Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sales Pro = Sucker

There’s a common misconception that all great sales pros are equally adept negotiators, presumably because we make our livings haggling for the deal.  While it is true that some sales pros will shop around town grinding out every rep for the best price, what I have found to be more accurate is actually quite the opposite – sales guys are suckers for good salesmanship, price be damned. 

You see, I appreciate the work that goes into finding me the right product and educating me on its benefits.  By the time I’ve put a capable rep through their paces en route to a purchasing decision, I feel compelled to reward them for their stellar performance in my chosen craft.  A few dollars more out of my pocket, maybe.  But it’s also a few more in theirs for a job well done. 

That’s not to say that I won’t ask for a better deal.  Taking the first offer on principle alone is silly.  It’s just that I ultimately want to buy from the best sales person, who probably doesn’t work for the company with the smallest margins, and I respect the effort too much to beat them up and make it all about price.  After all, if I make price my sole buying criteria, then I’m betraying the best practices I preach. 

Perhaps, I am being over idealistic, literally at my own expense.  I just see a moral hazard in effectively using the sales rep for a free education while taking the most valuable resource a sales professional has – time – and then walking away to make a purchase online or at a liquidation center. 

So, beyond my waxing about the merits of proper sales execution, what’s the takeaway for sales pros looking to capitalize on all potential opportunities?  Lay it on thick when selling to other sales pros.  Ask them, “Do you encourage your clients to purchase on price alone?” and when they say “Of course not.”, follow with “Then why are you doing it to me?”  Challenge a sales pro to put their money where their mouth is and buy from the best, not the cheapest.  They’ll reach for their wallet and hand you a commission.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Thanksgiving Poem

Twas the eve of Thanksgiving

The salesmen at his desk

Trying to earn a living

But what do you suggest?


The offices are empty

The stores are closing down

He wishes sales aplenty

But no deals can be found


Alas, his family’s waiting

For his email and phone to quiet

They know he’s contemplating

Their wants so he can but it


What good is the next deal

If it keeps you from loved ones and turkey

You’ll live to sell tomorrow

More eating and less workey

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heartbreak and Hunger

I have always firmly believed that if you’re going to use a cliché, you should make sure it involves poultry.  So let’s talk about two classics as they relate to the most painful experience in sales – Losing the big one.

‘Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched’


‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’


Losing the big one comes in two forms.  It’s either your prize repeat customer putting an end to your relationship or the whale you’ve been stalking falling out of your grasp at the last moment.  Either way, it hurts both emotionally and economically. 

Here’s how to limit your pain:

Remember that you are a sales professional, not an account manager.  If you have to pause to think back to the last time you closed a new deal, or even pursued one, you’ve fallen into the trap of resting on your laurels instead of your hunter instinct.  Feeling like you don’t need to work for the money to keep rolling in is a good sign that the bottom is about to drop out.  Never get comfortable with the size of your customer base.  You can always make it bigger, and nothing cures the pain of a lost client like a new deal.

Don’t stop fighting just because you’re ahead.  The last thing I want one of my reps to hear is that it’s their ‘deal to lose’, because then they stop trying to win.  They’re thinking about what to do with the commission check instead of what they can do to distance themselves from the competition.  A lead can never be big enough for the best competitors.  They speed up when they’re ahead of the pack. 

Know the difference between friendships from business relationships.  Sales is without a doubt a relationship business (I know, my eyes roll when I read it too), but I think you’ll surprise yourself if you consider whether you’d be friends with your clients without your vested financial interest.  It’s their job to find the best deal for their company, friendship be damned, so there’s no sense convincing yourself that the buyer is a friend who will always be by your side.  The competition employs another eager buddy-in-waiting.  Showing off for your friends isn’t necessary.  Continually impressing your clients is.  

I’ve seen the phenomena of account courtship go deep enough to become downright romantic.  At a recent introduction to a mid-level sales manager for a healthcare technology provider, it was actually related to me verbatim that losing his biggest client “hurts worse than both my divorces.”  Abstinence just doesn’t pay in business.

