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Is Your Need for Approval Holding You Back from Sales Success?

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Written by John Doerr
President, RAIN Group

How many times have you left a sales meeting and thought, "I should have said that..."?

Or, during a meeting, as you listened to what a prospect was saying, you thought, "That's not right; he will be making a big mistake if he goes down that path," but you never voiced your opinion?

Or, perhaps even more dramatic, you got the sense, "This guy is holding something back. I need to get to the bottom of this." But, again, you said nothing?

In all of these examples, what usually keeps you from saying the things you want to (and should) say is a strong need for approval from your prospects. You want to be liked, and in some cases loved, more than you want to close the deal. Research1 that includes more than 500,000 sellers estimates that 47% of sales people have a need for approval to the extent that it can limit their ability to ask tough questions, disagree when appropriate, and advocate for a point of view that may be disruptive to the status quo.

While likeability is certainly important in building relationships and winning business, it can hurt your sales success if taken to the extreme. You miss opportunities, chase non-qualified leads, and limit the insight you know you can provide.

Why does this happen? During the conversation, as you prepare the right response, your need for approval keeps editing your words because you see them as too confrontational, too upsetting, and likely to turn your prospect against you. In essence, your "I don't want to upset someone" bar is so high that nothing can get over it.

The first step in getting past a need for approval is to recognize you might have one. It's not the easiest thing to look in the mirror and say, "This could be me." But, then again, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

The second step in getting past this limitation is to trust your instincts. If you think you should say somethingif you are rolling it around in your head and you believe it is the right thing to say–say it. You'll often find that what you think will be perceived as confrontational won't be taken that way by the buyer. And sometimes it will be disruptive, but that may very well be what's needed.

Of course, how you say something is just as important as what you say. Telling someone that she is "making a huge mistake and will live to regret it" is probably a little over the top. But suggesting that, based on your experience, moving in a particular direction will not help her achieve her goals, can open the door to a much richer and productive discussion.

Being comfortable with saying what you wanted to say in the first place takes practice. When you come back from a meeting, write down the parts of the conversation you wanted to approach differently. Think of what you could have and should have said. Practice with a colleague. Then practice again. Then practice one more time.

The next time you are in that same situation, put all that practice to work. Don't be derailed by the fact that it might seem a little uncomfortable at first. Remember, your need for approval is clouding your instincts. Don't be put off by the fact that the road to progress may feel a little rocky at first. As you travel this road more frequently, the route will become more familiar, the bumps will feel more natural, and over time they will smooth out completely.

You will find that your efforts to gain new clients will be more effective, you will achieve higher sales success, and people will still find you likeable.

1. Dave Kurlan has conducted extensive research into the drivers of sales success. As of 2011, Kurlan's company, Objective Management Group, and its partners (including us at RAIN Group) have conducted more than 500,000 assessments of salespeople and managers at more than 8,500 organizations.

Topics: Sales Conversations