We've all been there. After countless calls, meetings and an endless amount of work, you just can't get the customer to say "yes" and move forward. There can be hundreds of theories and ideas as to why this happens more times than we care to admit. Let's put all the theories aside and get to a solution you can use right now to determine if the customer is serious.
The problem in these types of situations is as a salesperson, you've invested time and effort and the last thing you want to do is quit and walk away. You are thinking, "The prospect could be very close to saying 'yes.'" It's either your pride that doesn't allow you to walk away or it's the fear of having to report to your sales manager that the work you've done with a prospect is not going to materialize into any business.
The answer is in being able to determine if the prospect is truly a prospect or nothing more than a suspect in disguise. After having worked with thousands of salespeople, I know the number one solution is to get the customer involved in the buying process. That's right – get them involved. If they're not willing to be involved, then they're just using you either for information or because they are afraid to tell you "no." You can get them involved by asking them to do something for you after you've left. If a customer is truly interested, they'll do something for you. If they're not interested, they won't. It's that simple.
Next time a customer stalls out on you, ask them as a next step to review something for you. It might be a report you're going to email to them or it might be something on a website. The key is to see if they will provide some input to you. This simple activity is one of the best ways to measure how serious a prospect is in doing business with you. Someone who is serious will do what you ask them to; someone who is not won't. Their response to what you ask them to do will not only give you a sense of their level of commitment, but also may give them a quick "out" to indeed tell you they are not interested. Either way, it allows you to move forward. Either they are a serious prospect or it's time to drop them and move on.
Another great tool to measure the seriousness of a prospect is to ask them to share with you some proprietary information. It might be a question you ask regarding the strategic focus of their business or how their volumes are for this month. It can be almost anything, but when you ask them a question that requires them to reveal something that is not known outside the company, you will quickly determine if the customer has confidence in you. Since confidence is what customers are really buying, then a key to knowing if a sale is going to occur is if they will share with you something of proprietary nature.
Keep in mind that neither of these two techniques is 100% foolproof in determining if a customer is serious. However, in using this approach across numerous industries and thousands of salespeople, I've found it to be the most time efficient method to separate prospects from suspects. In the end, the only sales you're going to close are going to be with prospects who show interest in what you're providing and confidence in how you're providing it.
Mark Hunter, "The Sales Hunter," is a sales expert who speaks to thousands each year on how to increase their sales profitability. For more information, to receive a free weekly email sales tip, or to read his Sales Motivation Blog, visit http://www.TheSalesHunter.com. You can also follow him on http://www.Twitter.com (TheSalesHunter), on http://www.LinkedIn.com (Mark Hunter), and on his Facebook Fan Page, http://www.facebook.com/TheSalesHunter.