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Dear Workish: How can I break through sales inertia?

A candid email to a partner can get you back on track. But watch it with the exclamation points

Dear Workish: I work in sales with a broad array of clients and exciting growth opportunity, but can’t seem to break through inertia to close deals. What should I do?”

— Ray from Mississauga

Answer:  Since the groundbreaking book The Socratic Method to Build Pipeline was first published by Microsoftus Excellis in 368 BC, we’ve seen a wealth of content built to “win more business.” Unfortunately, “best practice” guides usually focus on building net new opportunities instead of breaking through inertia to actually close deals.

Coined by our government to describe a “typical day at the office,” the term “Inertia” is defined as a “tendency to do nothing.” For business development professionals, the words “Looks great, let’s circle back in a week or two…” refers sales conversations to the Maybe Committee. Decision inertia is unavoidable, but emerging sales professionals need tactics to move potential business to the W column (along with examples of what “not” to do).

More: How to survive business conferences

With that in mind, here are a few Workish ways to break through sales inertia, followed by some advice that Workish solicited from an actual professional.

Use more exclamation points!

Get attention when following-up on next steps with exclamation points! They’re fun! They’re friendly! And contacts in Procurement love it when you use them all the time!!! BONUS: ONCE YOU’VE SENT AN EMAIL WITH TONS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS, FOLLOW-UP WITH A SUBTLE AND RESPECTFUL NOTE IN ALL CAPS. Works every time. Oops: WORKS EVERY TIME.

Read: How to win at the office with sports metaphors

Write long emails in the subject line

The International Taskforce on Email Open Rates and Reply All Etiquette reports that subject lines with terms like “Free,” “Fast,” and “Delete Facebook” lead to a 17% greater open rate (as opposed to “Webinar”). Instead of focusing on key words to re-engage unresponsive clients, type an entire email into the subject with an added dose of passive-aggression:

  • Date: Today
  • Subject: “Hi Don! Thanks again for the chance to present a no-brainer sales opportunity. Haven’t heard from you, but you might be traveling. I’ll mark my calendar to swing by the office and say hello next Thursday. Stay tuned for a calendar hold! THANKS!
  • Email: [no text]
  • Footer: Please consider the environment when printing & signing the attached contract.

Read: How to make it slightly less hellish to travel with your colleagues

Over-affirm on LinkedIn

Many sales professionals endorse partner profiles to re-establish communication. Take things one step further by editing your client’s bio on LinkedIn with “…some improvements I made over the weekend” and pre-endorsed skillsets like Buying Pens and Inking Deals.

And now serious advice from an actual, real professional

So How Can I Really Break Through Inertia? Workish spoke with Anthony Lipkin, VP of Growth and Partnership and Symbility Intersect, for some expertise and guidance:

“Business development professionals neglect the most important part of sales: authenticity,” Lipkin says. “They get caught in inertia, play the short game, and forget they’re dealing with human beings, who are by definition complex. Complexity takes time to figure out. If you work in BD, don’t hide behind technologies and rationalize activity with CRM dashboards and algorithms. Sales requires structure, but at the end of the day, we’re all people.”

A key element to preventing inertia is by sharing a network. “Give before you get,” Lipkin continues. “The easiest way to build generosity and trust is by sharing business relationships and connections. Participation in platforms and creating forums for like-minded people to succeed helps you contribute to the community in a more meaningful way. But beware of over-saturating your value proposition,” Lipkin offers. “In the end, you have to be strategic with your network. Consider your nucleus of influence: if you overdo it, your ulterior motive becomes quickly apparent.”

And to deal with inertia once it inevitably arises?

“First, I use the three-times rule. Let’s say you and a partner have agreed on a milestone to carry a deal forward. If you’ve followed-up three times to no avail, regardless of the point in the sales cycle, that’s where the deal ends. Follow-up with a candid email saying something like Hey, we’re both running a business here. No hard feelings, but can you offer some thoughts on next steps? A more honest and authentic approach usually prompts a response.”

So next time you’re working to carry an idea across the finish line, focus more on the people and less on the tech. Or, as Plato might have said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing when to call.”

Sandy Marshall is a Chicago Emmy-nominated writer, producer, director, actor and speaker