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Boost Sales Performance with an Unlikely Tool: The Art of Asking for Permission

Jan 22, 2018

Remember the game, Mother May I  from your childhood?  In the game, Mother May I, ‘children’ ask their ‘mother’ for permission to progress forward. The ‘mother’ may say yes and the child moves forward. In the event the child fails to ask and receive consent, the child not only does not make progress but loses all the ground they have gained.

As a former pharmaceutical sales rep, I experienced some of the most productive, and non -productive days in the field when my sales manager was on in the car with me for a ‘ride-along’.  The productivity had as much to do with who my manager was at the time, what part of my territory I was working, and my frame of mind on any given day. In retrospect, I believe the use of the coaching tool, requesting permission, could have led to significantly more generative ‘ride alongs’ both as a representative and when I was a field sales trainer.    Several benefits include:

Building trust, credibility, respect – Most often, the purpose of a ride along is for a manager to observe the rep on a sales call and offer valuable feedback. Following a sales call, the representative shares what they believe they did well, and where there may have been a missed opportunity. The conversation continues with the manager sharing their feedback on the call. Why the need to ask for permission if the feedback is the intent? It keeps the manager from assuming the role of ‘expert’ just because of their position. It lends itself to a more effective dialogue when the manager does not profess to ‘have all the answers’. The ability of consent to truly foster trust, credibility, and respect is experienced when the NO is honored in the moment.

Growth – Allowing the representative to apply critical thinking following a sales call allows for learning new skills and gaining knowledge.  Using this tool can be an especially effective method with a D3-4 rep. This method can create a productive brainstorming session whereby the rep can identify, from their perspective, what they can do differently.

Increasing motivation and self-efficacy– Requesting permission when offering solutions or advice, allows the representative to CHOOSE, instead of being TOLD, how to improve the impact of a call. In turn, this challenges the representative to self-assess and course correct when on their own.

Diminishes resistances – Often, even the most well-intentioned critique lends itself to predetermined resistance. The act of requesting permission to critique, and honoring the response, can have an immediate, often positive reversal of resistance.  In turn, diminished resistance may offer an opportunity for collaborative brainstorming.

You might say something like this: “Do you mind if I make an observation?” “May I offer a suggestion?” “Do you mind if we role play this call to work with different scenarios?”

“If I feel it is appropriate, do you mind if I engage in the call as well?”  You get the idea.

To truly develop this as an effective tool takes practice. When coaching clients, this is one of the tools I share in effectively improving communication in any situation. It is great to practice at home with your spouse, your children, your friends, and neighbors. Sharing unsolicited advice comes quite naturally to most of us allowing for ample opportunity to become quite skilled at asking for permission.