The moment you feel comfortable is the moment you stop selling.  Don’t let yourself retire on the job.  In other words, stay hungry and you’ll never starve.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

“You know” is the new “Umm, like”

Even a minimally trained sales person should know not to use the lingual crutch of “Umm, like” to fill conversation gaps, but what has now emerged in replacement is the equally abysmal, yet far less recognized “You know”.  Or, it’s ugly cousin, “Ya know”.  No, they don’t know, because if they did, you wouldn’t have any purpose as a consultative educator!

I was listening in on a call with one of my own reps today, who I have admittedly not spent as much personal time with as I should, and he was littering the conversation with “ya know” like it was magic pixie dust on the trail to sales greatness.  He actually thought it made him sound smart, or at least assuring, and it donned on me that half my team was in the habit of peppering in this filler right under my nose.  The guy from TrainMySalesTeam failed in adequately training his own sales team.  Not my best moment…

The funny part about the whole bit is that “you know” comes out primarily while fumbling through an explanation.  The whole concept of an explanation is that you know and they don’t, so you’re clueing them in on your conceptual mastery.   If they knew, you’d be wasting their time, so it’s absolutely ridiculous to tell them they know while educating.

Ok, so what do you say to avoid silences when gathering your thoughts on the appropriate choice of words?  Nothing!  Practice your phrasing so that the words flow convincingly and without second-guessing, and let yourself grow comfortable with necessary pauses in conversation.  Silence does not have to be awkward.  It can be natural and endearing when it occurs in moments of consideration.  If you’re not comfortable with a silence, it’s because you haven’t sufficiently rehearsed your dialogue.   

To me, saying “ya know” during the educational portion of the sales process is admitting that you’re not up to the task of serving as their decision-making advocate, which is not what you want to say while building trust and rapport.  Practice your phrasing.  Let silences run their course.  End of rant.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Run When You Hear These Words

“I’ll be candid with you…”

“I’m a straight shooter...”

“Let me be honest with you…”

If a sales person begins a conversation with this sort of language, they’re hiding something and playing you to be the sucker.  I know this is a grim reflection on the worst stereotypes of the profession I champion, but the truth is that attempting to frame the nature of a conversation in this light is a clear indicator of hoping to build blind trust before establishing it through competency and dedication.   It’s essentially saying, “Take whatever I say for granted as the absolute truth, because I’m telling you that it is.”  What I hear in these circumstances is, “Instead of proving myself to be knowledgeable and ethical, I’ll tell you that I am in hopes that you believe so blindly.” A crutch for the lazy - and perhaps unscrupulous - sales person who does not care for the time-consuming consultative sales approach of true professionals. 


“But I say that all the time, and I’m a moral sales professional who always does right by my clients.”  Well, most of the time you probably do a good job, but when you resort to this sort of tactic, you abandon the best sales practices of listening to needs and speaking to those pain points in terms of what your product can deliver.  It’s not you at your best.  It’s you hoping to cut through the extended effort of listening to problems and crafting a solution in favor of a generic pitch and a quick sale.  The worst part is that it usually works, and this creates bad habits.


All of this is not to say that there’s never a time to cut through the riff-raff and get to the meat of the matter.  There certainly is.  But starting a conversation in this light betrays the consultative solution sale mantra that helps true sales professionals hold their head high with the rest of the economic upper crust.  It’s cheating, which works, but you can’t feel too good about it.


The thought process of the buyer this works with is, “You’re employed by a reputable organization.  They entrust you with the responsibility of helping customers adopt your product.  Why wouldn’t you be trustworthy?  I’m so glad I managed to get a representative so eager to share their honest and forthright opinion.  Lucky me.”  What this person fails to consider is that they are purposely being led to the finish line of a sprint when they should at least be tagging along for a jog through the woods.  If you work hard for your money, you should make sure the people benefiting from your spending work equally as to gain its benefit themselves.  Or else, you risk parting ways with your money over-assuming and under-educated.


I guess all I’m trying to say is this:

Buyer Beware; Having trust thrust upon you is grounds for rushing to a poor buying decision.

