“Probably” Means “Probably Not”

The other day I had a call with a sales prospect. The prospect seemed very interested in my client’s offering, and made several serious sounding inquiries about the specifics of the services my client offered. On a scale of 1-10, I gave this particular prospect an 8 or 9 in terms of measuring and qualifying their interest. He sounded so darn positive about the whole thing. Then we got to the end of our discussion about the purchase, and the prospect said they would “probably” move forward with a purchase that day, or the next day at the latest. It all sounded good up until the prospect said that dreaded word, “probably”. Here’s how it went down…

Me: “Given your interest and need for the service, what do you suggest we do next”?
Sales Prospect: “It all sound good to me, I’ll probably move forward and authorize a purchase order today, or tomorrow”.

When a prospect says “probably” it makes me cringe because I’m thinking more along the lines of what they really mean to say is “probably not“.
Believe it, or not, prospects have great difficulty saying the word, “no“. Instead they use the word “probably“. Sometimes it’s “maybe“. Every time you are discussing doing business with someone and they say the word “probably“, a silent alarm should go off in your head – Uh Oh!

Here’s the lesson – Don’t buy into the hope that your prospect will come through. Often times it’s wishful thinking.
When prospects include the word “probably” when describing their commitment to something, prospects are hoping that you will leave it alone, and move on without asking for the specifics behind what they meant by “probably“.
The next time your prospect says “probably” you might want to ask (politely) whether they really want to say “probably not“. Don’t be sarcastic, but try and make light of it. Try this…

Sales Prospect: “It all sound good to me, I’ll probably move forward and authorize a purchase order today, or tomorrow”.
You: “I appreciate that”. “It’s “probably” not the case with you, but you know how some people say “probably”, when they really mean to say “probably not”. Then continue and gently ask: “Is there any reason at all why you couldn’t say “definitely” to my offer”?
Sales Prospect: “Well I couldn’t possibly send you a purchase order if I can’t get budget approval for the purchase…”

Now that you know more about what “probably“, or better yet what “probably not” really means, you can now effectively uncover whatever obstacle(s) are standing in your way to closing the sale. Upon discovering whatever obstacles there are to doing business, you can then have a serious discussion with your prospect about the obstacles(s), right then and there.

Good negotiating dictates that it’s better to get things out on the table up front as opposed to letting it go, and running the risk of losing a sale that you could have had in the first place if you only had the gumption to ask your prospect about what they meant when they said “probably” instead of “definitely”.

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2 Responses to ““Probably” Means “Probably Not””

  1. Steve Crepeau (@stevecrepeau) Says:

    Excellent post Pete! Well written and spot on with respect to a prospect’s fear of saying “no”.

  2. Brian Levandusky Says:

    Probably and I am very interested just want to think it over is just another way of saying no.

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