Why ‘Maybe’ Is The Worst Sales Response You Can Get

why maybe is the worst sales response you can get

This post on sales responses was originally published on Oct 21, 2016  and updated on May 15, 2019.

When we get our prospects to clarify their objections, we want to get them to specifically identify the problem or challenges they are finding with our solution.

Remember, our overall goal is to get the prospect to say something. You’ve got to get them to say either yes, no, or maybe.

And for the record, maybes suck.

Way back in 8th grade, I had a bit of a ballsy moment. I had my eye on this girl in class, and I needed an angle.

So, what did I do?

I decided to toss the choice in her court.   I passed her a note which read, “Will you go to the dance with me?” with the following three options…

  • Yes
  • Maybe
  • No

Now, in this situation, as a 14 year-old boy, you want the Yes.  The No is bad for your self-esteem. But the Maybe gives you hope.

I’ll reveal what she said at the end of the post, but for now, let’s talk about how this same situation is a problem for you in your sales activity.

The Challenge of Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

First, an observation: we have too many “maybe” sales responses. Way too many, in fact.

This biggest challenge in B2B selling today is best explained by how every salesperson should conceptualize a pipeline. In general:

  • ⅓  of your pipeline will buy from you in the near future
  • ⅓  of your pipeline will buy in the far future
  • ⅓  of your pipeline will never buy from you — even if you offered them something worth $1 for 90 cents

Sometimes I call sales reps Prisoners of Hope because they don’t ask for the order.  In sales, a Prisoner of Hope is someone who continues to accept the maybe response.  They spend too much time misinterpreting buying and warning signals, making their sales cycles too long. Or they carry on forever and then just die of attrition in the end.

Click here, download our playbook on resolving objections and get the responses that turn leads into customers.

We’ve all seen these kinds of situations. And some of us have even been in them! They always look and feel like the following with the prospect saying something like:

  • “I don’t want to talk right now. But in three months, we can talk…”
  • “We need a lot of internal stakeholders to agree before we can commit…”
  • “Send me your materials and I’ll take a look…”
  • A prospect says, “I’m interested, let’s talk later” and then turns into a ghost. This leaves you resorting to stalking, creeping, doing fly-bys on social media, and calling from unlisted numbers.

Your prospects are being nice. They feel bad about saying no, so they don’t. Instead, they string you along with hope for an uncertain future.

Take Control by Asking for the Order

But here’s the deal: we can’t change them. The only person we can change is ourselves.

Go back to these bullets right above here. See how the first three sales responses end with ellipses? It’s your prospect trailing off. That usually means “no” in reality, but the trail off implies some hope for the sales rep. You become a Prisoner of Hope. You keep your prospects in your pipeline way too long, and they almost never close. 90 percent or more of these Prisoner of Hope situations go nowhere.

All these leads are checking Maybe on your 8th grade note pass. You’ve got hope — but you’ve got no dance card.

No matter how you slice it, this isn’t the best approach in terms of sales tactics. So sales managers, leaders, trainers, and coaches need to start working with sales reps to help them stop accepting maybe as a viable sales response. We need to get them to start asking for the order.

But why? Why am I saying some not-yet-seasoned sales rep should be asking for the order from a potentially big client?

Because of the power of ”No.”

The Power of a “No” Sales Response

Here’s the deal: asking for the order is the beginning phase of getting an objection. You need the objection, the “no”, in order to move to the next step. Conflict drives everything, and that’s especially true in sales.

There’s a famous sales study from the 1970s, done by Mutual of Omaha. The set-up is this: they went to their home market (Omaha) and targeted some folks who would be good customers for them. They picked about 1,000 people and said they’d give them insurance premiums (up to $500,000) for a year, but they had to meet with Mutual’s salespeople in order to get this offer. At the same time, they told 150 sales people that there were 1,000 available leads. The whole transaction was contingent on the salespeople asking a specific closing question. Unless that question was asked, nothing was triggered. There was no close.

So, out of these 1,000 really good, vetted leads — what percentage do you think closed?

It was about 7 percent. About 70 of 1,000 people. And why? Because the salespeople weren’t asking the question. They left about 930 leads on the table because they didn’t ask. That’s amazing!