Seller Beware; Declaring your trustworthiness upfront is indication that you’re getting sloppy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Manners: Keep Up Your Guard

I just got thrown off guard by the tagline of my own blog; “Sales Basics for Basically Any Sale”. When I started this page about a year ago, my only intention was to build a greater understanding for how powerfully executing on the fundamentals of sales best practices could improve your job satisfaction and income. I wrote my Top 30, then moved on to storytelling without sticking closely to my theme. Well it’s time to get back to basics, because, - as any old codger will curmudgeonly snarl at you - our manners as a society are degrading, especially within the backslapping buddy culture of the sales community. Manners matter in building relationships, which is what sales has always been all about, so let’s talk about it.

The Bread and Butter: A firm handshake and eye contact:

Let’s not harp on these too long, but let’s not ignore them either.

1. Don’t stop moving forward with the handshake until the crease between your thumb and forefinger hits theirs.

2. Squeeze hard enough to let them know you’re no pushover. Guys, 75% as hard when shaking a woman’s hand, but no less. Girls, I respect a firm grip, but only a feminine one that doesn’t feel like you’re trying to prove something.

3. Transition to eye contact with a modest smile. If you try to lock in eye contact before the hands clasp, you risk missing the mark, and that’s how finger grabbing and dead fish hands happen.

4. Hold for 2 full seconds without twisting or remaining completely still.

5. Release, and casually move on with the conversation at its next logical point.

6. Constantly re-establish eye contact throughout the rest of the conversation, but feel free to roam so as not to awkwardly leer the whole time in a game of look-away chicken.

7. Repeat steps 1-5 on the way out.


Some readers may wonder why there’s a section on grammar in a post about manners, but I think that taking the time to write a proper correspondence shows respect for the recipient. Conversely, shooting off an email, note or contract without proper attention to grammatical detail shows a lack of regard for the recipient’s time and money.

Most email and word processing programs have built-in spelling and grammar tools that make it relatively foolproof to compose fundamentally acceptable writing. Nobody wants to do business with someone who is under-educated - or worse, lazy. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing well.

Err on the side of caution when approaching social boundaries:

I hate starting sentences with “In these sensitive times” because it sounds like “In these tough times”, which I’m sick of hearing, but the world we sell in sure has gotten touchy on the derogatory language. I’m obviously not saying this is a bad thing. It just means you should use wit for humor instead of pushing social barriers for the sake of shock value or a confirmation of mutual opinions. Too many sales professionals (ok, most) are plagued by the need to be liked by customers and prospects beyond the point where people are happy to be buying from them. Being liked is crucial, but you don’t need to be everyone’s pal. When it comes to socioeconomic outlook and political affiliations, leave the tide of the conversation to the person doing the buying, and then you can choose whether to follow. Just don’t let them choose not to follow you. If it’s a term that even a semi-rational person could find offensive, you don’t want to be the one introducing it to the conversation. Nobody wants to work with a bigot, and even the biggest bigots think somebody else is more bigoty. Let the buyer indicate their leanings, then you can decide if you want to lean in the same direction.


Less is always more with body odor. If you’re like me, and the summer heat leaves your natural scent better left undiscovered, then go ahead and seek cosmetic aid. But keep in mind that your chosen potion is a mask, not a replacement accessory. Be clean without being astringent. Be flowery without causing an allergy attack. Basically, this is the one time in sales where it’s ok NOT to be memorable.

Keep the nails clean and without sharp edges. Nobody wants to touch or break bread with a grubby hand.

Just because clean-shaven is out right now, that doesn’t mean grimy is in.

Always wash your hands when leaving the bathroom. People notice when you don’t.

At The Table:

My father is famous within many circles for his championing of dining etiquette. I’m not quite so rigid, but I guess a bit of the old man has gotten into me after all.

Eating with your hands may be appropriate on many occasions, but use cutlery any time the food is messy or shared. A hand covered in sauce or any other gunk is not one that I want to shake later. Your finger is not a substitute instrument for a knife when collecting that last bit of entree. No double dipping, even on the side you didn’t bite. I know this takes some fun out of eating, but be a pig with your friends. That’s what they’re for.

Speaking with your mouth full makes you look sloppy and sound worse. Finish chewing and swallow before talking. Everyone will understand and think the better of you.

Wait for the last person to be served before you start eating. If you are the last to be served, immediately insist that your company start eating before their food gets cold.

Be nice to a fault with the wait staff. Thanking them for their services without embarrassing them for any mistakes makes you look classy and appreciative. That’s a good thing.

Not Interrupting:

Cutting a potential customer off mid-sentence is not only bad etiquette; it’s also bad technique, because it means you’re refusing to listen. The ‘consultative sale’ that just about every sales guru worth his commission check advocates entails listening first to learn about needs and speaking only about these needs once considered in regard to your product or service.

I know. You have the perfect comment on the tip of your tongue that will win the deal, and you’re afraid that you’ll never get it across the way you want if you don’t say it now. Really, I’ve been there, and I get it. But you have to hold your tongue and accept that the opportunity may pass you by. Better to miss the perfect opportunity and drive the point home effectively later than to disrupt the conversation and miss the more important need.


BrooksBrothers provides a comically more thorough handbook on manners and etiquette, but this should be enough to keep you from offending your way out of the sale for now. As a general rule, remember that sales professionals are risk takers in everything but social graces.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Turning it on for Customers. Toning is down for Clients.

The best sales professionals don’t have a ‘sales mode’.  They just speak with prospects and customers comfortably and informatively in line with a plan to move the conversation towards a close or repeat purchase.  That’s great for those blessed with the social graces and intuition necessary for this even-keeled approach to business development and retention, but we mortal product peddlers have to throttle up our pitch to compete for our piece of the action.  We know the scent of opportunity won’t linger forever in our waters, so we shift gears into ‘sales mode’ striking quickly and with full artillery.  Better to overwhelm the customer with the positive attributes of your product and personality than underwhelm and fail to capitalize. If it means layering on the schmaltz, fine.

The problem with ‘sales mode’ is that, while it’s great for bringing on new customers, it’s terrible for retaining them.  In other words, turning customers into clients.  Nobody wants to keep being sold after they’ve already agreed to the sale.  It’s annoying.  “I like you.  I like what you offer.  Quit trying to convince me or I might change my mind.”  The sale is made already, so your goal is now to keep them happy and buying.  It’s time to turn down the heat or risk burning them out. 

Drop the overly animated intonation, and quit trying to impress with tales of conquest in love, athletics and money (Recruiters and real estate brokers tend to be the worst offenders).  Instead, think like an old friend shooting the breeze and ask for an update on a personal matter mentioned during a side conversation.  Send a care package for no occasion other than that you thought they'd appreciate it.  Cut out the buzzwords too, like “motivational factors” and “missing the mark”.  Just stand behind your product as the person to speak with when needs change or problems arise. 

Nobody instinctively wants to change providers of whatever they’re buying.  But people buy from people they like, and likeability can be fleeting when eagerness isn’t.  Back off.  You’ve made the sale.  Now make a friend…or should I say, a client.   

Monday, June 8, 2009

Buying The BrandsMart Way

A sudden change in my housing situation left me stranded in the most unacceptable of social situations - I was a twenty-something yuppie without a monstrous flat panel HDTV in my living room. Simply not OK. Having done my online research and arrived at what I thought was a reasonable approximation of the specifications I wanted and how much I was willing to pay for it, I took off for the suburbs with a borrowed SUV and a craving for the immediate gratification of retail shopping bliss.

The closest major big-box consumer electronics retailer is BestBuy. Noting their CEO Brad Anderson’s recent comment that “rapid and seismic changes in consumer behavior have created the most difficult climate the company has ever seen”, I thought they’d have some great deals and eager sales professionals ready to impress. Maybe I’d even strike early to make it home for a Saturday lunch eaten off the empty box of my shiny new prize piece of furniture. Invigorated, I polished off my gallon of iced coffee on the way into the store and headed straight for the rows of flat screens playing family-friendly high def movie clips in unison. The shear volume of options combined with unthinkably small labeling quickly soured my eagerness into frustration, and I was in dire need of guidance to maintain my momentum. A sale on a platter.

It’s 10:30 in the morning on a gorgeous Spring weekend. If you’re going to sell luxury goods in this economy, this is your best bet to capitalize. I look left. A handful of early early-20’s to middle-aged males milling around in mild bewilderment. I look right. Three employees staring at clipboards or slinking away in some other effort to become invisible. Some people cringe at the thought of being asked whether or nor they “need help finding anything.” I cringe at the thought of not being asked anything at all, and now I’m too anxious and disappointed to be easily cajoled. So I scribble a few prices and model numbers into the memo application on my phone on the way towards the exit. Then, finally, I’m approached by what appeared to be a collegian looking to make a few dollars working retail on his Summer break, who limply asked me if I was “doin’ ok.” I dejectedly grumbled that I was, and made my exit.

Maybe I just like shopping at stores with names that play on the word ‘smart’, but my mood sure did pick up as I exited the freeway into the BrandsMart parking lot. Smiling parking attendants guide me towards the nearest spot amidst the sprawl of vehicles being packed at the loading dock or exited by shoppers of all denominations. I make my way into this red, white and blue behemoth of a building and emerge in a packed theatre of neon banners, flashing gadgets and busy chatter. Huge signs label each section as I scan the facility. Refrigerators. Stoves. Washers and Dryers. Phones. Ahhh, there it is…Big Screens. I can feel the blood in my cheeks again as I march over with as much restraint as I can muster.

“What size TV are you going to buy today?” I turn to greet the outstretched hand of a Danny, who waits patiently for my reply. It’s a great question. Assumptive, yet asked in a sincere enough tone where I feel comfortable instead of defensive. “I’m thinking about around a 50-inch, but, to be honest, I’m just seeing what you guys have available.” Danny sees right through my parry. “What’s your name?” “Brian.” “Brian, today is a great day for you to come by. We have a great deal on Panasonics that I’d love to show you.” He guides me towards the larger TV’s like a veteran salsa dancer leading a young dame through her paces. Several other BrandsMart sales professionals glance briefly in our direction, casually noting Danny’s claim. We wade through neat rows of merchandise individually labeled with hand written balloon letter signs until Danny stops and motions towards a gleaming 60-inch beauty. “This TV is the absolute top of the line, and today it’s only $2,400.” He knows full well that I’m not buying this TV, but he’s gauging my level of interest and buying power, and I play right into it. “I’d love to take home that TV, but I’m not spending $2,400.” Danny, earnestly, “Oh, how much do you want to spend?” “I’m thinking closer to $1,000, and you’re going to have to make me a hell of a deal if you want my business.” He looks almost offended. “Brian, all I can do is show you the TV you want to buy, but we do not have a TV of the size and quality you want at that price.” To make a long story a bit shorter, we find the 52-inch Samsung I’m seeking, and I abruptly take off for another part of the store. Danny doesn’t chase.

Fifteen minutes later I cross Danny’s line of site in the big screen section. He sees me, but he’s on the phone at the sales kiosk presumably looking up whether an item is in stock, and he signals with a finger that he’ll be with me in a minute. The other reps maintain their distance, knowing full well that my ship has sailed for their commission. I burn time perusing units I’ve already ruled out. There’s only one TV for me. Danny approaches. “Should I work up the order?” He asks for the business directly. “You’ll have to do it for $20% less if you want my business.” “Brian, let me show you something.” He clicks away on the antiquated keyboard of possibly the first computer ever made. “You think if you make some more sales you guys can buy a new computer system?” “They don’t spend any money on anything so they can give low prices to you.” Cute. “Brian, look here, you are asking for less than this television cost us to buy.” I’m not folding that easily. “I don’t really care what that antique says. Ask your manager if he can do it.”

The department manager shows up after a few store-wide pages on the intercom. I feel as though I’ve made enough of a scene to practically owe them the favor of buying. “Listen Brian, if I can get this TV for $20% less, will you buy today?” If I…will you. Textbook. I want to hug the guy. “Yeah. We could do business at that price.” He clicks a few more buttons and ponders with a furrowed brow. “The best I can do is $15% less.” He’s got me. “Deal.” We shake.

I back into the loading dock where a massive man instructs me to initial my receipt once I’ve approved that the merchandise is in good shape. He unsheathes the beast. Everything looks as it should, and he somehow slides the whole box into the back of the SUV without any assistance or crash landings. I start the engine and the radio comes on with an infectious jingle that can only make me smile. “That’s why more people sayyyyy, I like buying at BrandsMart USAyyyy.” I roll down the windows and blast the volume as loading dock workers and enthused customers alike join me in a fist-pumping chorus of a finale “Buying the BrandsMart way!!” What a pleasure.