Who Defines The Next Step In The Sales Process

Who Defines The Next Step In The Sales Process

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By Dan Caramanico

This article could be just one sentence – “Always know the next step in the sales process”. If you do always know the next step in the sales process then I guess you can stop reading. But wait! Let me ask you a couple of questions:

  1. Do you know it because you assumed it or because the prospect told you what it was?
  2. Do you tell the prospect or does the prospect tell you?

Let’s take them one at a time. The first one is a common mistake that many experienced salespeople make. They have been through this so often that they just know what the next step is or should be, so they fail to ask. Sometimes they are right but often they are not. This leads to wasted time, inaccurate sales forecasts and frustration. The remedy is simple just ask the prospect what the next step is to make sure there is no misunderstanding.

Weak salespeople tell the prospect what the next step is. Strong salespeople ask. Really weak salespeople define the next step and to make matters worse, will take on work just to bail out of a call that is not going so well. It might sound like “Well Mary, why don’t I just get back to you with a plan of action and some numbers which will make this much clearer.” Or they might say “how about I get you a quote on that?”

The remedy for this mistake is easy to explain but not so easy for the perpetrator to implement. Just don’t volunteer the next step; let them ask you to get them something if they want it. And don’t bail when the going gets rough. If it looks like you are not making headway you should say something like “it looks like I may have confused you”, or “it looks like you are not impressed so far”, or “Maybe there is not a good fit here”. What you say Is not as important as communicating what you are feeling at the moment. This sounds pretty simple but the real problem is that the weak salesperson will view those questions as an overly aggressive move or a statement likely to upset the prospect. There can be other feelings about those questions but they all point to a self limiting belief or other hidden weakness that the salesperson has. A top salesperson has to be mentally


If you are overly sensitive to offending a prospect you may have a weakness we call need for approval. Having this weakness means that you are more worried about whether the prospect likes you than whether or not they do business with you. In the above scenario having need for approval will cause you to spend time writing a proposal just so you do not have to have the seemingly difficult conversation about the fact your product did not fit what the prospect was looking for. The Optimal Salesperson™ knows they can’t win every deal and recognizes it early in the sales cycle. They confront the issue (not the prospect) as described above and move on to the next sales call.

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Dan Caramanico is a salesforce development expert and he is the author of The Optimal Salesperson® One of Selling power’s top ten books for 2010 and Optimal Selling, Sales Conversations of the Optimal Salesperson.