The art of the ask

Earning a customer’s business often depends on how smoothly the sales call goes


There are two points during every sales call that can be somewhat awkward — the beginning and the end.

At the beginning of a sales call, whether in person or virtual, the salesperson gauges how to connect with the customer and quickly build a rapport. Then, there’s the segue into the pitch when you present your proposition.

At the end of the call, there’s “the ask,” when we seek affirmation and buy-in from the customer and ask them to loosen their purse strings. Even for the most seasoned sales pros, these can be awkward moments, treacherous to navigate.

I think of sales calls in two ways, like a marathon or a great story. Both require a strong start and a remarkable ending. Still, the time between the start and finish is equally as important, and how we conduct the sales call, from beginning to end, influences the outcome — how receptive the customer is to your offer.

At the start of the call, it's essential to acknowledge that your client's time is valuable and establish some goals for the meeting, perhaps a simple three-point agenda.

“Thanks for taking 20 minutes with me today, Bonnie. Is this still a convenient time for you? Great. I want to share some information with you today and ask you a few questions about your business. Then, I'd like to show you some real-world examples of how we've helped other businesses like yours and answer any questions you may have for me.”

Part of your agenda should include sharing compelling success stories and asking questions that demonstrate to the client that you're informed about your own business and theirs and that you're cognizant of their marketing and advertising objectives.

Depending on how forthcoming the customer is, you may find yourself in the middle of a sales call with no feeling for how it’s going or what the customer is thinking. For example, if the customer suggests, “Well, let me think about it,” it may mean any number of things — that they actually need time to process your pitch; that they may require more information; that they hate saying no, or that they’re being polite. But, on the other hand, it could also mean that they’re eager to end the sales call.

Not having a feel for how receptive the customer is can make for an awkward conclusion. In these cases, I often use a technique I call, “The 1-to-10 Close.” It’s an easy way to ask for an order and to engage more deeply with the client. It sounds something like this:

"Bonnie, thanks so much for the opportunity to meet with you today. I think this has been a great conversation, and I'll look forward to answering any questions you may have now or after our call. In the meantime, if you don't mind me asking, on a scale of one to 10 — one, meaning you're not that interested, and 10, meaning you're ready to write a check today — where are you at this point?”

This 1-to-10 closing technique allows me to re-engage the customer and see where their mindset is about buying. It helps to gauge their interest and likelihood to buy in a non-aggressive approachable way. For example, if a client says they are at a five, I ask them what I need to do or say or what questions I can answer to get them to a six or seven. No one wants to buy from a pushy, over-the-top salesperson.

Sometimes, you’ll get a sense that the customer is ready to seal the deal. Ideally, you'll ask for the order at the end of the sales call and get it. But if that’s not the case, it’s important to end the call by laying out expectations and establishing a plan of action moving forward. Set a time or timeframe to follow up. Acknowledge that you understand any concerns or outstanding questions they may have and promise to address them. Then, follow through and get the customer what they need to make an informed decision and trust you with their business.

Ryan Dohrn is a 30-year veteran media sales, professional and marketer. He is an Emmy Award-winning motivational speaker and is a sales coach to more than 200 media companies. Find him at


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