Recently, a group of consumers were surveyed after they'd been shopping but hadn't made a purchase. When they were asked why they didn't buy the product they were considering, most answered, "We were never asked." They were told, not sold. Untrained salespeople invested valuable time with these potential clients who were perfectly willing to make a decision. They talked and talked and talked, but because they never asked for the sale, the client decided to wait, stall the decision or shop around some more.

How do you prevent that from happening to you? By being prepared to ask every client for the sale. This doesn't mean you have to turn into a stereotypical, pushy, tactless salesperson. It just means that you have to ask, nicely, politely and clearly, for the sale every time. People won't be offended by this-after all, they're in your place of business or talking with you on the phone about your products. It comes down to how you do it.

In retail settings, it can be as simple as asking, "Will this be cash, check or charge?" You've given them three choices, none of which are "No thanks." Then simply walk toward the cash register as you say those closing words. Reach out to take the items they're interested in from their hands so you can complete the transaction. Smile. Be sincerely happy for them that they've found what they were looking for.

As you're asking for the sale, you must be aware of your body language. If your body is saying you're nervous, your customers will pick up on that vibe and may hesitate to finalize their purchase. Fear and hesitation will begin to nag them. They'll start wondering, "Is there something wrong with the product that I'm not aware of?" Or, "Is there something they didn't tell me?" So with your body communicating your confidence, ask them as if it's the most normal thing to say because it is. You're in a selling situation: Your job is to direct the sale.

If closing a sale for your business requires a signature on an order form, fill it out carefully. Then check for accuracy. Once you know it's correct, simply turn it in the direction of the decision-maker, hold out your pen and say, "John, to get you started enjoying the benefits of our fine product, all I need is your approval right here." Point to the place where John should sign his name. Then stop talking. Do not distract him from the instruction you've just given. Again, smile sincerely and wait expectantly. Expect him to hesitate, but don't jump in and try to continue selling. You've already said and done everything necessary for him to rationalize the decision to go ahead. It's time for him to do his part by putting his name on the order form.

Here are a few other ways to ask for the sale:

"Sally, with your approval right here (point to line and hand her your pen), we'll welcome you to our family of satisfied clients and begin providing the finest service possible."

"Martin, we can make that Thursday delivery you requested with your authorization right here on the paperwork."

Please note that you're asking for their "approval" or their "authorization." You're not asking them to "sign." Many of us had parents tell us never to sign anything. Signing something often commits you to something you may later change your mind about and have to go through legal proceedings to get out of. Rather than create any potentially negative emotions with that word, ask for customers' "approval." They know that what you mean is that you need their signature. You're just doing it with words that don't raise red flags and cause them to re-think or over-think their decision.

In business-to-business sales, you might need to have a purchase order from their company before you can proceed. In that case, simply say, "Marsha, what purchase order number will be assigned to this transaction?" You're not directly saying, "Are you gonna buy this?" But you're moving her to the next logical event in the sales process by asking for that P.O. number. After asking the question, poise your pen over your paperwork, where you'd write in the purchase order number. Look directly at her, waiting for her answer. Again, don't keep talking. Just wait for her to answer. Once she gives it to you, you have a sale!

Don't ever let survey results of your business show that you didn't ask for the sale. Ask every customer, every time.