When your sales reps aren’t asking for the order, they’re not selling strong. Sending a LinkedIn message? That’s not selling strong.  Remember, LinkedIn ain’t selling!

So how do you move your sales reps to ask for the order? How do they ask? How do they sell strong?

Three Ideas to Help Your Team Sell Strong

Here are three quick tips:

  • Be in the moment:

    I like scripts and call flows as much as the next guy and I’ve trained people on scripts, working with checklists, and boxes to check. That’s all well and good. But people with purchasing authority in organizations are seasoned. They’ve been around the block and they know the tactics and the angles. They’re going to respond more to a real conversation with ups and downs, small talk and commonalities rather than being sold from a script. Let’s say you go in to see a prospect and you want to sell a season ticket package. You’ve got a whole plan of sales tactics to get there. At minute 3 of this interaction, the guy wants to talk about his vacation to Mo’orea. You’ve never been to Mo’orea and have no idea where it is. So what do you do now? You get in the moment. Listen. Maybe Google a few things about Mo’orea. Talk about how you want to go now too. Sounds awesome! You have to read your prospect and respond in kind. You can go in with a baseline plan, but what happens in the moment matters.

  • Ask good closing questions:

    There are millions of studies about the power of asking good questions. If I tried to link them all here, you’d be reading this post for two weeks. The point is: there are lots of good questions. You need to get to them to make the close. In general, yes/no questions don’t get you as far. If your prospect  is busy, yes/no can detach them from the sales process, because they’re just giving you quick, one-word answers. You want to engage your prospect. Make them think. They need to be talking about their pain points and what your solution is going to do for that problem. Remember: some products are sold because they are needed, and some are sold as an opportunity.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask:

    We’ve all been around the guy or gal who can approach a stranger at a bar completely sober and start a conversation. And we know people who need five drinks to make that first move. Confidence varies, and that’s part of the “Prisoner of Hope” problem I described earlier. But you must jump over the confidence hurdle and ask. It’s the only way to receive. What’s the worst that happens? The prospect says no? If they say no, there’s the conflict! You can drive forward from there.

This is my baseline approach to the sales strategy of the power of no, and using conflict to drive forward. We need to get to high ground and shut down the idea of artificial harmony quickly. Use conflict to drive sales forward and get to the close.

By the way, the girl said maybe.

To get a better handle on resolving objections, download the playbook, Seven Steps to Resolving Sales Objections here and make objections work for you!

Tyson Group selected as a Finalist for Excellence in Sales Training

Tyson Group selected as a Finalist in the Sales Training Category by the IES 9th Annual Sales Excellence Awards

IES Finalist for Excellence in Sales Training

We are excited to announce that Tyson Group has been named as a finalist for the IES 9th Annual Institute for Excellence in Sales (IES) Awards in the Sales Training category . Continue reading

How to Resolve The Top 4 Financial Sales Objections

financial sales objections cost price budget value

Here’s a quick story about the first step in resolving 4 common sales objections, assessing the objection.

Have you ever heard the story of how McIlhenny’s Tabasco sauce got started?

Before the Civil War, the McIlhenny family lived on an island along the coast of Louisiana called Avery Island. If you look at the bottle, you’ll see a picture of Avery Island, right there off the coast. The island was just a great place to live – it had sugar cane,  fresh water, and cattle. The McIlhenny family loved it there.

When the Civil War broke out, some troops were stationed on the island, and they ended up killing the cattle, burning the sugar cane, polluting the water, and further devastating the island. Continue reading

Sales Training Exercise – Your Sales Close Depends on Achieving This

trial close to achieve sales momentum

In the good-old-days, sales was all about the sales close. In fact, corporate sales teams had manuals stocked with various phrases and tactics their sales reps could use to close the deal. They had the Ben Franklin close, the Puppy Dog close, the Assumptive close, the Columbo close, the Now or Never close… Continue reading

Evidence – The Key to Overcoming Doubt

evidence in sales presentations exhibits are but one form

As salespeople, we have to use forms of evidence to help convince, persuade, and influence the buyer. Remember, everything from here on out relies on the three elements of our Specific Interest Statement: presenting our solution, referencing the primary interests, and appealing to their buying motive. Now that we have that foundation, we need to climb our way to the top of the mountain over obstacles using evidence, practical applications, and showing the benefits of our prescription. Continue reading

Sales Training Exercise – Give Your Sales Presentation Visual Power

sales presentation visual elements and analogies

Quite a few salespeople are of the mindset that they can fast-talk their way through a sale presentation. But In a previous post, we saw how incorporating a visual demonstration made the difference between a mediocre sales performance and selling excellence.

