Sales Resistance – and What to Do About It

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Sales Resistance – and What to Do About It


by Rick Maurer

There’s a one-word reason for your inability to close tough sales: Resistance.
Resistance is what’s often behind the glassy-eyed stares you get following a presentation, the head shaking that leads to hand shaking and your quick departure, and the “We’ll talk about it and get back to you” that means, let’s face it, “Thanks, but no thanks.” What prospects are saying to you, either directly or indirectly is, I’ve heard what you’re selling and I don’t get it, I don’t like it, or I don’t like you.

Understand the resistance getting in the way of your sales success and you can transform prospects into satisfied, long-term customers. How can you do it? Use clear, two-way communication to head-off resistance before it takes on a life of its own. When you can’t avoid it, learn how to recognize and address the three most common types of resistance so you can enter into productive dialogues with prospects and clients and close more sales.

Here are the three primary forms resistance takes, and what you can do to turn each into a conversation opener instead of a sales stopper:

Level 1 resistance: “I don’t get it.” When you see a prospect’s eyes glaze over, or notice his puzzled expression, he’s sending you an unspoken message, “I don’t get what you’re saying.” That’s your cue to slow down and touch base with the prospect before he gets so confused or lost in the morass of your products and services that his interest fades altogether. After all, if people don’t get what you’re selling, there’s no chance they’ll consider buying it.

Level 1 resistance involves the world of facts, figures, and data – the stuff you’re probably already good at communicating. Even when you convey your message accurately, however, you can still lose people at the “I don’t get it” level. For instance, a number of years ago, I found myself experiencing Level 1 misery when I visited several computer stores looking for my first laptop computer. In each store, I was greeted by a salesperson who spoke some mysterious tongue-bits, bytes, gigs, and mega-hertz that left me feeling confused, humiliated and a little bit stupid.

I was just about to give up the laptop search when I stepped into a local computer store I’d often passed by on my way to lunch. There, I was greeted by a salesperson who did something different than the rest. Instead of greeting me with jargon-filled feature lists for a handful of machines, he asked a simple question: “What do you plan to use the laptop for?” I told him I wanted it for word processing and connecting to the Internet. Without launching into computerese, he took me over to a laptop computer designed to do exactly what I needed it to. I bought the computer on the spot and left a happy customer.

The Level 1 lesson here: Step back from your need to sell and consider your customers’ need to buy. What does she really want and need? How can you communicate with her in language (minus all traces of jargon) that she can understand? Will pictures, models, slides, a demonstration, or a cost/benefit analysis, help? Clear, thoughtful, two-way communication is the key to overcoming Level 1 resistance.

Level 2 resistance: “I don’t like it.” Sometimes your products or services can trigger an emotional response, typically rooted in fear, that cause a prospect to hem and haw about or openly loathe what you’re selling. Some of the fears underlying these Level 2 responses include:

  • The concern that something about your product or service will make the prospect look bad or lose status in the eyes of others.
  • Worry that your product or service will cost the prospect his job or endanger his financial security.
  • Nervousness that your product or service is too risky, and will cause the prospect’s company to fail.

The emotions behind Level 2 responses get in the way of productive communication. If they’re never aired, these fears fester until what was once a tiny bump on the road to sales success is now an enormous boulder blocking your way. Recognize and address the fears underlying Level 2 resistance and you’re more likely to leave with a sales slip in your pocket and a new highly-satisfied-customer in your database.

Level 3 resistance: “I don’t like you.” Picture this: You walk into a prospect’s office and the air feels charged with something you can’t quite put your finger on. Instead of inviting you to sit down, the prospect drums his fingers on the desk and says, rather impatiently, “Whatever you’re selling, make it quick. I have an appointment in five minutes.” Suddenly, you know why you felt so uncomfortable when you entered the room. This prospect is openly hostile. He doesn’t like you or something you represent – salespeople, your company, your industry – and he’s not open to hearing what you have to say. You’ve come face-to-face with Level 3 resistance.

While the other two types of resistance have to do with facts, figures and fears, Level 3 resistance is all about you – ouch. When you’re the salesperson, your history with others, as well as their bias, prejudice or mistrust, influence how your pitch is heard and received.

Level 3 resistance is the toughest to deal with because it’s so hard to believe (and accept) that there are people in the world who don’t like you and everything you stand for. However, if you choose to deny or ignore it, your chances for selling your products and services will be slim.

The key to dealing effectively with Level 3 resistance is to step outside yourself and see what prospects and customers see when they look at you, and what they hear when they listen to you.

Make an effort to see yourself and your wares through your customers’ eyes. Then try these techniques for working through and moving beyond all three levels of resistance – ‘I don’t get it,’ ‘I don’t like it,’ and ‘I don’t like you:’

  • Go for conversation instead of presentation. Ask questions to find out what’s going on in the prospect’s mind and what concerns she has about your products, services, and you.
  • Pay attention to how prospects and customers respond to you and what you’re selling. Tune in to their body language and behaviors, as well as to their words.
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions, like defensiveness, sarcasm, and lecturing.
  • Find ways to connect with others. Paraphrase their concerns to show that you’re listening, look for ways to adapt your products and services to meet their needs, and make it clear that you’re interested in problem-solving together.

Resistance at any level is good because it demonstrates that prospects are intrigued enough about you or your products and services to engage with you at all. That may sound like cold comfort, but it’s not. Figure out what’s behind resistance and you’ll turn more prospects into satisfied customers.

2002. Rick Maurer. Rick is an advisor to organizations on ways to lead Change without Migraines™. He is author of many books on change including Why Don’t You Want What I Want? and Beyond the Wall of Resistance. You can access free articles and tools at You can reach him directly at 703 525-7074 or