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.