I read an article recently that slammed sales people for using the "hard-sell" tactic of asking for a decision at the end of a presentation. At Sandler, we train our clients to avoid making a presentation, proposal or quote without a prior commitment from the prospect to make a "no" or "yes" decision at the end of the presentation.

Two valuables a salesperson possesses are information and time. Making presentations without a commitment by a prospect to make a choice between "no" and "yes" at the end is a waste of both.

There are two instances when asking for a decision at the end of a presentation is a hard-sell tactic:

The prospect didn't agree up front to make a decision. Without an agreement beforehand to make a clear decision at the end of the presentation, a salesperson essentially ambushes his or her prospect. This then triggers the prospect's "fight or flight" response, neither of which will result in a closed sale.

The salesperson's presentation doesn't speak to the prospect's reasons for buying. This seems obvious, but too many sales presentations fall into "here's what we can do for you" instead of "here's how we'll solve your specific issues." Both instances come directly from the traditional sales playbook of "qualify" (find someone who will listen to you), "present" (let me tell you about our features and benefits), and "close" (hope that your prospect chooses you instead of your competitors who made the same presentation) and plays right into a prospect's system for buying, which largely involves gathering the most information while making the fewest commitments.

To put your prospect at ease and get a decision each time you present, follow these three steps:

Give your prospect an out first. Prospects expect salespeople to ask for a "yes." Giving your prospect the option to say "no" enhances your credibility and lowers your prospect's defenses. It also sets your mindset correctly so that you can focus on truly helping the prospect discover if your solution/product/service is right for him or her – rather than latching on to "yes" (at all costs) and avoiding 'no." Salespeople that embrace a "no" as a natural part of the sales process actually close more sales because they're less likely to avoid asking prospects the hard questions and holding them accountable for the commitments they made earlier in the sales dialogue.

Observe your prospect's physiology and tone. Prospects aren't used to making commitments to salespeople. If you see your prospect tense up, pull away, waver their voice or become quieter when you ask them if they would be OK making a decision at the end of your presentation, you must address their discomfort right away or you can expect to get a "no" decision at the end of your presentation. Here again, the traditional salesperson, uncomfortable with the natural tension of a traditional sales call (where the prospect's yes/no decision is saved as the crescendo for the end of the call), often either skirts directly asking for the business at the end of the sales call or shocks the prospect by asking them to do something they weren't prepared to do.

Have your prospect guide the presentation. Instead of assuming which issue is most important to your prospect, ask them to drive your presentation, which gets them more emotionally involved and more likely to buy.

The "average" salesperson out there today has read all of the books on closing and been to all of the seminars on how to convince a prospect to say "yes." The problem with such focus on sales technique is that many of those same prospects have been to the similar seminars and see those outdated tactics coming from a mile away. To make matters worse, your competitors have been to those same seminars and are using those same techniques. You begin to see the problem now – when you're using the same outdated tactics as your competition. You all look alike to the prospect, and that leaves them with only one distinguishing characteristic to differentiate you from your competition: the lowest price.

Stop wasting your time and information and close more sales. Look different and act different from your competition. If you ask up front, it isn't a hard sell.

Bob Bolak, president of Sandler Training in Boulder, can be reached at 303-376-6165 or bbolak@sandler.com.