No’s in Disguise

4 min readJan 24, 2024
Behind every disguised “no” is a hidden objection.

In this story: What to do when the buyer says “yes,” but really means “no.”

Written by Maria Edelson, Founder & CEO of Edelson

In our last story, we talked about closing a sale with a yes-or-no closing question:

If the customer says “yes,” you’re on the path to a successful sale. But what if they say, “I’ll think about it,” “I have to work it internally,” “Let me get back to you,” or “Let’s talk about it in a month”?

All of these mean “NO.”

I call them “no’s in disguise.” The buyer isn’t any closer to finishing than when they first met you.

Salespeople normally respond to a disguised “no” by saying, “Okay, great! What can I do to help? Do you need more information?”

They assume the buyer just gave them a soft “yes,” and they just need to do some more work to help them get over the finish line. But this is NOT a soft “yes”! It’s a “no” attached to an objection you haven’t heard yet.

The buyer is just putting the ball back in the salesperson’s court. The buyer is so happy to do this.

Two things happen:

First, the salesperson comes back to their manager and says, “Great news! Buyer is in a good spot; they want more data, they need another presentation, and they want to follow up.” Every manager has heard this 1,000 times and been burned. It goes in the forecast, but it never converts.

Second, the salesperson now has “homework” to do. This may really be a waste of time. Sometimes it’s just a wild goose chase, as the buyer has no intention of saying “yes.” They’re just giving the salesperson an assignment to make them feel good and be done with the meeting.

Nine times out of ten, this buyer is “twirling” you around — killing time until they say “no.” They’re sending you off to waste your time doing stuff they’re never going to use.

Most salespeople don’t push back, stop, pause, or try to unmask the disguise and uncover the underlying objection. They let the buyer keep up the ruse.

Why didn’t you get a true “yes”?

You need to find out. Behind the disguised “no,” there’s a hidden objection. The key is to flip this back to the customer. Here’s how it works:

Ask a question to uncover what the disguised “no” really means. One of my favorites is:

“What’s preventing you from saying ‘yes’ now?”

Salespeople rarely ask this question or anything like it, but it opens up the conversation. When you ask this question, the customer has to stop and think: “Hmm… what is preventing me?” And, now they have to make a choice about whether they’re going to reveal their answer.

Once you ask the question, you need to be QUIET.

This is incredibly hard for salespeople to do. I have seen people ask this powerful question and then wait literally three seconds before launching into a barrage: “Is it the price? Is it the delivery timing? Is it our payment terms?”

You guessed it! They give the customer a handful of reasons NOT to say “yes” today. UGH! Just wait patiently for the customer to respond.

Common “No’s in disguise” and how to handle them

Does this sound all too familiar? If so, perhaps your salespeople don’t have the training to detect a “No in Disguise,” or the skills to reverse the hidden “no” into a “yes.”

Feedback is a gift. Let us know what you think about this story in the comments below.

This is part 8 of Sales Bites, a 12-part series of stories from 35 years of sales experience with P&G and from training 13,000 sales executives globally. Follow or Subscribe below so you don’t miss the next story.

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