Sales tactics to overcome the Charlie Brown syndrome

Overcoming the
Charlie Brown Syndrome

Don’t Let Potential Clients Entice You with Empty Promises

Charlie Brown is the poorest role model for complex sales professionals. Here’s why: every time Lucy sets that football up for him, he makes the same mistake of trying to kick it. He never learns; for all we know, he will keep trying to kick that darn football until the end of time. If you are dealing with prospects who behave like Lucy-they always make promises, but never deliver on them-don’t be like Charlie Brown. Learn from your mistakes, and stop trying to kick the football.

Here are a few ways that clients tend to “take away the football:”

They might say…

“We’ll get this deal done within the week.”

In some cases this may be true, but if you’ve dealt with this person in the past, and they have consistently gone back on this promise, don’t trust them the second or third time through. Learn from your experience with this person and don’t get fooled. Ask for clarification and confirm with your prospect exactly what process needs to be gone through to finish the deal, and make sure that the word finish is defined as the final exchange of your product for their money.

Or they might say…

“Just make one more concession and we’ll finish this deal up right now.”

If this prospect has already said this to you once or twice and not delivered, he or she is trying to game you. You’re getting Charlie Browned. At this point, you need to refuse to give any further concessions without a stronger guarantee that the deal will actually go through. Insist that your prospect lay out the entire process for you step by step, so you know exactly what needs to happen for the deal to go through. If you still feel like he or she is not being honest with you, ask to talk to someone in the organization who has more authority.


“Make this small deal with us now, and we’ll give you the big one later.”

Sure, in some circumstances this might be true, but if this isn’t the first time you’ve been told this, you need to challenge this statement. There is nothing wrong with pointing out to your prospect that you are working with that this is what they said last time. If they didn’t come through then, what guarantee do you have that they will do so now?

How to Overcome the Charlie Brown Syndrome

First of all, always demand the highest level of specificity from your clients. If they say that they can “get something done this quarter,” force them to define the words something and done. Does done mean that the deal will be pushed through entirely, or just that some sort of negotiation will take place? The more specific you are in your negotiations, the more this will focus your prospect to be specific as well.

Reaching out for help is another great tactic. If you have associates in your organization who have worked with your client before, ask them how the sales process usually pans out. If the experiences of your associates don’t match the information that your colleagues are giving you, don’t kick the football!

Essentially, the better prepared you are, the less likely that you will fall into the Charlie Brown Syndrome. As a rule, experience in the field leads to better preparedness. However, if you want to be wise beyond your years, try reaching out to experienced sales professionals in your organization and researching books or online tutorials on complex sales.

This post was inspired by the SalesRoundup Podcast episode titled “Sales process tactics to overcome the Charlie Brown syndrome

Good Selling
Mike & Joe
SalesRoundup Podcast

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8 comments for “Sales tactics to overcome the Charlie Brown syndrome

  1. April 21, 2009 at 10:34 am

    As with most customer issues we encounter, the problem started from the beginning of our relationship. When we are meeting a new customer/prospect, it is human nature to want to make a favorable impression. Savvy customers know this and start to take advantage of us by asking early for small “favors” which we want to provide in order to get ourselves in their good graces. Every time we comply, we are training them to continue to ask. By agreeing to “fetch the ball” without asking for anything in return, we set ourselves up for the requests that come just before signing on order or moving ahead with our proposal. So, when our customer asks us for something, ask for something in return. For example, ask for an introduction to someone in the organization you haven’t met but could be instrumental in future sales, ask for your customer to be a reference to others, ask them to attend a customer event, etc. When your customer sees that the relationship is quid pro quo, they will VALUE you more and these transparent last minute requests will disappear. Additionally, you will begin to build a relationship on mutual trust and respect, the cornerstone of a successful working relationship.

  2. Michael
    May 5, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    As someone relatively new to sales, this is something that I used to encounter all the time. Fortunately, I have found a method that works 99% of the time for me to avoid those Charlie Brown moments…Ask the difficult questions.

    Most of the time when I find an account pushing out that was a “sure thing,” it is because I didn’t ask enough questions, or sugar coated what I asked. I have found that when I ask short, blunt, and difficult questions of my prospects, I can avoid most surprises.

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