Skip to main content
Sandler Training | Milton, ON

This website uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience.
You can learn more by clicking here.

Eliza, a new sales hire, had posted an abysmally low closing ratio in her first 60 days on the job. She was spending most of her time with prospects who ended up picking her brain for advice and information . . . and then disappearing. Frank, her manager, asked her during a coaching session why she thought that was happening.

“I guess I’m not all that great at presenting yet,” Eliza said. “Do you have any suggestions on how I could improve in that area?”

“Well,” Frank said, “maybe the issue isn’t your presentation skills. Let’s walk through what happened in the last discussion you had with someone. How did that go?”

Eliza thought for a moment. “That meeting went great. He loved my presentation. In fact, he thought we’d get the deal.”

“How do you know that?”

“How do I know what?”

“How do you know he wanted us to get the deal? What did he actually say? Do you remember the words he used?”

“Sure. I remember the words exactly. They made my day. He said, ‘My personal feeling is, in view of all you have done, there is a very good chance we can do business with your company.”

Frank smiled. “And that made your day? Really?”

“Sure. That was a green light. Wasn’t it?”

“Not so much. He was hedging his bets. He was avoiding making a commitment. He was using what I call ‘Play It Safe’ words.”

Eliza leaned forward, interested. “What do you mean?”

“Well, let’s break it down. He said, ‘My personal feeling,’ right?”


“So what if his ‘personal feeling’ isn’t what makes the difference? What if he’s got no budget? He was picking his words carefully, so you couldn’t hold him to anything later. It’s classic ‘Play It Safe’ language. Like ‘Looks good.’ Or ‘We’ll give you every opportunity.’ Sound familiar?”

 “Hmm. Yes. I see what you’re getting at.”

“And when he said ‘there is a very good chance’ we’d end up doing business together – is that really the same thing as ‘We’re going to do business together’? Did he say when we might work together?”

“I guess not. More ‘Play It Safe’ words, right?”

“That’s what it looks like to me, Eliza.”

“OK. So I get that I shouldn’t be projecting income from this lead . . . but what should I have done during the meeting?”

“Let me answer that question by posing another. What’s your most important job in this situation? What are you trying to accomplish?”

“Close the sale?”

“Are you sure?”

“Hmm. Maybe not, now that you ask me that. What would you say I should be trying to accomplish?”

“You tell me.”

“Qualifying him?”

“You’re getting closer. Try again.”

“Disqualifying him?

“Bingo. I would say your job here is to go for the no. Your job is to do a reality check. Give him permission to say ‘No,’ if that’s what he wants to say. Think about it. If you’re on the receiving end of ‘Play It Safe’ words, that’s probably not a great sign. Before you invest any more time in this lead, you’d want to find out what’s really going on. Go for the no.”

Eliza nodded, intrigued. “OK. What would that sound like?”

“Shall we role-play it?”


“I’ll be you,” Frank said. “And you be Mr. Play It Safe. Ready?”


“Let’s go.”

In an instant, Eliza became her prospect. She said: “Eliza, my personal feeling is, in view of all you have done, there is a very good chance we can do business with your company.”

Frank said, “And that business will be appreciated too, Alex. When you say, ‘good chance,’ what exactly does that mean?”

“Oh. Well . . . it means I am going to seriously consider this.”

“You know,” Frank said, “you can tell me if there’s nothing here. I would understand. It won’t hurt my feelings.”

Eliza nodded. Still in character, she said, “OK. Here’s the thing. There’s just no budget for this right now. I wish there were, but there isn’t. This isn’t going to happen, at least not this quarter. Maybe we should talk again in May.”

Frank smiled and said, “You’ve got it, Eliza. Your job is really to disqualify. Your job is to get to the bottom of things. Your job is to do a reality check, to find out what’s going on . . . and to avoid spending your precious time with people who are too polite to volunteer for the job of saying ‘No, thanks.’“

Eliza made the most of that coaching session. From that point forward, Eliza started asking “What does that mean?” when she heard “Play It Safe” language . . . and she started going for the no. She spent less time chasing unproductive leads . . . and more time talking to people who were interested in working with her. Her closing numbers rose in short order.


Free Report: 9 Steps for Running Efficient and Effective Sales Meetings

Put these nine easy steps in place as a consistent and predictable meeting agenda for every sales meeting, and revel in the most efficiently run meetings you’ve ever experienced.

Download Your Free Report Now.

Share this article: 
!-- Start of HubSpot Embed Code -->