10/29/2014 04:28 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST

How Do You Know When to Ask for the Business?

Troels Graugaard via Getty Images

Think back to high school when you tried to summon the nerve to ask the boy or girl of your dreams to the spring prom. It could take hours, even days to take the plunge. Even further back in your school years when the (now humorous) note was passed along saying "Do you like me? Check Yes or No." In either case, if the answer was "Yes" it would propel us to "dizzying heights. A simple "No" could crush us. The logic is sound: If you don't ask, you'll never know. But it's important to remember that timing is everything.

Fast-forward to years later when you're in business and faced with the same challenging conversation. This time, you're not asking someone out on a date, you're asking them to entrust their business success to you.

Your marketing materials, more than just a simple note asking to check no or yes, have done their work and your networking efforts have paid off -- your prospect wants to talk seriously about working with you. Then comes the moment when you must actually ask for the business.

For even the most accomplished professional, getting the timing right can be difficult. This is borne out by the fact that in product sales, 80 per cent of requests to do business presented on a one-to-one basis are rejected. And that number could be higher in tough economic times.

If you are a professional working in a law office, insurance, wealth management, accounting firm, or other business that is driven by sales, the question: "When do I ask a prospect for the business in a credible and professional way?" is a vital one.

Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, offers some great ideas in her article, Top Ten (Easy) Ways to Ask for the Business. She explores phrasing specific to different situations that is extremely useful for professionals. It is all about being comfortable when asking for the sale, beyond when the time is right.

However, to get to the right timing, you need to be able to read the signs. Below are some green lights that will tell you when the time is right to ask for the business. The more lights you can make, the greater your confidence and chances of success.

  • You have invested significant time in understanding the prospect's business, and have listened as the prospect outlines his or her business goals and challenges
  • Colleagues and suppliers speak well of the prospect and confirm that the business is both viable and reputable
  • You offer practical experience in the prospect's industry and have worked on projects similar to the one under discussion
  • The prospect has asked you to supply names of satisfied clients to be used as references, and has contacted one or several
  • He or she has taken the time to meet your partners or associates as well as yourself and the conversations have gone well
  • A product or service launch date is fast approaching for the prospect who needs to secure the services of a reliable professional
  • The prospect is focused and emotionally accessible versus being preoccupied with a corporate overhaul or relocation scheduled three days from now
  • You are fully confident that you have the skills and infrastructure in place to help ensure the launch will be successful
  • You can meet the expanding needs of the prospect today and down the road
  • The chemistry between you is good and you share a mutual respect and want each other to succeed in your respective businesses

  • You are able to keep all the promises you have made to the prospect, should you win the business.

While seemingly daunting at first, asking for the business is a necessary occurrence if you are to grow and profit. You may not always hear "yes," but you won't know unless you ask. So what are you waiting for? Ask them to dance.