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Buy NOW, NOW, NOW, or Get Lost!

Spoiler alert.  The title of this email is a selling philosophy that can cost you sales – but it’s still prevalent.  I had a reminder of that at a convention in Orlando when someone took the wrong message from my program.  My speaking program, “Win it Easy or Come In Fourth,” is about making good decisions regarding time allocation.  The basic idea is that salespeople spend too much time on customers that don’t move the needle and not enough on their “Freds,” the customers that are difference makers.

One attendee misinterpreted it and recounted how, when he was a sales manager, he would make sure that his team quickly qualified who was in the market to buy RIGHT NOW, and if they weren’t, to move along.  Wrong move.  I’ll explain why.

In today’s world, when someone is in the market to buy RIGHT NOW, they can do so without ever dealing with a salesperson.  Most of the time, they can order what they want to order online and get near-immediate gratification.  That means that salespeople are superfluous in this type of buying environment.  So what are our jobs?

Well, we need to be relationship builders.  Relationship building is more than being their buddy – it’s positioning yourself as a valued business resource that can help the customer achieve their objectives. Being a “person of value” is far different than being a “good time Charlie,” but people of values will be in position to get that opportunity when the customer is ready to buy.

We need to be expertise providers.  That means that we contribute value through the sales call itself – by finding ways to help the customer achieve efficiencies, by sharing best practices, and by helping the customer anticipate future change.  And we must do that without first getting an order.  Yes – that goes against the old “don’t be an unpaid consultant” canard, but I’m here to tell you that most “unpaid consultants” eventually get paid, and paid very well.

When I sold cars at the start of my career, they told me that the best thing I could do to start a customer’s visit was to ask, “Are you here to buy a car today?”  I counted.  50 times out of the first 50, the answer was, “no.”  Worse, I started the customer off by making them uncomfortable – and then I had to climb out of that hole to get them to buy.  I stopped asking that stupid question, and my sales went WAY up.

Making good decisions about time allocation isn’t about scurrying around looking for a customer with a pregnant RFP that you can price-cut to “win” by being the cheapest.  It’s about positioning yourself to be top of mind with difference-making customers so that, when they are ready to buy, you’re the one they call (or email or text).

What’s Your Sales Maintenance Program?

Most of you know by now that I’m a car guy.  I should point out, however, that I’m not a NEW car guy.  In fact, my daily driver is a 2006 Cadillac Escalade.  It’s the newest vehicle I’ve ever owned.  I bought it, used, over three years ago.  I’ve put nearly 100,000 miles on it. It’s as least as nice now as it was when I bought it.  Most of my vehicles are.  I have friends who buy new, or much newer, cars than I have – and in a couple of years they are in worse shape than my 16 year old SUV.

“Sure,” you’re saying.  “You’re a car guy, Troy.  It’s easy for you.”  Keeping a vehicle running well and looking good is easy – and so is keeping a sales territory healthy.  In both, you have to do the little things before they can become big things.  You do a little bit of the right things every week, and the right things happen.  Let me explain.

My Caddy doesn’t get trashed in the interior because every time I gas it up or arrive home, I immediately clean any trash out of it (spoiler alert – I have been known to drink a bottled water or soda, empty it, and toss the empty into the back seat floor; I also have been known to eat in my car).  I wash it at least once a week (this prevents rust and other nastiness), I change the oil promptly when it’s time, and do any other maintenance as required.  This saves me time and money because I don’t have to do the “rollercoaster” cycle of vehicle maintenance.  Stick with me, I’m getting to the sales stuff.

By cleaning the interior and washing it, I don’t have to spend $150-200 to have it detailed.  The other maintenance works the same way.  Now, think about your own sales territory.

The common sales cycle for most salespeople looks like this:

  1. Do a bunch of prospecting to find people in the buying market.
  2. Sell your guts out to this group of people (riding the rollercoaster up).
  3. Make some sales and put up some numbers.
  4. Run out of prospects (down goes the rollercoaster).
  5. Return to step 1 and repeat.

This cycle frustrates management and costs salespeople money.  Properly maintaining your sales territory is about doing smaller amounts of the right things week in and week out, so that you never run out or prospects, nor out of time to work the ones you have.  I hear salespeople complain all the time about the “metrics management” approach to sales management – but it works.  That’s why those metrics exist (and why I always create them in my own sales audits that I conduct).

