How to Stop Getting Turned Down

tips for selling successfully

Some of you know that I’ve been spending the last year honing my sales strategies, and boy has it been tough.

See, I’m not in a situation where I’ve traditionally had to sell.  My first book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, was released to great media attention and sales while I still had a full time job.  If someone read the book and came to me asking if I could speak at their event or consult for their organization, that was gravy.  I already had money, and I didn’t need them.

Then, however, I left the stable job and started my own business.  At first things were okay, because I was still getting a lot of inbound inquiries.  Incredibly, I still had enough to keep me busy through the first two years of the recession.  But in early 2011, something shifted.  My pipeline dried up, and I suddenly had to go out and proactively interest potential clients in my offerings.

I got turned down a lot.  I’m still getting turned down a lot.   It’s nothing personal.  I’m just “not in the budget.”  I’ve thought long and hard about why this is the case, and I’ve concluded that even though my services solve a critical workplace problem (brain drain caused by Boomer retirement, retention of skilled younger employees), my prospects don’t yet view this problem as a priority.

According to Eric Slife of, the primary reason prospects reject sales proposals is that an offering is not tied to their Critical Success Factors (CSFs), or things that keep the business afloat.  In a down economy especially, companies will do what they have to to protect their CSFs, and everything else will fall by the wayside.

We are all salespeople to some degree.  Even if you’re not selling a product to an outsider, chances are you still have to sell an idea to an internal constituency or a promotion to your boss.  Given that, I thought it would be helpful to share some of Slife’s tips for mapping your offering to a CSF and increasing its priority:

Change the perception of your offering

Too many salespeople are still selling value added benefits and opportunities.  Unfortunately, that’s not what’s making people pull the trigger on decisions now. Your prospects are focused on lost sales, lost profits, and surviving.  In other words, fear is their number one motivator.  You need to position your product or service in such a way that brings some peace of mind to your prospect’s worried state.

Speak to the real decision maker

Ultimate decision makers will share their CSFs with you.  They also have the power to change the budget.  If you can plug the dam that is leaking, they will find the funds to make it happen.   The best question to determine who the ultimate decision maker is: “Besides yourself, who else will be involved in the decision making process?”

Better qualify your prospects

If you sell to outside parties, target the top companies that rely heavily upon what you provide. Once you have completed this list, compile another list of the top companies that require your solution. These are your top prospects and should garner your most attention.  In order to accurately identify if your offering will be a top priority by each prospect, you should consider the following questions:

  • Why is my product or service critical?
  • What are the consequences if my product or service fails?
  • How does that impact my contact(s)?
  • What alternatives does my prospect have?
  • What Return on Investment will my product or service yield, both hard and soft?
  • What companies or industries are growing or suffering?
  • Who will be purchasing in the next several months and why?

My biggest issue has been in this last area.  In the past, I’ve gotten way too caught up in theoretical discussions with prospects who had no intention of acting immediately.  The stakes simply weren’t high enough.  My sales cycles would last months or even years, and sometimes I’d end up with nothing.

No one ever said sales was easy.  But by zeroing in on prospects who desperately need what we have and speaking to the right person in language they understand, we’re all much more likely to be successful.

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