Is Getting a “Yes” Overrated?

I did something dumb recently.

I signed up for something “free” on the internet. It’s not important what, but in the process I managed to get my phone number back on the telemarketing list.

Yeah, that list.

It only took two minutes before a sales person called me. In his dull and hurried voice, reading from an even duller script, he began a barrage of questions:

“Do you still live at 123 Euclid Avenue?” Yes, I sure do.

“Would you agree that making sure your family has financial security in case something happens to you is important?” Yes.

“Do you appreciate the peace of mind of having balanced investments?” Uh sure, yes.

“Are you open to hearing more about how I can get you that security for your family, that peace of mind?” Yes.

I couldn’t interrupt this guy, he was moving so fast! While I listened, I remembered my days as a young sales professional in a training where I learned to script and perform a series of questions—three to be precise—that prompted the potential customer to say yes. I knew what this guy was doing, what was coming next.

“Based on that, may I suggest we schedule an appointment where we can explore the options of balanced investments that also offer security for your loved ones?”

Sure, um-uh- can I call you back? You caught me at a bad time.

Sound familiar?

I know it does.

Lots of salespeople have been trained to get three yeses in a row. The thinking behind this approach is that when you’ve achieved three yeses in a row, you’ve sufficiently trained your potential customer to continue the yes momentum bringing them home from potential client to an actual one in no time.

I’m sure this skill takes time to master.

But it didn’t take long for me to abandon the tactic. It felt fake, manipulative, and scheming.

If given the choice, I don’t know many people who’d willingly sign up to be “trained” by sales professionals.

I didn’t want to be that kind of sales professional.

And if you’re still reading this, neither do you.

Thanks to the National Do Not Call Registry many of us have spared ourselves the agony of these calls but the technique is still alive in some other sales trainings.

Not only is the training approach to getting to yes manipulative, it can be highly ineffective. Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator and author of Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, dedicated a whole chapter to the myth around seeking that prized “yes.”

As he puts it, “We have it backward. For good negotiators, ‘No’ is pure gold because it creates the chance to get clarity on what is really wanted by the potential client.”

I want that! I want to be the kind of sales professional who doesn’t take a no personally but instead sees it as an opportunity to be helpful to a potential customer by opening myself up to the discovery process. Knowing what the person on the other side of a potential sale truly wants is gold.

You see, it’s only when I know what my customers truly want that I have any chance of selling it to them.

And, besides, yes doesn’t always mean yes. Voss says there are three types of “Yes”:

1. Counterfeit Yes: the counterpart says yes only to say no later because the yes is an easier escape route or disingenuously keeps the conversation going in order to obtain more information or some kind of advantage. What does this look like in sales? Yes, I do want to hear more about how your product or service can help me. Sure, I’ll attend your seminar, but I really have no intention of showing up.

2. Confirmation Yes: generally, this is an innocent “yes” and reflexive to a black-or-white question. Sometimes it is used to lay a trap but mostly is a simple affirmation with no promise of action. Do you still live at 123 Euclid Avenue? Yes I do.

3. Commitment Yes: This is the “yes” we want. It’s true agreement that leads to action. (Like signing on the bottom line or handing over the credit card.) You’ve found clarity. You can delivery on the customer’s expectations and the fit is good. This “yes” is the kind that will refer more business.

Consider the list of “No” meanings emphasized in Voss’s book:

• No means I am not yet ready to agree
• No means you are making me uncomfortable
• No means I do not understand
• No means I don’t think I can afford it
• No means I want something else
• No means I need more information
• No means I want to talk it over with someone else

How would you handle the chance to help find clarity given these meanings of “No”?

I’m with Voss when he suggests that getting a “No” is a victory. A client who feels unsafe is an unstable client. If you welcome and even appreciate your client’s “no”, you increase your chance to resonate more with them in the future.

If you’ve practiced or (gasp) are still practicing the “Yes” technique, stop it!

Seek the opportunity to help get clear on what your client wants—even if it’s not what you yet sell. There’s always your next product or service to consider, right?

Are you with me? Let’s explore a better way. Let’s retire sales tactics designed to manipulate a customer. What has helped you get a “commitment yes” from a customer?