Stop Playing Fetch


Weekends at the vineyard were Samuel’s favorite. They gave him the chance to hit up hundreds of different people for a game of fetch. As soon as they got out of their car in the parking lot, he would drop his ball at their feet and most would join in the fun and toss the ball for him.

Little did they know that Sam took fetch seriously and during their trek to the cellar door he would return several times with an increasingly slobbered and dirty ball. Rather than pick up the gross toy, some resorted to kicking it – it was all they could do to get him to go away.

Sound familiar?

Don’t be like Sam. Don’t get into a one-sided game of fetch with your clients.

We’ve all been in a place where a client has first maybe asked for you to email information. Then when you follow up a few days or weeks later, they mention they haven’t gotten to review it yet, but could you put together a proposal? And upon following up to your proposal you learn your pricing is out of reach but they can’t be specific, instead they ask you to reevaluate and resubmit. And you do. And each time you get increasingly excited because it feels like you’re doing something productive, but really all they’re trying to do is get you to leave them alone. Just like Samuel, you’ve been bringing them a slobbery ball but they don’t have the heart to tell you to go away, so they keep throwing it.

There must be a meeting of the minds and a joint, vested interest for a deal to progress. You’ll know your client is truly interested when they are willing to contribute time and resources to the conversation. So how do you tell the difference between genuine interest and “playing the game”? Ask questions that show their level of engagement.

If you’re solving a problem for your client, presumably the problem just didn’t happen yesterday – it’s probably been around for a while.
Questions like this will help get you on the right track:
1. “Have you talked with anyone about the issue before?”
-“If so, who?”
-“Why didn’t you move forward at the time?”
2. “What are your budgetary constraints?
3. “Why are you solving this now and not before?”

Put the ball in their court

It’s all about finding out what the holdup is. The best salespeople are able to demonstrate humility. If you’re stalling or feeling like you’re back to playing fetch, ask something like:

“Joe, I’m confused. Do I understand correctly that if XYZ problem is resolved, we can move forward? Do you see it the same way?”

By requiring them to lay any issues out on the table, you make it possible to deal with something that can become an intimidating wall down the road as the deal dies on the vine.

Another way of putting the ball in their court and judging your client’s level of engagement is to give them a bit of homework. For instance, if you’re providing a software solution, asking for a clear plan for transition that minimizes disruption to both parties is an opportunity to gauge their commitment.

Know when to disengage

Ask yourself “Is the client as committed to the outcome as I am?” If you can’t genuinely say yes, it may be time to hand the issue back to the client. Ultimately, you have to spend your time with the clients who show their commitment, as they are your most likely streams of revenue.

Don’t be that annoying salesperson that follows up purely for the sake of following up. If you suspend discussions on a deal, position yourself as a trusted ally so that when the client IS ready to move forward, yours is the first name that comes to mind. The best way to do that is to share knowledge – educating and providing them with relevant information and case studies is a powerful way to build a long-term rapport.



1. The client needs to be fully invested in the process.

  • What specific investments do your clients need to enable the sale?

2. Be aware of issues that may have come up for your client around the solution in the past.

  • What were the specific roadblocks, and have they been addressed internally?
  • What has changed between then and now?

3. Vague answers won’t get the job done. Press for solid solutions, figures, timelines, and whatever else you need to move the sale forward.

  • What are the prerequisites the client needs to tackle before purchasing your solution?
  • Have you addressed those prerequisites during your sales conversations?