Sales Purgatory May Not be Hell, but it Does Feel Like It

Article originally published in

By Nancy Keny

Webster’s Dictionary defines purgatory as an “intermediate state after death for purification by making amends for sins.”

So, what is Sales Purgatory? It’s that anxious place between “I know I’ve got his sale” and “There’s no way I’ve got this sale.”

It’s where your prospect says, “Looks great. Let me think it over. I’ll get back to you.”

How do you know if you’re in Sales Purgatory? You are caught up in what seems like an eternity of follow-up phone calling, e-mailing, note sending, gift giving and prospect stalking, which is only you chasing someone who isn’t interested.

How does this feel?

How do you get out of Sales Purgatory so that you can spend your time on those prospects who are willing and able to make a buying decision?  By making amends for your sins of looking and behaving like every other salesperson. Only then will you regain control of the sales process.

What are some of those sins?

  • The first sin is not establishing a compelling reason for you and the prospect to get together in the first place. Don’t bully you way in for an appointment. Get “invited.” Don’t waste your time with people who don’t want or need your product. Let them go and move on.
  • You commit the second sin when you set your appointment with the prospect and you fail to establish both an agenda for what is to take place during your meeting and an agreement about what decisions will be made at the end. The fastest way to Sales Purgatory is not getting an agreement with the prospect at the beginning of the meeting that a decision of either “no, I’m not interested” or “yes, I am interested” would be determined at the end of the meeting.  A “yes” does not necessarily mean a sale will ensue, but it does mean you will discuss specifically the next step, and it won’t involve a chase.
  • The third sin that will land you in Sales Purgatory is giving away more information then you get.

The prospect wants to know everything you know about your product or service, including, of course, your price and how your product or service is going to fix his problem.

Most sales people fall into this trap. They give away their expert advice with absolutely no commitment from the prospect.

The prospect may then use the information, so graciously supplied, to leverage a better deal from a current supplier or determine if the work can be done in-house at a lower cost. The prospect may still need more information at some point so he’ll tell you. “This looks fantastic. Let me think this over and I’ll get back to you.” He gives you just enough hope so you will think you have a sale.

Then, you spend the next month phoning, e-mailing and stalking. The only one “thinking over” anything is you. You obtained little, if any, information from the prospect that indicates whether you have a real selling opportunity. If your sales manager asked you the following questions about your meeting, you would be hard pressed to provide meaningful answers.

  • What are the prospect’s specific issues as it pertains to our product or service?
  • How much is it costing them in hard dollars or opportunity cost not to address these issues?
  • What would they need to see from us in order to  make a buying decision?
  • By when do they want to make the decision?

Write these and other opportunity-qualifying questions on a notepad and take the notepad to your prospect meetings. Then, don’t leave the meetings without first getting some of the answers.

Making the change

The first step to taking control and getting out of Sales Purgatory is to make a list of all the prospects that have you there. For each, record the first and last contact dates and determine how long you have been in Sales Purgatory.

Next, ask yourself a tough question: “Why have I chosen to stay in Sales Purgatory?” Often it is easier, safer and it even feels like you are working hard when you spend your time there rather than investing your time developing new prospects or referrals.

It is time to let them go. Commit to creating a new prospecting and referral plan. Commit to learning a new sales strategy-one that will require a new set of behaviors.

Keep in mind that making lasting behavioral change and mastering new skills are not overnight processes of incremental growth and change over time, supported by repetition, reinforcement and coaching.

It’s your choice. Do you choose a process that leads to Sales Purgatory or a commitment to one in which you are in control of your destiny?