How to Ask for Business Without Being a Pushy Salesman

When I speak to groups, I often ask for a show of hands to this question: “How many of you regularly ask your clients or referral sources for business?” Consistently, only 10–15% of the audience raises their hands. The other 85% confess that they aren’t very proactive when it comes to growing their practice. They wait for their clients to think of them, then they react and provide service, then they wait for the next email or telephone call.

When I ask them why they proceed in this passive fashion, they ultimately give the same reason: They don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. They dont want to come across like a pushy salesman.

Who can blame them? We’ve all had that moment just before dinner time when we answer the phone from a blocked caller only to be bombarded with a sales monologue from the local carpet cleaner or cable provider. On they drone about their unique cleaning formula, and two minutes later we’re still waiting for them to pause long enough so we can tell them we’re not interested and hang up.

The thing that irritates me most about the sales tactic isn’t the pitch itself, it’s the manipulation. If they had called and asked me if I was interested in hearing what they had to say about their services, I could have said “yes” or “no” without much inconvenience. The exchange would have taken five seconds.

But the worst of the telemarketers waste my time and leave me feeling like I’ve been forced to listen to a scripted pitch, irrespective of my interest level. My only recourse is to hang up on them. Either way, the call leaves me grumpy.

Now, you’re not a telemarketer. And the services you provide are much more sophisticated than carpet cleaning. But since there is such an overwhelming concern that any direct attempt at selling our services will be reminiscent of a hard sell, we can learn a valuable lesson from the missteps of the pushy and eliminate the risk of sounding like them.

If you force the buyer into a sales conversation about a service they don’t want, you’re sure to turn them off. But if you are respectful of their time, if you propose a dialogue that explores their needs, if you listen and respond to them rather than manipulate them through a script—you will leave the ranks of the many who wait for business, and join the 15% who know how to ask for the business they want.

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