Manager using tablet while worker scanning package

Is Your Customer the Barricade to a Sale?

The Situation

Maggie is a sales rep for a company that sells plastic bottles and jars to manufacturers. She regularly calls on Aaron, whose company produces a wide range of mustard products in jars. Part of Aaron’s job is negotiating with Maggie and other suppliers, but his boss, Stephen, must approve all final contracts.

Maggie is excited about a new limited-time promotion her company has on several popular sizes of jars, although she knows Aaron normally would not be buying for another four months. However, she feels the discounts should interest Aaron — and the sale has an expiration date.

Maggie: Aaron, you can see that these markdowns will save you thousands, but they only go to the end of the month.
Aaron: I don’t know. The timing’s not good. I don’t want to take this to Stephen right now.
Maggie: But if your company’s buying in a couple of months anyway, he should appreciate the savings.
Aaron: Stephen can be stubborn when it comes to spending. I know what he’ll say.
Maggie: Could you at least show him this price list? Now is the time for saving substantially.
Aaron: Maggie, I’m not going out of my way to be turned down by my boss. He’s not open to it now.

What Can She Do?

Maggie is frustrated because Aaron has become a barrier to the sale. She feels that Aaron’s boss would see the logic of ordering now, even if he’s belt-tightening. How might she have dealt with Aaron differently, using Q4 needs-based selling techniques? Is there still an opportunity?

Getting Over the Hurdle

Maggie’s situation is probably familiar to you. Her contact is not the final decision-maker, but he is being a roadblock to the sale. It’s particularly difficult because Aaron shows Q2 reluctance — he avoids risking his boss’s disapproval. So, he won’t take the initiative and bring his boss into the discussion.


By challenging Aaron in an almost Q1 aggressive manner, Maggie’s efforts to penetrate Aaron’s resistance only increase his pushback.


An Alternative to Butting Heads

Q4 customer-focused selling looks at the other person’s behavior and adapts, in this case, to Aaron’s Q2 reluctance to act. Maggie needs to be patient, learn more about Aaron’s mindset, and build his trust.


That means making Aaron feel more comfortable by using open-end probes (inviting discussion) to draw him out. “Aaron, tell me more about your situation these days.” “What’s so different from other times I’ve brought you a special discount?” These kinds of questions can provide insights from Aaron. He’s more likely to express his views if Maggie adopts a low-key manner, than if she hammers him to act. A conversation focused on Aaron should also raise his comfort level. Everyone wants to be understood.


Then, Maggie can appeal to Aaron’s intangible needs (security, safety) for maintaining a smooth relationship with his boss. An open-end probe around a benefit for Aaron may help him be responsive: “Aaron, if you can show Stephen how to save money when the budget’s tight, how do you think he’ll view your efforts?” With patient probing and listening, her offer has a chance of moving up the line.


You Have to Mean It

This technique must be sincere. If you use it, you really are trying to relate to your customer. It shouldn’t be applied as some form of manipulation. In keeping with that, the sales deadline must be real. You can’t make the deal available after the time limit. If you do, you’ll lose credibility and trust. On the other hand, if you appeal to intangible needs, you won’t have to make additional discounts or give away the store to be persuasive. Q4 is a matter of positioning yourself on the same side as your client.