If you really want to be effective and efficient at the “territory maintenance” approach to your selling, do this.  Budget certain amounts of time each week for certain activities – and then block times to do them.  For instance, if two hours of telephone prospecting will get the job done, make an appointment with yourself on your calendar to prospect, and then keep it.  If you need to do 8 appointments per week, block time for that.  Etc.  Manage and maintain your territory, and you’ll never be that salesperson who is scratching for new business to try to make a goal or quota.

By the way, my plan is to drive my Escalade for two more years.  Why? Because I like it.  A lot.  And because it’s still as nice as it was three years ago – and probably thirteen years ago.  That’s because I maintain it.

Are You Selling Emotionally in an Intellectual World?

I just returned from speaking at a conference of independently owned businesses in Las Vegas.  As usual with this group, I had a great time, made some new friends, and made some new business connections.  They are truly great people, and honestly, they are a lot of fun in the sessions.

As I was looking through the business cards that I received from attendees, however, something struck me.  Most of the businesses had slogans on their cards, as you might expect.  And a majority of the slogans were centered on phrases like, “We’re a family business,” “your local source,” etc.  That’s normal – but it started me wondering what those company owners wanted to accomplish with those slogans.

Slogans like these are designed to create emotional appeal.  By saying that you are a family business, for instance, the idea is to conjure an image of the All-American family that customers support through their patronage, rather than a big, faceless corporation.  That’s okay, if your customers are prone to such emotional appeals – but fewer and fewer customers are susceptible to emotional appeals.

The problem is that buying decisions today are made based on intellectual rationale, rather than emotion.  That’s not to say that relationships don’t matter – they definitely do – but the basis for those relationships (or at least the start of them) has less to do with personal affinity than with a business decision-making process to select the best vendor for the customer’s needs.

Worse, these slogans send a subliminal message.  That message is, “We’re not the best, but you should root for us.”  It’s what I call “Underdog selling.”  Yes, people definitely root for the underdog – but they don’t buy from them very often.

When I ask these business owners why the customer should care, they always respond with answers like, “Well, we have great service,” or “our customers aren’t just a number.”  In other words, they use “me too” statements that have no real benefit to the customer.

I like to give slogans and taglines the “so what” test.  That’s what speakers do when they think about a speech.  They imagine the audience saying, “So what?  Who cares?  What’s in it for me?  It’s all about me!”  Most of these slogans don’t pass the “so what” test.  That said, there is a way to make slogans like this meaningful.

What you’re really trying to say when you say things like “we’re family owned” or “we’re local” is that the customer’s buying and ownership experience is different.  Okay, great.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  How is it different?

Do you ask different questions than your competition?

Do you give the customer a more personalized presentation than your competition?

Do you focus more on the customer’s buying process than you do your own sales process?  Even better, do those two processes harmonize?

Can you flex and create a more customized solution than your competition?

Does your post-sale experience differ in a positive way from your competition?

And if the answer to any of these is “yes,” how can and do you prove it?

The problem with “we’re small” emotional appeal is simple.  Not all customers think that big corporations are something to be avoided.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your customer if he/she buys from Amazon.  I love independently owned companies, and support them whenever I can.  That said, the best way to get a roll of burgundy colored duct tape to me the next day is to buy it on Amazon (yes, I just did that), so that’s how I spent that money. If you go down the road of thinking that a “we’re small” emotional appeal is an automatic advantage, you’re going to lose a lot of business.

Instead of saying “we’re small,” “we’re family owned,” or “we’re local,” find ways to say “we’re excellent at what we do and here’s why we are the best solution for you.”

In today’s intellectual, information-based world, selling is about discovering customer needs, finding ways to solve those needs, and continuing to solve those needs on an ongoing basis.  Failure to do so is to surrender your sale.

Are Your Sales Calls Important?

I have a few guilty pleasures.  One of them is (or at least was) professional wrestling.  I stopped watching several years back for reasons that we might get into in a future article, but up until then, I was a fan.  I’m particularly a fan of the wrestlers of my youth, and so when videoed retrospective interviews of them became popular, I watched quite a few.  One of the best is called Kayfabe Confessions, done by a guy named Sean Oliver (“Kayfabe” is wrestling lingo for pretending that everything you see is real).  Oliver’s interviews were a cut above the rest in terms of production values and questions asked.  And, not surprisingly, Oliver has his own retrospective book now, which inspired this article.

