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The One Question Ultra-High Sales Performers Never Ask

Guest Post By Jeb Blount, Author of Sales EQ:  How Ultra High Performers Leverage Sales-Specific Emotional Intelligence to Close the Complex Deal

In a recent training session, a sales rep asked this question:

“Jeb, over the past month I’ve had several of my potential accounts hit a wall because the person I was working with turned out not to be the decision maker. What is frustrating to me is these people told me in our initial meeting that they were the decision maker. I don’t understand why people lie to me like that, and I want to know how I can identify who is telling me the truth and who is not.”

Checklist: Improve Sales Engagement & Productivity

Ryan is not alone in his frustration. Average salespeople often find themselves mired in stalled deals because they were dealing with the wrong person.

This often happens because the stakeholder either says outright or insinuates that he or she is the final decision maker. Believing this to be true, the salesperson goes through the sales process with the stakeholder: connecting, discovering, presenting solutions, and asking for the business.

Then bam! Out of nowhere the stakeholder says: “Thank you for this great information, but I’m going to need to review this with my boss (the committee, my husband, wife, friend, peers, etc.) before we can make a decision.”

It Makes You Want to Scream

If you’ve been in this situation, and I bet you have, it makes you want to scream. You try to salvage the situation by asking for a meeting with their boss, but most of the time they’re unwilling to give you access. But, you fear if you go around them you’ll poison the relationship and lose any hope of closing the deal. It is an awful conundrum.

The net result, your deal is stalled. You try to explain it to your sales manager and put things in the best light. But you’ve still got egg on your face because you’ve been had by your stakeholder. I know. I’ve been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it.

How does this happen? How do salespeople get themselves into this situation?

Let’s begin with reality. Sometimes there is no way around it. Sometimes you are not going to get to the decision maker and will be stuck working through an influencer. The key is knowing this up front and adjusting your strategy to align the sales and buying processes with reality.

Sometimes you are dealing with a deceitful person who knows how the game is played. These people have no intention of doing business with you. They’re just using you for free consulting or pricing information to use as leverage with your competitor. These stakeholders are easy to spot because they are unwilling to engage, resist emotional connections, renege on commitments, and rush you through the sales process just to get what they want. Salespeople driven by desperation and unable to control their disruptive emotions get used by this type of prospect.

The most common reason for getting stuck with the wrong person, though, is the salesperson asks one simple but deadly question:

“Are you the decision maker?”

This is the one question ultra-high sales performers never ask when qualifying a prospect because when you ask this question to any stakeholder, 90 percent of the time they are going to say yes.

Triggering Cognitive Dissonance

Why would a stakeholder lie to you so blatantly? Most stakeholders don’t say they are the decision maker, when they are not, from ill intent. They are not bad people trying to hurt you.

When you ask a person “Are you the decision maker?” you trigger cognitive dissonance. If the stakeholder says no, they are forced to admit openly that they areSalesEQ.png not important, which conflicts with their self-image that they are important, creating painful mental stress.

So, they say yes because it makes them feel significant. They blurt it out without even thinking.

Then you, the salesperson, reinforce the white lie with attention, compliments, and your focus. It works great for both parties until the moment of truth when you ask for a commitment and the stakeholder’s little house of cards crumbles.

This, by the way, is why your supposed decision maker disappears and your deal stalls. They are embarrassed to admit that they have little power, have wasted your time, and are not important.

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