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!

Did You Verify Your Prospect’s Buying Signals?

verifying buying signals in sales traffic light

Here’s something I noticed about good salespeople. During their presentation, in particular when they are delivering their prescription to address the challenge, a good salesperson will have the awareness to recognize buying signals, warning signs, and objections. It’s these signals that will lead us into the next phase of the sales process, the dialogue. Continue reading

Sales Presentation Factors for Persuasive Prescriptions

sales presentation persuasive prescription

In a previous post, we looked at a few requirements to move the sale forward. We need to get into the prospect’s mind and answer 5 questions. We must also supply evidence to back up our claims. And we must provide third-party validation to ease the prospect’s concerns. 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

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

Sales Training Exercise – Building Powerful Sales Testimonials

sales testimonials thumbs up

One thing you have to remember when you’re standing in front of your prospect is that they perceive everything you say as suspect. After all, you are the salesperson. You’re supposed to say good things about your product or service. That’s why we coach our clients to answer one of the critical questions in their prospects’ minds – who says so besides you. Sales testimonials will do that for you.

Here’s a tip: If you make a claim about your product or service, your prospect will have doubts. If someone else make a claim about your product or service, your prospect sees the claim as more credible.

When we performed sales in our call center days, I encouraged my sales team to gather testimonials from their customers at every opportunity and to get those clients to print out the testimonial on their letterhead. My team then assembled those sales testimonials into a 3-ring binder. This became a tool for every salesperson when they went to a prospect and performed their solution presentation. The client then had physical evidence that someone else, a peer in their industry, was backing the sales team in their efforts.

This concept isn’t new.  In car sales, sales managers have been posting pictures of happy, satisfied customers standing next to their new vehicle for years. Letters of recommendation are a variation of this principle. And if you attend any webinar that is selling a service online, you’ll notice the speaker trots out several sales testimonials from happy, satisfied clients before they make their closing statement. The latest hype with online reviewers like Yelp is simply the digital incarnation of this principle.

Sales Training Exercise – Sales Testimonials Exercise

Here’s your assignment this week. Contact 10 of your best customers and simply talk to them.

Ask them:

  1. Why they bought your product or service
  2. Why they decided to do business with you
  3. How your product is currently performing
  4. If they’re satisfied with their purchase
  5. How the product or service has impacted their lives professionally and personally

You want to know everything about how your product or service has changed their situation.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. First, you need a reason to reconnect with your customers. Many salespeople don’t call their old customers back until they’re ready to sell them something new. While that may be a reason to call, it certainly won’t make your customer feel good about the interaction.
  2. Second, your customers need to remember why they did business with you. They need to reconnect with how you were a problem solver and how your product changed their lives.
  3. Lastly, ask them to write a testimonial for you. This testimonial will highlight everything you just asked them: the challenge they faced before your offering, how their situation changed after your offering, and the impact it’s had on them personally.

These sales testimonials are a powerful form of evidence that you can use to support your sales process. Now you have a response to the question that’s in your prospect’s head, “who says so besides you.” And it gives you more credibility when advancing your sales process.


Are you currently using evidence in your sales process? Want to know if your knowledge of the sales process puts you in the game?  Take our online sales evaluation here  and determine if your sales process gives you an unfair advantage over your competition!


Empathy vs Sympathy: Are You a Part of Your Prospect’s Problem?

sympathy and being sympathetic in your sales diagnosis

The Role of Sympathy and Empathy in the Sales Process

Here’s something I learned in my past about the roles sympathy and empathy play in the sales process. Keep in mind, you are sitting across from your prospective buyer because you want to help them solve their problem, not become a part of the problem. Continue reading

Sales Tip from Lance’s Training War Chest – Talk Like Your Prospect


sales tip - talk like your prospect and ask questions like a friend

In the last post, I wrote of using your questions not only to get your prospect’s attention but to also keep their interest by selling to the gap. I also wrote that your meeting is shaped by the questions that you ask, the order you ask them and how you ask them. As I’ve said before, sales is an away game – it takes place in your prospect’s mind. So, you control the pace of the sale by getting in your prospect’s mind, focusing their attention on the challenges they face, and leading them to a place they want to be. A vital piece of this process is talking like your prospect to increase rapport. Continue reading

Some Questions are Stupid – Asking the Right Questions

achieving persuasive influence in sales through the questioning process

In the last post, we looked at a process using questions to identify and build a sales opportunity, selling to the gap.

In addition to building the opportunity, your questions shape your prospect’s mindset and perceptions to achieve persuasive influence.

The questions you ask are important. But so is how you ask your questions, when you ask them, as well as how you order them. In creating your questions, you need to be cognizant of all of these factors. You want to leverage them to create a favorable environment in your prospect’s mind, conducive to moving the sale forward. Continue reading