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How do you know how far to push a sale without overstepping your bounds and threatening the sale and/or the relationship with the customer?

by Dave Kahle

First, understand that it is OK, every now and then, to overstep your bounds. That helps you understand where the boundaries are. If you never push it to the limit, you'll never know where the limit is.

Let me illustrate with an example from my selling career. At one time I sold surgical staplers. I would approach a surgeon in the surgeon's lounge of an operating room suite, demonstrate the staplers, and then ask to accompany the surgeon into surgery where I'd talk him through the application of the instruments. Getting into surgery was the absolute essential step to selling our stuff.

In one hospital, the chief of surgery decided that I was too aggressive in approaching his colleagues, and told the Operating Room Supervisor to keep me out. I was devastated.

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When I commiserated with my boss, he said, "Don't feel bad. Now you know where the limits are. If you never step beyond them, you'll always wonder if you could have done more."

It's the same idea as losing some business because your price is too high. If you never do that, you'll never know if you could have gotten more. You have to lose some in order to establish the boundaries.

So, it is OK, every now and then, to overstep your bounds. But you don't want to do it too often.

With that as a preface, let's deal with your question. How do you know if you're pushing too much?

As a general rule, your customers will tell you. Now, they may not say it in so many words, but they will communicate to you via their body language, with what they say and what they don't say, that you are overstepping your bounds and going too far. You'll see them become uncomfortable and show it. You'll see them be a little irritated, and show that. You'll see them become personally affronted, and show that.

They key thing for you to do is be sensitive to the communication you receive from your customer. Consider the possibility that you may be pushing too much, and sensitize yourself to reading those messages from the customer.

Once again we come up against one of the foundational truths upon which effective, professional sales is built: It is far more important to be a good listener than it is to be a good talker. The best sales people are great listeners and are especially sensitive to the customer.

Probably a better question to ask is this: How can I prevent pushing too much?

And the simple answer to that question is "dialogue." Dialogue is, according to Webster's, "an open and frank discussion, as in seeking mutual understanding or harmony."

If you can regularly engage your customer in an "open and frank" discussion of where the customer is in the sales process, and how the customer views your solution, you'll be equipped to make thoughtful and sensitive decisions about your next step.

One of the best simple techniques to use to keep an ongoing dialogue going is to simply ask for an agreement following every conversation you have with the customer. That puts the issue on the table, gives you a continuous reading of where the customer is at, and ends every conversation with a mutual agreement. As long as the customer is agreeing to do something, you are not pushing too hard.

Hope this helps.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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