In it, Oliver notes that at the time he started, most such interviews were done by a guy wearing a T-shirt like the wrestler being interviewed.  He, however, always wore a suit and tie because “that signifies that something important is happening.”  I thought about my own sales career, and I had to agree – even when I was in an industrial sales territory, I’d leave the office with a jacket and tie.  I might remove them if the situation demanded, but I’d start out with them.  Why? Because I wanted my customers to know something important was happening.  I see many ways that salespeople diminish their own importance every day, and the visual presentation is only one of them.

So, how do salespeople diminish their importance?  Here are my thoughts – I’d like to hear yours.

  1.   Here’s where a lot of people are going to get mad at me.  When I started in sales, the philosophy was, “dress one notch better than your customers.”  So, I always had a jacket and tie available to me.  Sure, I took it off for some calls but I left it on for others.  As an example, if I were going to a manufacturing plant, I might take off the jacket and tie to meet with the maintenance man – but I’d have them on to meet with the plant manager.  As time goes on, I have seen average sales dress go from “casual” to downright sloppy.  When I bring this up, salespeople squeal that “my customers wouldn’t like it if I dressed better.”  Why not?  You are selling yourself as a resource – if you look like an unmade bed, you undermine that sale.  My advice is as it always has been.  Dress professionally.  For men, a well pressed shirt and slacks are the minimum standard.
  2. Going in empty handed. I have always carried a briefcase – at a minimum, a zipped up padfolio with literature and other supplies in it.  Some salespeople say, “I don’t want to carry a briefcase because I might intimidate my customer.”  That’s just silly.  Guess what?  Your customer knows that you’re a salesperson, and that your objective is to transact business.  Going in with a briefcase gives you more carrying capacity for items that make that transaction easier.  So why leave it in the car?  Walking in empty handed is just dumb – yes, even with the tech we have available to us today.
  3. “Just.” One of the worst words I see salespeople using is “just.”  As in, “I was just stopping by to…” or “I was just calling to….”  When you say “just,” you disempower every word that comes after “just.”  Why?  Be assertive and let your customers know that you are using their time wisely.  Again – you’re a salesperson.  Be proud of it.
  4. The stop by. Since I mentioned “just stopping by,” let’s talk about that.  Stopping by is a poor substitute for an appointment.  An appointment is a commitment to meet at a specific time and place to discuss a specific topic.  That topic is usually on the pathway to transacting business.  Having appointments connotes respect for your time and your customer’s, and it is the core of professional selling.  Stop-bys help you fill out a call report or make a CRM entry, but they seldom yield more than a quick “hello.”  And while we’re at it…
  5. Agenda free sales calls. Every sales call should have a reason for being and an objective to be reached.  To not do so is to waste time.  I see entirely too many salespeople doing what they call “P.R. calls,” which is “hey, just seeing how you were doing.”  Your customers are busy, and a “P.R. call” denotes nothing important. It will not generate anything important, either.

There are, unfortunately, many more ways that salespeople kill their own importance.  All of them have their root in a feeling of shame about being a salesperson.  There’s no reason to be ashamed – selling is a profession that is both proud and incredibly important.  Ask yourself what ways you employ to make your sales calls important to your customer – and what ways diminish them.  Then think about why.

My closing thought is this:  Sean Oliver was by far the most successful of the “behind the scenes” interview producers.  Maybe that’s because his interviews were important.

How to Recover From a Mistake

Whoops!  We’ve all been there, right?  You make a mistake.  How do you recover from a mistake? Maybe it’s a big one, maybe it’s a small one.  I made one last week in this space.  I sent the Navigator out without the correct article link.  I loved that article too – if you haven’t read it, read Schrodinger’s Proposals.  But, in my excitement to get it out, I forgot to get the right article to link to the “read article” button.  Facepalm time.  Here’s what’s funny – I always test every link before I send the article.  Except last week, darn it!

I caught my mistake immediately after I sent it.  This is the moment of truth in mistake recovery.  What do you do when YOU realize your own mistake, but the customer (or reader) hasn’t caught it yet?  If you are a regular Navigator reader, you already know what I did – but even so, let’s walk through how to recover from a mistake.