So keep this sales nugget in the back of your mind: Telling is not selling. Continue reading

Sales Managers – 4 Things Your Young SalesPeople Need to be Successful


sales managers millennial salespeople success

This post on Millennial success was originally published on Nov 8, 2016  and updated on Feb 26, 2019.

4 Items Sales Managers Should Include in their Coaching Sessions

Worldwide, the population group called Millennials is just over 75M people in the US; that’s larger than the number of Baby Boomers. But for us sales managers, the employment numbers are more interesting. According to MarketWatch, the most recent numbers in 2017, tell us about 56M Millennials were either working or looking for a job. That beats out 53M GenXers, and 41M Baby Boomers. Continue reading

Sales Training Exercise – A Technique to Focus Your Sales Questions

focus sales questions

In a previous post, we talked about who the subject of your sales questions should be. But most salespeople believe the questioning process is for them. When they ask questions, they become the center of the questioning process, not the prospect.

How many times have you entered into a diagnostic session where the central thoughts in your mind were something like:

  1. I have to ask some sales questions. Let’s get this thing over with.
  2. I have to ask questions to impress the prospect
  3. What do I have to ask to close this deal or move the sale forward

Most of the time, when we start asking sales questions, our attention is almost always focused on us and not on the prospect. In most cases, it’s probably the last conversation you had with your sales manager who told you ‘how much we really need this deal.’

Here’s a tip. If you write down the goals of your questioning session, you are more likely to achieve them. For example, if your goal is to discover information about their operating environment to install technical equipment, put that at the top of your notepad and make that the focus of your attention.

In all of my experiences with salespeople, those who write down the target outcomes of their sessions and take notes during the sessions outperform those salespeople who wing it.

Sales Training Exercise – Focus your Sales Questions by Removing Distractions

So here’s your exercise. In addition to your notepad, get yourself a small spiral bound notebook to serve as a worry notebook.

When you’re preparing for your diagnostic session, write in your notepad the general items you want to focus on – your prospect, their company, their environment. These items will be the focus of your sales questions during your diagnostic session.

Now, before you step into the meeting with your prospect, ideally before you get out of the car, write down in your worry notebook the items that are grabbing your attention. Things like:

  1. The conversation with your sales manager telling you they need this deal.
  2. You session with your physician who said your blood pressure was too high.
  3. Your car payment
  4. Shots for the family pet

Anything of a personal nature that you think needs addressing goes into the worry notebook. Then, put that worry notebook in the glove box of your car and give yourself permission to forget about those issues for the next hour. Don’t worry. They will be there when you get back. But for the next hour during your diagnostic session with your prospect, they are in your worry notebook, leaving you free to focus on your prospect.

Remember, selling is an away game. It takes place in the mind of the prospect. That’s exactly where you need to be, in their mind, seeing the world as they see it. And you can’t do that if you are paying attention to your problems.


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Make Your Sales Presentation Pop with Evidence

sales presentation evidence

Once the salesperson has diagnosed the problem correctly, they need to present the right prescription in such a way that it persuades the buyer to see value in the solution or opportunity. As salespeople, we need to gain the high ground in order to overcome doubt quickly and effectively.

And what inherently overcomes doubt? Evidence!

Check this out this sales example and discover what’s revealed in the process. Continue reading

LinkedIn Ain’t Selling – Insights Into Social Selling

linkedin and social selling

This post on social selling was originally published on Nov 17, 2016  and updated on Feb 13, 2019.

I often get asked to give a talk on the power of social media and how that works in the profession of sales. There’s still a lot of buzz around the topic of social selling and it makes sense with more professionals using platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter for business. But make no mistake, social media is not a substitute for strong sales skills and processes. Continue reading