Talk to the Hand, Cause the Face Ain’t Listenin’

Doug Robinson

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

When I was in the fourth grade, I had a crush on Jill. It was a one-sided relationship, but as Valentine’s Day came closer I decided the best way to wow her was to walk to Lintner’s Drugstore and buy her a heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates. It took about 6 weeks allowance to be able to afford that purchase, but to me Jill was worth it.

The big day fell on a Saturday that year, and since it wasn’t a school day, I asked my dad to drive me to Jill’s house to make the delivery and complete the surprise. As Dad sat idling in her driveway, I jumped out and walked across the sidewalk and knocked on the front door. The door opened, and Jill’s father said, “Can I help you, son?” Why did he think I was there? I asked for Jill and heard him say over his shoulder, “Princess, a young man is here to see you.” Smiling, I thrust the red heart-shaped box toward her as she appeared in the doorway. The only words that my brain produced at that moment were, “This is for you, my valentine.” Without reciprocating my smile or saying a word, she grabbed the box and quickly closed the front door.

I stood there for a few seconds sort of dazed, and then glanced around at my Dad sitting behind the wheel of our ‘57 Ford. He shrugged and then waved for me to come and get back in the car. Neither of us said a word during those awkward minutes heading back home following Jill’s display of apathy toward me that cold Valentine’s Saturday in 1959.  

Smart salespeople realize there are a lot of Jill’s’ out there that exhibit apathetic responses when you attempt to set a sales appointment or conduct a sales conversation with them. To help you prepare for these not-so-fun encounters, let’s investigate this phenomenon of apathy, or some call it, indifference.

Several reasons come to mind why buyers react apathetically when they are initially contacted:

They don’t perceive they have a problem and, therefore don’t want to be bothered.

They think you want to try to sell them something they probably don’t need.

They may have some version of what you are offering and feel satisfied with it.

With lots of complacency out there, don’t be surprised if you hear responses similar to these as you attempt to start a sales conversation:

“We’re just not interested.”

“Thanks, but I really don’t think I have a problem.”

“If I decide I need you in the future, I’ll call you.”

When you hear responses like these, it’s important to act quickly before the customer terminates the call. Although the following is certainly not a “silver bullet”, here is a simple 3-step process that often works to prolong conversations and alter the thinking of your prospects.




As I describe these three, I’ve also included some possible responses you might consider for each one:

Agree with their point of view in order to quickly disarm them, since they may be thinking you are just trying to sell them something unnecessary, and they would like to just get off the phone:

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to think about a topic like this.”

“I’m really glad you haven’t experienced a loss up to this point.”

“Most people don’t think twice about this until it’s too late.”

Ask for permission to ask a question, hoping they might realize and admit, they hadn’t thought about it that way. For this to work you should ask thought provoking questions in a consultative, caring manner. 

“I’m really not trying to give you a sales pitch, but is it OK if I just ask you a couple of questions that might help me better understand your situation?”

Assess their situation quickly by probing to find a need, while targeting your questioning so as to uncover a circumstance with a potential negative impact, one that could lead to an opportunity for you.

As you probe, use both open and closed questions until you hit a hot button that resonates with the prospect. Transform that into a need and then determine if the buyer is willing to act on it, by demonstrating the consequences of not addressing the issue.

Conclude with a closed question that will hopefully produce the admission of a need. That might sound something like this during your phone conversation:

“Is that serious enough for you to be willing to at least look at a potential solution?”

“Is that a concern you would want to eliminate, especially if it were economical?” 

If you get a positive response, you should continue the conversation or set an appointment to talk further, when the customer has more time. If the response is negative, it means the buyer is unwilling to take action at this time. In that case, don’t waste your time trying to force an appointment on a closed-minded suspect.  

Some will, Some won’t; So what, Who’s next?

Jill never acknowledged or even mentioned receiving the Valentine candy, nor was I ever able to garner any of her attention throughout the next 8 years we attended school together. That’s apathy on steroids!

Would you comment below and share your thoughts or experiences with apathy?

Do you look forward to my monthly contribution in the CEO? If so, you can receive posts each week by subscribing to my FREE newsletter called, Selling Point here. Once you get on board, how about recommending it to your colleagues and friends, especially considering that it’s FREE?  And by the way, if you’re interested in reading any or all of the past posts click here where all of them are archived for easy access.