Communication skills

A psychologist shares: How to turn a maybe into a YES

- March 21, 2017 4 MIN READ

Whether it’s getting a sale, or asking someone to pay an invoice, there are many times in business we need to turn a ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes’. Here’s how to navigate these challenging conversations.

We’ve all been there. You’re flush with the excitement of a big idea. You know it’s going to rock your client’s world. You swing a time to see her, arrive filled with nervous anticipation and then set out your plan, covering every detail.

When you’re done, you glance across the table, waiting for the enthusiastic ‘Yes! Let’s do it.’ The client pauses, you hold your breath and they say …

‘Hmmm, maybe.’

What? That’s not the response you were looking for. Short of mind control, how do you convince them of the brilliance of your proposal?

How do you turn that ‘maybe’ into a ‘Yes!’?

Your sales conversations are some of the trickier interactions of life – and it doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product to a customer or vegetables to your kids. You need to convince another person to believe that what you’re ‘selling’ is worth their time, money, emotion or tastebuds.

Understand, it’s going to be a challenging conversation.

You can recognise a challenging conversation by these three elements:

  1. High stakes – You’ve both got something to gain and lose.
  2. Emotion – Fear is a big one. Someone is scared of something.
  3. Opposing views – You don’t see eye-to-eye – yet.

We can respond to challenging conversations in a number of ways. We might…

  • “I tried to sell to my client but it didn’t work. I’m not cut out for sales.”
  • “Why ‘maybe’? What’s wrong with my idea?”
  • “There’s nothing wrong with the idea/proposal I just lovingly prepared.”
  • Give in. “Okay, fine, whatever.”

These strategies all work in the short term but longer term? You’re getting nowhere.

The good news? There is a simple five-step process that will get you from ‘maybe’ (or ‘no’) to ‘yes!’

Before you start …

It’s important to remember the aim of a challenging conversation is to have an effect or create action. You want something to happen. A new customer signed up, an exciting project kicked off or an invoice paid.  The process in every conversation, difficult or not, looks like this:

Here are the mistakes that can be made at each stage:

Speaker: Our message is unclear because we haven’t thought it through and planned it out. Have you ever launched into a conversation and while your mouth is speaking your mind is wondering, “Where is this going? Do I know what I’m saying?”

Message: We don’t use a means of communication that best suits our audience. Email? Phone? Face to face? Presentation? Coffee chat? Plenty of detail? Overview only? One meeting or a series?

Audience: We don’t talk to the right person. Is this the decision maker? Are you using the right language?

Effect: We’re unsure of the effect we want. Sure, you want a sale but is it a one-off or a longer-term relationship? Do you want it today or this year? Is this customer the gatekeeper to other sales?

Challenging conversations: 5 steps to turning that ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes!’

1. Have a plan

It seems obvious but we often launch into conversations without a plan. Your goal is to convince your client to say ‘yes’ but is there more to it? Can you anticipate their likely response? Do you have a plan for countering it? Is there a more compelling way to have this conversation? A product demonstration perhaps? A slide show? Case study? A thought provoking location?

Have you thought about your emotional response? How will you handle disappointment, frustration, jubilation? What are the possibilities and pitfalls?

Do you have your next steps in mind? If they say yes, then what?

Take the time to plan your conversation in detail so that you can counter any opposition, capitalise on possibilities and handle it with aplomb.

2. Stop thinking about yourself

Humans are inherently self-absorbed, particularly when emotion is involved. We focus on what we want and need, our goals and our worries. Consider for a moment the other person in this conversation. What would help them? How does they like to receive information? Do they see the situation in the same way you do? Are you making assumptions about their point of view? Is there something else you can offer? Can you do more? Should you do less?

Spend time pondering both sides of conversation before you begin. You might be surprised at what you discover and where you can increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

3. Cultivate curiosity

Ask questions! Put your sales pitch on hold and seek to understand what they want and need before you tell them what you have to offer. Questions are an incredibly powerful but under-used tool in every conversation. What? How? When? Who? Where? Open questions build relationships (everyone likes someone who’s interested) and they can uncover fascinating facts, insights and perspectives.

Try solution-focused and ‘we’ questions such as, ‘How do you think we could…?’’ and ‘What would you like to see?’

4. Keep it simple and use the power of silence

Use as few words as you need to and stick to your goal. Listen to yourself as you speak and ask, “Am I waffling? Have I made my point? Have I asked enough questions? Should I just shut up and let her speak?”

If in doubt, ask a question and sit in silence. A silent pause gives you time to collect your thoughts and to refocus on your preparation and strategy. Silence also uncovers possibilities. Try looking attentive, interested and expectantly at your conversation partner and see what arises. They’ll say something, I assure you, and it could lead to the pot of gold.

5. Practice, revisit and review

Like anything, practice makes better, if not perfect. Prepare well for your next ‘maybe’ conversation, execute your plan and then revisit and review. What went well? What didn’t? What can you do differently next time? Review the plan and execute again, and again, and again.

Follow the plan and you will turn that ‘maybe’ into ‘yes’. (And if you want some practice feel free to try the above on getting your kids to eat their vegetables!)

Do you have any favourite strategies for dealing with challenging conversations and getting people to say ‘YES’?!