All the chess experts will tell you that the key to winning lies first and foremost in playing “ahead” of your opponent. That means that the focus should not be solely on this move, but on the 3-4 moves ahead of this move. You’re looking forward beyond the immediate.

Same rule applies in driving. Your focus can’t be on what’s right in front of the car. It needs to be on what is 3-5 seconds ahead of you down the road, so you have time to react to changes.

Sales has an equivalent to this concept. You might know it as BAMFAM (book a meeting from a meeting) or some other name, but boiled down, the fundamental principle is that you have to look ahead and focus on the next step.

I always coach it in these words: Never leave a sales interaction with a client without setting a specific next step!

I witness way too many sales calls where the sales rep allows or even promotes a vague next step. Things like these are said:

  • “Let’s touch base sometime next week”
  • “I’ll let you think about it”
  • “Get back to me when you’ve decided”
  • “I’ll follow up next week/month”

All of these verbal cues involve non-specific action steps, but the next step needs to be very specific and decided before you end the present interaction. Now here is where a common misunderstanding of this concept leads to mistakes. Specific does NOT mean positive. You want a specific next step, even if that specific next step does not involve a sure sale, or if it means a no sale scenario. Depending on where you are in the sales process, the next step will not necessarily be suggesting the sale. It might just be setting the next step, but that still means you want it to be a specific next step.

Too many people use this idea to pressure clients into a buying decision, based on the false assumption that the next step is buying. They tell themselves not to “accept excuses” and resort to buying pressure. To be clear, I define bad pressure as pushing for a yes. That is very different from pushing for a yes or a no, or even better, a yes or a no to the next step.

A client I worked with in 2019 was running into this issue. They had 70% or their proposals sitting out there with no clear answer and no clear next step. Their sales reps, guided by the correct idea of not pressuring to buy, were using the bad application of allowing their prospects to give them a vague “let me think it over”. This involved a rather complex transaction, aimed at consumers who not surprisingly, wanted to make a smart decision and not a quick decision. I worked with the sales team on seeing the difference between pushing for a yes, and pushing for a next step. What we ended up with, was the following:

Mr Client, I totally understand. This is a big decision, and there is a lot to read over. Why don’t we do this? Let me send you the agreement by email. Lets set a time for us to reconnect in (X day, two business days). Take a look at the agreement, and when we meet I can answer all your questions and then you can let me know if you want to move forward or not”.

Notice the bolded language. We were not pushing for them to buy. We were setting two things up.

1 – A specific next touchpoint

2 – The agenda expectation that a decision would be made at that next touchpoint

You can probably guess what happened. Because the clients did not feel pressured to purchase, most of them agreed to that specific next meeting. (Some didn’t, clearly identifying themselves as lookers and not buyers). Within 3 months, the pipeline or open proposals had shrunk by half. Many of them were “no’s” but many of them were “Yes’s” as well. The sales team wasn’t wasting time chasing people. The simple tactic of setting a specific next step and the expectation of a decision at that point made all the difference. Never, ever, ever leave a client interaction without setting the next step, even if that next step is “add me to your no call list and never call me again”.