The ultimate, and certainly the most desirable goal for any sales conversation with a prospect is for it to result in unbridled enthusiasm for taking the next step.

You know the feeling. You hang up the phone from a sales call, pumped with turbo-infused adrenalin, giving yourself a mental high-five, feeling like you ‘nailed-it.’ Your confidence is soaring and you are positive the prospect is feeling the same sense of excitement. This is what happens when you have a conversation that feels mutually beneficial to both parties. Taking the next step comes naturally and without hesitation.

It is at this point, this golden moment of fruition, when the level of enthusiasm (hope and fulfillment) is at its highest for both the buyer and the seller.

But as I wrote about in Dumbing it Down: 5 Secrets to Getting Smart People to Buy, a buyer’s time and energy, along with patience and attention span, are limited resources, and can be depleted quicker than a smartphone’s battery.

Because of that, sellers have limited time to capitalize on a buyer’s enthusiasm before it begins its long and steady decline into what the dating world would call the “friend zone.” The “friend zone” is where you find yourself after buyers begin to distance themselves from you, and it is precisely when deals stall. And unless quick and effective countermeasures come into play, ‘free-fall’ is not far behind. Just like the rules in the dating game, it is virtually impossible to close a deal when you are in the “friend zone”. The fires of passion and purpose, along with your proposal, will have faded to black.

There are plenty of reasons why deals stall. In today’s post, I’ll talk about a biggie: Skepticism.

When people begin to feel skeptical, fearful, dispassionate, or insecure, they invariably retreat behind a plume of questions.

Will the product really do what I’m told it will do? Will I really be able to deploy it (with our resources, skills and timeframe)? Will I really experience the promised results? Do I really need it? Notice these questions have nothing to do with you, your product or your price. They have everything to do with ‘believability.’ The foundation of their belief is cracking, and into these cracks fall those nasty little seeds of doubt.

That is a major problem, because people don’t buy when they have doubts.

According to studies, somewhere between 25–50% of forecasted deals end with “no decision.”  In other words, after participating in what is often a lengthy sales-cycle, the customer decided not to do a darned thing. Doing nothing is what people do when they no longer believe the product is needed – or able – to accomplish the task, or that they themselves lack the passion or the capability required to make it happen (the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ excuse). Each of these two forms of rationale are worthy of lengthy examination on their own, but the bottom line is, the seller is left standing at the altar, alone and bewildered.

Here are some game-changing strategies to keep deals from stalling out due to skepticism.

  1. The first step to acknowledge its existence and give credence to it. Do not argue against it. Say something like, “Every customer has had that same concern before they went on to buy.” Share relevant stories that bring to life the blinding apprehension that your current customers have experienced (and eventually overcame) before purchasing your solution.
  2. Introduce your prospect to an eager and supportive reference that will talk frankly about their initial concerns, and how they were overcome – not just how happy they are now. In this case, the solution is not the issue at hand. It is the details stemming from the transitional concerns that are the stumbling block.
  3. Offer supporting content. Create on-point documents that answer questions your buyers are likely to ask themselves at various stages of the sales-cycle. Offer them these critical tools pro-actively. You will want specifically focused content for at least three stages – the early stage when enthusiasm is at its peak, the mid-stage when buyers begin to analyze things with a more critical, disapproving eye, and the end-stage when they are in need of a maximum level of ‘sustainability’ and rock-solid reinforcement for their decision. These stages bring the entire vision to a state of reality through the buyer’s experiencing each element of the process – from concern, to potential, to solution.
  4. Don’t overuse the rose-colored brush when you paint a picture for your buyer. Tell them, “this will take effort” or “your IT department is likely to challenge you” or “this will not be a straight-up trajectory.” The best strategy is to inform them – and prepare them – or they will be left in a state of uncertainty when things get difficult, and it will get difficult. Prepare them for every eventuality, the good and the bad. You not only teach them how to think through the situation, beyond even the tricky or complex phases of implementation, but you build that unassailable foundation of commitment, credibility, and trust that no amount of skepticism will ever breach.

It is a rare buyer indeed that lacks skepticism. And if you don’t readily sense it or hear it, you should dig deep to expose it before the ‘stall’ invades your tactical agenda. Be prepared to help your buyer through the complete process, and to arm your buyer for the inevitable (emotional) conflicts involved in a decision. If you can do that, then you will be the buyer’s trusted ally and guide as you lead them through the decision-making minefield. Adopting a defensive position, and waiting for skepticism to dictate the rules of engagement, is a battle you will undoubtedly lose. And your surrender will be a white flag, waving, from the ‘friend zone’.


Author, Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert in sales productivity tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digestwith invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications.  Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Tool Talk blog.  Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation.