The Importance of Asking Permission in Sales Calls

I talk a lot about establishing and maintaining control on sales calls – it’s important for us as sales professionals to steer the conversation in such a way that we obtain the information we need to determine if the prospect is a fit for our offering – and if so, how best to position it to them. In this post, I’ll be discussing one area in where a small and easily implemented adjustment can make a measurable difference in results: asking permission.

Why Bother Asking Permission?

On the surface, asking our prospects for permission seems like a weak play. We’re temporarily forfeiting control – handing the reigns of the conversation briefly to the prospect, and giving them an out if they’re really looking for one. So why do we do it? Before looking at the benefits, let’s take a look at the potential drawbacks to understand why they aren’t all that disastrous after all.

You’re giving control of the call to the prospect.

Are we? Asking permission most often takes the form of a close-ended (yes or no) question to which we are fairly certain the answer will be yes. We have given the prospect control of the call in the way a McDonald’s employee has given a patron control of the menu by asking if they’d “like fries with that?”

You’re giving the prospect an easy out!

Absolutely. This concept of ‘giving prospects a way out’ is dated, and worth getting away from entirely. Your call should strategically incorporate ways for the prospect to get off the hook if they’re not interested for two reasons:

  1. It is a litmus test against the prospect’s interest – if they are looking for ways out, you haven’t done your job in piquing their interest.
  2. The corollary is that if we are giving the prospect outs and they are not taking them, we know that they are interested – and we are subtly reinforcing that interest in our prospect’s minds by forcing them to repeatedly demonstrate it!

Having addressed the apparent disadvantages, let’s take a look at the benefits:

We reinforce our image as a polite professional.

Asking permission is the polite thing to do – and with the vast majority of prospects, being polite will go a long way in establishing trust and respect.

We give the prospect the ability to provide input while restricting their ability to misdirect the conversation.

No one wants to be on the receiving end of a one-sided conversation. Even if the prospect has shown that they’re okay with us leading the call, we still want them to feel included in that conversation. Open-ended questions have their role as well, but a simple ask for permission can go a long way in making the prospect feel involved while keeping our grip on the wheel.

We are getting the prospects to further engage in the conversation, and in our service offering by escalating the consent we seek.

This is the most important benefit – closing a deal is simply the last step in a chain of escalating consent. Ultimately, we need the prospect to say “yes” when we ask for the business – it therefore works to our benefit to “get them in the habit” of responding in the affirmative before we go for that close. Asking snaps the prospect’s attention back where you want it, and makes them feel more invested in the call. Subtly – subconsciously, even – they think to themselves “Well, if I weren’t interested I could have just said ‘no’, so I should pay attention.” Asking for the business should ideally always be framed in a context of prior consent. We start by asking their permission to pitch them – to show them our website, do a live demo, send them a proposal, call them back at a specific date, and ultimately – we ask for their permission to get working for them.

To illustrate these benefits, I’m going to run through a couple examples of situations where a salesperson might ask for permission, and highlight how it benefits them:

Opening The Call

Rep: Hi, John – my name is Bill with XYZ Company – I’m reaching out because I took a look at your website, and believe I can help improve its lead generation capabilities.

Prospect: Thanks, but I haven’t got time for this right now.

Rep: I certainly understand, John – would it be okay if I took two minutes to briefly explain what we can do for you? If it sounds interesting we can schedule a follow-up call, and otherwise I’ll leave you alone.

Prospect: Sure. Two minutes. Shoot.

It would have been easy here to just blow through the “I’m busy call me later” objection and just start pitching anyway. But then, you’re not being very polite, are you? You also have no idea whether the prospect is listening to you, or if they’re mentally checking out to return to whatever they were doing before you called. Finally, we’re missing out on the opportunity to begin establishing “yes momentum” – at the end of the day, if the prospect stands firm and doesn’t give you two minutes, you’ve lost nothing – you can still call them back later (maybe they were really busy), or cross them off your list. There’s virtually no down-side.

Segueing into Demo

Rep: John, are you in front of a computer?

John: I am.

Rep: What I’d like to do, John, is take you to a website we’ve worked on for a client of mine. He’s in your industry, and I think it will give you a more concrete idea of what exactly we can do for you. Does that sound fair?

John: Sure – what’s the site?

Again, it would be easy to just ask if they’re in front of a computer and, if they are, direct them to the site – but we would be missing a great opportunity to ask permission. We make ourselves look polite – we’re not forcing anything on the prospect – merely suggesting a course of action that will allow them to better-evaluate our service. Again, if the prospect turns down your request, it’s not because you didn’t bulldog them – it’s because you hadn’t done enough work building interest on the front-end of the call before you attempted your segue (or maybe they just have legitimate time constraints, in which case they should be willing and eager to arrange a follow-up call). Either way, you are getting them to lean in – to further engage, and admit to you (and to themselves) that yes, they are interested in seeing a live demo. Subtle, but powerful.

The Close

John: Well, this all looks great – what are the next steps?

Rep: Glad to hear it John – how about I run a few packages past you, and you can tell me which one makes the most sense – work for you?

John: Sure thing – shoot.

This is just one example of a way to work permission into our close. Here we can see our intrepid hero has opted for a multiple choice close (a form of closed-ended closing question in which we present the prospect with a series of options to choose from – none of which are “no thanks”, or “give me some time”.) It’s a powerful close by itself, but adding an ask for permission is the perfect complement. One of the problems with closed-ended closing tools is that we can make the prospect feel boxed in – they get cagey, and even though everything lines up, and they want to buy, they put up last-minute walls for that reason. In this case, we’ve side-stepped that concern by giving them an out. We’ve said, “Hey, Prospect – I’d like to multiple choice close you. Is that okay?” And they have acquiesced. BOOM! That’s power. We’re also slicing the close up into more digestible chunks that will be easier for the client to swallow – “Yes, it sounds good.” “Yes, I want to work with you.” “Yes, I’d like to hear your options and choose one.” By escalating the consent we ask for slowly, we warm the prospects up more and decrease the likelihood of scaring them off by asking for the business.

These are just a few examples, but there are many more ways in which asking permission can be worked into your sales calls. As with any tool, it should be sprinkled throughout the presentation so as not to sound forced or scripted, but it’s an effective litmus test of the prospect’s interest, and it helps bring us closer to the close with minimal risk of rejection. Do you ask for permission in your calls? What are some of the questions you like to ask, and why? Any comments or questions are welcome in the section below – and as always, if you’ve found this information useful, please share it with anyone else who might enjoy it as well!

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