SALES

Are You Assertive--or Aggressive?

High-pressure sales tactics can be more annoying than effective. There's a better way to move a deal forward.
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When you're moving a sale forward, it's a mistake to be either too passive or too aggressive.  Instead, be assertive, which is a completely different thing altogether.

This is an important distinction.

For example, let's suppose you've had a conversation with a prospective customer and want to know when they'll make a decision whether or not to buy.

Here's the passive approach:

  • "Could you give me a call when you've made a decision?"
  • "Would you mind if I sent you a brochure to help you decide?"
  • "How about I call you in a few days to see if you've made a decision?"

The passive approach does not move the sale forward but instead creates a next step that's irrelevant to the decision-making. Sellers take the passive approach out of fear of losing the sale, fear of offending, and fear of, well–pretty much fear of selling.

Now check out the aggressive approach:

  • "If you don't buy now, the offer is off the table."
  • "If you don't want to do business with us, please tell me so we won't be wasting our time."
  • "What do I need to do to make a decision happen now?"

The aggressive approach (aka the "hard sell") often antagonizes customers.  Even if the customer makes a decision, he or she may resent being pressured–and often as not will find a way to get out of the deal, or delay it until the pressure is off.

This, by contrast, is the assertive approach:

  • "Can you give me a specific date when you'll make a decision?"
  • "What factors might cause the delay in the decision-making process?"
  • "What steps will you be taking in order to make a decision?"

The assertive approach is neither pushy nor flaccid, but instead creates a discussion that helps you and the customer better understand what's going on, and what you can do to help the decision-making process along.

According to Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the challenge in sales situation is to gauge the correct level of assertiveness that's most likely to move the sale forward, without slipping into an aggressive stance that might cause the prospect to balk.

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IMAGE: Flickr photo courtesy of Edwin Wisse
Last updated: May 22, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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