Skip to content

six steps series

The Art of Selling: Mastering the Intimacy Curve

Learn about the intimacy curve and its role in the art of selling in this insightful article series by Georgina Smith. In part five, Georgina discusses the importance of knowing where you are on the intimacy curve in sales while exploring “no man’s land maybe” and how to avoid it.
3 min read

In my previous articles I’ve spoken about the intimacy curve, knowing where you are on the intimacy curve in your key relationships and knowing where you need to be to make a successful sale. This depends on the type of sale you have in front of you, is it a pain avoidance sale or a pleasure seeking sale? Any salesperson who is good at selling will have a portfolio of clients working their way down the traditional sales funnel. She will have a mix of pain avoidance and pleasure seeking prospects and know exactly where she is on the intimacy curve with each of them and where she needs to be (and what she’s going to do to get there) to make the successful sale. If you’re in sales and you don’t do this, I suggest you give it a try.

Now imagine this scenario: you’ve worked hard with a pleasure seeking prospect. Together with your team you have moved this prospect up the intimacy curve to a point where you think you’re strong enough to make the sale. Your prospect understands what benefits your solution brings to his business and is actively engaging to get to the next stage. You’ve demoed the solution and now you go in for the kill. You try to make the sale… what happens? Well, one of three answers.

The best answer is “YES”. We carry on up the intimacy curve, we have enough intimacy in the bank to weather any bumps we may encounter. Today is a good day.

The second best answer is “NO”. Yikes, I got it wrong but we part as friends and I don’t need to waste any more time here (remember time is my most valuable asset). I can now spend time with other prospects on the intimacy curve.

The worst answer is “MAYBE”. I call this ‘no mans land maybe’. You have just committed yourself to endless emails of, ‘just following up to see if you’ve had a chance to think further about our conversation 3 weeks ago’. The ‘just following up’ email is a cue to you that you need to do something differently.

Back to my dating analogies. You meet a girl, you chat on WhatsApp and think she sounds fun so you go on a date and you think you get on great. You think she feels the same, she certainly sends you all the right cues. So a couple of days later you ask for a second date. But she’s busy on the day you suggest and she’s slow in coming back to you. Before you know it, you’re unexpectedly in ‘no mans land maybe’. So what do you do? Send a ‘just following up’ message?

Unbeknown to you, she’s playing the field. She likes you but she has other guys who are also interested. So if you keep sending, ‘just following up’ messages, you’re allowing her to keep you hanging whilst she explores other options. This is not in your best interests.

So what do you do? You push for the ‘No’. You say something like, ‘is this something you’re not interested in at the moment?’ or ‘it seems you’re very busy and don’t have time for this right now’.

Nobody likes saying ‘no’ but often it’s necessary and pushing for it will clarify where you stand. In a sales relationship it allows you to focus your time and efforts where you are more likely to get a ‘yes’.

Alternatively, you could consider the approach Chris Voss takes in his brilliant book, ‘Never Split the Difference’. See “no” as the start of the negotiation, as something other than rejection. It can have other meanings like, “I’m not ready to agree yet”, “you’re making me feel uncomfortable, “I do not understand” or “I don’t think I can afford it”.

However you choose to hear ‘no, it’s far more useful than ‘no man’s land maybe’.

Key points:

  • The intimacy curve is a concept in sales that describes the level of trust and rapport between a salesperson and a buyer.
  • The “no man’s land maybe” is a situation where a buyer is not sure whether or not they want to buy from a salesperson.
  • Pushing for a “no” can help a salesperson clarify where they stand with a buyer and focus their time and efforts elsewhere.