right now:

  • A new product will be launched, but they’re not sure exactly when.
  • A new location is opening, but it’s weeks away.
  • The new fiscal year starts, and they’re waiting for someone to tell them what their budget will be.
  • A corporate reorganization is underway, and nobody knows what that means yet.

How do you find out whether “call me in three months” really means they want to talk to you in three months?


“Of course, Mr. Client. I’d be happy to call you then… but could I ask you one question? What’s going to be different in three months?”

The answer you get back should tell you whether there’s truly something to talk about.

Finally, if you’re on your second or third “3 months” with the same client, Michael Boyette recommends a very direct approach.

Don’t be afraid to pin buyers down when they keep putting you off: “Gee, Ms. Buyer, we’ve been at this for a while now and we don’t seem to making progress. Can you tell me why?”

That may sound blunt, but if you’ve invested the time and effort, you’ve earned the right to ask. And chances are, a real prospect will respect you for asking.

Should you keep chasing the business, or tear up their business cards? Ask the right questions, and it’ll be much easier to turn your selling time into money.

Question: What’s your best tip for jump-starting a stalled sale? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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