Ground Rules for Selling

Clearly, a buyer has different objectives than we do as sales people. In this article, we will talk about how you might be more effective by following some Ground Rules in the early stages of a possible sale. But, in order to do that, let’s first quickly review The Buyer’s Objectives.

Typically, as a prospect is gathering information, he will listen to our presentation. Afterward, he will say he must “think it over” and may instruct us to call next week. We leave thinking that this meeting went well and that we may make a sale in the near future.

Unfortunately, when we call the following Tuesday, the prospect will not take our call. We leave a message, but he does not return the call. A couple days later, we call again and leave another message. When he doesn’t return that call, we are left wondering what happened. What went wrong between last week and this week?

We call this behavior “hiding” and it is part of the buyer’s process. A prospect’s buying process often proceeds like this—Gather information. Hide. Gather information. Hide. Gather information. Hide. The point here is that our prospect is going to find out as much as he can… without making any commitment. He may do this by searching the internet and by talking to many different sales people who will answer his questions in the hopes they will make a sale.

As young children, sales people learned to answer the questions posed by parents and teachers and we were admonished if we did not respond quickly and completely. We were trained to answer when someone speaks to us and this habit carries over into our behavior with prospects. We play by our parents’ rules and, as a  result, we allow the prospect to control the game of selling. As sales people, we often don’t play the game of selling well enough to “win”– to convince the buyer to purchase or to discover that he is not a real prospect. So, we need to create a set of ground rules, so we can better control the process and eliminate wasted time and effort.

When I train participants on how to sell, I often draw parallels to the game of baseball. In baseball, Abner Doubleday’s rules of the game prevail. These rules include the basics like three-strikes-and-you’re-out.

However, unlike baseball, there are no established and agreed-upon rules for selling/buying and so we don’t know exactly how the buyer is going to play. We try to force our process on the prospect, but there is a natural disconnect between his motives and strategies and our motives and strategies. This disconnect, in part, explains why we have low closing ratios and prolonged sales cycles. We need to understand the buyer’s process, learn how to set up our own ground rules and quit the game if a prospect refuses to play within the parameters.

Obviously, my parallel to the game of baseball is somewhat limited because it is understood that both teams on a baseball field will play by the same rules. In the world of selling, it is not realistic to hope that prospects will follow the ground rules that you might establish. So, although setting up the following ground rules will help you controlthe amount of time and energy you invest in a prospect, they will not necessarily help you control the prospect.

Rule 1: Don’t look, act or sound like a sales person. As buyers, we are all wary of being sold and we have a natural resistance to following the lead of someone we do not know or trust.

Rule 2:  All prospects hide the truth. The question a prospect asks is never the real question. The problem a prospect presents is never the real problem. The statement a prospect makes is never the real statement. As sales people, we must develop a relationship and ask questions to get to the real issues.

Rule 3:  Answer every question with a question. Instead of offering information or a solution to the prospect, ask him another question. This technique will enable you to stop giving up your expertise for free, as well as help you discover the real issues.

Rule 4: If a prospect does not have compelling reasons to buy, he is not a viable prospect. He must have a level of personal discomfort that motivates him to take action. “A prospect’s pain of not-changing (not-buying) must be greater than the pain of changing (buying).”

Rule 5: If a prospect does not have TMR (Time, Money and Resources), he is not a prospect. If he has pain to change (buy) but does not have the time or the money or the resources to do so, he is not a prospect.

Rule 6:  Start all questions with “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” or “how”. Never ask a “yes” or “no” question.

Rule 7:  Do not present without knowing budget or getting in front of the decision maker.

Rule 8:  SW3N. “Some will. Some won’t. So what. Next!” Often the hardest thing a sales person must do is quit a prospect. As sales people we spend countless hours on prospects who, for one reason or another, does not/will not buy. Recognize that there are times when you need to move on to the next prospect.

These eight ground rules will help you to spend your time more productively, helping you weed out the non-buyers and freeing you to pursue real prospects.


Anthony Cole

Tony Cole has a lifelong focus on helping people and organizations achieve their personal best. As a former educator and university coach, Tony helped individuals learn how to improve their game not by ‘running faster’ but with significant and tactical behavioral changes. After 10 years… more

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