  1. Own it. I immediately fixed the link and re-sent the Navigator to the recipients with the subject line beginning, “CORRECTED.”  I know that sending two Navigators within five minutes of each other might have been an irritant to my readers (and if you were one of those irritated, I do apologize), but it’s better to irritate them than to have them click a link to the wrong article.  When you discover a problem, own up to it, to the customer, RIGHT THEN. Get out in front of it.  It’s always better to be in front of a problem than behind it.  But, if they do discover it first, own the problem as soon as you understand it.
  2. Find out what the consequences have been for the customer. In the case of the newsletter, there were no consequences.  In most sales and business situations, there are. Never assume what those consequences are – ask.  The root of all good things in selling is the ability to ask the hard questions.  Ask this question.
  3. Alleviate the consequences. If at all possible, make the customer whole again.  Whatever damage has been caused by your mistake (and normally, if you get out in front of the problem, that damage will be minor), fix it.  No questions and no excuses.
  4. Don’t place blame on anyone but yourself. This is the time to take one for the team.  Don’t say “it was this department” or “it was that guy.”  You are the face of the company – so be the face of the problem.  You have all the time in the world to solve the problem internally, if others need to be addressed.  To the customer, it was YOUR fault.
  5. Go the extra mile. Now that you’ve owned the problem, fixed the consequences, and taken all the blame, figure out what you can do to give the customer something extra to make up for all the trouble.  What this is might depend on the customer and their needs – it could be something personal or something that accrues to the benefit of the company.  The only way you will know is by knowing your customer inside and out – you do that, right?

If you wait for a problem to be discovered – as all too many salespeople do – you’ll have a much bigger job of recovery.  Get out in front of it, and you will be in a much stronger position.  In fact, sometimes getting out in front of the problem can actually build trust with your customers.  That’s how to recover from a mistake.

This was a pretty good lesson – you’d almost think that I messed up the newsletter on purpose, wouldn’t you, so that I could write this article?

Spoiler alert – I didn’t.

How to Get a Testimonial – The Easiest Way

Testimonials are the very best marketing materials you have, bar none.  I truly don’t care how good your marketing department is, how much you invest in marketing materials, etc.  You will never have a better marketing piece than a testimonial from a happy customer. The trouble is that most salespeople don’t know how to get a testimonial.

That’s because a testimonial allows a prospective customer to see you through THEIR eyes – and that bridges the credibility gap.  That’s the hardest thing to do when attracting new customers.  So, with that in mind, I’m going to talk about a few ways to get testimonials, and show you a very recent example of the easiest way to get them.

Testimonials used to be hard to get.  You had to ask your customer to write a letter on their letterhead, and sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn’t.  Even your happiest customers sometimes don’t take time to write a testimonial letter; they just get busy and it gets pushed to the bottom of the stack.  Technology makes testimonials a lot easier to get.  Here is how to get a testimonial in three methods, from toughest to easiest:

  1. The old school. Yes, you can still ask for the testimonial letter.  And your odds of getting one are roughly the same as they always have been – about 50/50 if the customer is truly happy.  Those aren’t bad odds and if you ask enough customers, you’re going to get one.
  2. The LinkedIn recommendation. Easier than the testimonial is the LinkedIn recommendation.  The Recommendations section is, fortunately, one thing that LinkedIn has left in their free option (thus far), and I like it a lot.  It’s pretty simple to use.  Here’s LinkedIn’s tutorial on getting them.  NOTE:  Do not confuse LinkedIn “endorsements” with LinkedIn RECOMMENDATIONS.  Their “endorsement” section is meaningless – it just asks people to check boxes.  I have endorsements for things that I don’t do and have never done.
  3. The video testimonial. Now we’re talking!  This is one way you can really make tech work for you.  When you’re meeting with customers, they have a tendency to say a lot of nice things about you.  Wouldn’t it be great if prospects could see and hear them do it?  You have a smartphone, right?  All you have to do is ask the customer to say those things, again, on video.  Explain to them why.  My favorite way is to say, “I really appreciate that.  You know, one way that I attract new customers is through comments like that from customers like you.  Would you mind repeating those great words on video?”  The vast majority of customers will be happy to do so.  Then you turn on your video camera on your phone and record them.You can either just ask them to repeat what they said, or even do a little interview with them.  I had just such an opportunity yesterday after a Sales Audit with Excel Linen and the raw video is below.  The reason I left it raw, rather than editing out some of it (for instance, me asking questions), is that I wanted you to see how the process works.  It’s easy.  In fact, I probably didn’t do as good a job on this one as I could have; few of my clients are local these days, so I am a bit out of practice on face to face testimonial gathering.  Still, when opportunity knocks, you answer.

