The Corner Office

Getting to 'no'

Sales skills are management skills


Sales can get a bad rap, but there are fundamental elements of selling that can be useful at any level in an organization. In fact, I'd argue that many of the core tenets of sales are really just good management skills. And the higher up the corporate ladder you are, the more essential sales skills could be for you.

A long time ago, when I was running a basic sales route, I came into it with virtually no sales-related skills. I had to learn fast, and thankfully I had people around me who were generous enough to impart some much-needed sales wisdom upon me. But of all the things I learned, the one that I got the most mileage out of (and still use to this day) was the importance of getting people to a “no.”

Obviously, that’s counterintuitive, especially from a sales perspective. But the answer isn’t always a no — the important thing is to always direct someone toward a clear, final answer. Instead of selling someone, you should think of yourself as facilitating their final decision by providing them with clear, pertinent information. Otherwise, you're leaving someone with a  “maybe,” and that’s not in your best interest or theirs.

From the perspective of the person you’re selling to, a maybe is a waste of time. It’s time spent reflecting, reading reviews, consulting with a spouse — and it can still end in a no. And if you’re the salesperson, you have to circle back to get a final answer and go through your spiel an extra time.

The real value of getting someone to a “no” is in the time you save. And I know you want every conversation to end with a sale, but no matter how much you believe in your product, it just isn’t going to be for everyone. And the more time you waste trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to buy, the less time you’ll have to give information to a customer or client who could actually make a purchase.

So, what does this have to do with management?

Following the rules above, a good salesperson can size up what information a person needs to make a decision and then deliver it. Coincidentally, management is primarily the same — ensuring that people have the correct information to make good decisions. And in a corporate environment, being able to help people make informed, quick choices can save you and your organization a lot of time that could be spent working toward your goals.

With that in mind, I’ve got some sales tips that also make for good management practices. Some of them sound a little goofy, but if it’s on this list, it’s because I still use it regularly all these years later.

One common sales tactic is to ask, “This or that?” Instead of asking if they want to buy, you ask if they want the red one or the blue one. “Do you want to buy” means a hard choice, but choosing between red or blue is much simpler.

But offering an easier choice isn't just applicable in sales — I use this all of the time to set up meetings. For example, instead of asking “What time works for you,” I'll ask, “Does X time or Y time work best for you?” Just like getting a potential customer to a no, this is the fastest way to get a clear, final answer from someone in your organization.

Another valuable skill that I learned during my time in sales was asking the little question instead of the big one. If you're trying to get a signature on a big contract or get your boss’ final approval on something, don’t keep reminding them that you’re waiting on a decision. Instead, ask a smaller question that’s easier to answer.

For example, instead of asking for final approval on a project, ask, “This thing in paragraph three, does that look okay to you? Is there anything else that’s an issue?” If they say no, then congratulations, you just got the answer you’ve been waiting for — hand it over for their signature.

Another strategy to get a decision is to ask what the decision-maker would change. Instead of asking for a final decision, by asking for their thoughts, you make it their responsibility instead of yours. If they make a change, that’s an intellectual investment, and you can consider them sold.

Some of these might sound sneaky or dishonest, but they’re just skills. And they can help you distill critical information, make sure it’s understood, and get a decision as quickly as possible. Life, sales and business are all about making decisions, and the quicker you can get someone to make a choice, the more effective and efficient you’ll be.

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at


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