How to Tell When You’re Pushing Too Far

When using a consultative sales approach it is sometimes necessary to probe in order to get the prospect to recognize his need for what you offer. However, the prospect may feel that your questions are getting too close to proprietary information that he doesn’t want known outside the company. Examples of sensitive areas include:

  • Work-procedures
  • How sales have been going lately
  • How heavily they are staffed in certain areas
  • Production costs

The prospect may simply tell you that you are getting into sensitive areas, but they may not. You should look for other indications that will tell you that you are pushing too far. The ability to pick up and interpret those signals—essential elements in your repertoire of consultative sales skills—may include:

  • Subconscious nonverbal cues, such as a change in facial expression, excessive blinking, increased clearing of the throat
  • A reluctance to make eye contact with you
  • Nervous smiling
  • A physical closing up such as crossing of arms, or drawing away from you
  • An increase in long pauses, or the use of space-fillers such as “Umm” before responding

It’s better to ask sensitive questions than to guess at the answers. However, in an ideal situation you would ask only one or two probing questions in order to signal direction; then let the prospect tell the story in his or her own words.