    Wait, you’re saying that most of your sales calls are video and not face to face, so this won’t work?  Sure it will.  All major video conferencing platforms have an option to record.  Record your conversation and then download it and convert it into a video you can use.  Make the tech work FOR you, not against you.

Once you have a testimonial, USE IT.  Post about your recommendations on LinkedIn.  Splash the video all over social media.  Have them handy on your phone to show your customers.  And don’t think that a testimonial on one platform has to stay there.  Transcribe video comments and put them in text form on your website.  Take a LinkedIn recommendation and use it as a video frame.  Once people have said how awesome you are, for the record, you have a duty to USE IT!

Now go get some testimonials.  Here’s my video from yesterday.

How to Prepare For a Sales Call

I’ll be honest.  How to prepare for a sales call is something that is so fundamental that I forget to write about it.  For one thing, it’s not all that “sexy;” it’s much more fun to give great presentation tips, or some killer questions, or even talk about management strategy.

But then I talk to salespeople, the conversation slips around to how to prepare for a sales call, and I realize that many salespeople still don’t use all the resources available to them.  So, in that spirit, here are four ways that you should research every prospect with whom you will be meeting:

  1. Company web page. Yeah, it’s simple, and I have to think that nearly everyone does it – but not everyone looks for the right things.  We tend to get overwhelmed by the ‘pretty’ of the site and fail to read what we should be reading.  Here are the biggest touchpoints on their site:

    The ‘about us’ page:  This is where they will show potential customers why those customers should be buying from your target company.  In essence, this is their best foot forward.  Know it and refer to it.

    Their ‘news’ section:  All too often, this will be obsolete – if it happened in 2017 and it’s still top of their blog, they don’t have much ‘news.’  That said, if there is genuine news, scan it to see if there’s anything that impacts you or gives you a feel for their company culture.

    Executive bios: Is your contact listed here?  If not, why not – are you starting your selling efforts too low in the company? If so, what can you learn about your contact?

    Ease of contact:  This will give you a great idea of how “open” they are to the world.  This might seem surprising to you, but some companies close themselves off to the outside world.  They have a great web presence, but getting ahold of them can be very difficult, to say the least.  Openness to contact can mean openness to new ideas.

  2. Reviews. You should ALWAYS look at their reviews.  If they are on Yelp (for instance, food and hospitality), look at those reviews.  If not, Google and Glassdoor can also be great sources of insight into what their customers and employees say – and you’d be surprised at how often a sales need can be uncovered in looking at reviews.  Don’t be afraid to ask about those reviews in the sales call, even having them up and on your phone to refer to if necessary.  It’s possible that your customer might not have even seen the review.
  3. LinkedIn. You should always look up your contact on LinkedIn.  Looking at their career history is good – looking at their activity is better.  What things do they like or share on LinkedIn?  What causes are they passionate about?  What GENUINE (never fake this) commonalities can you find with yourself or your company?
  4. General Web Search. Finally, search (Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, etc.) the company name and your contact name and see what comes up.  A couple of years ago, I had a client who sold large-ticket items that usually involved some level of company-offered credit terms.  A quick Google search ended that idea – the first ten results after the company web page were lawsuit filings from the previous year – all for non-payment of debts.  Usually your results won’t be this dramatic, but you can get some good general insight on the company by searching them.

How to prepare for a sales call isn’t that tough; you just need to plan for it. Are there more things you can do to research? Sure – but sometimes it’s better to simply ask questions in the call.  Hitting these four touchpoints above won’t take you that long (probably fifteen minutes or so), but will make you far better prepared to ask good questions to discover deep needs which then gains you a competitive advantage.  Don’t skip this step.

A Good Sales Job Shouldn’t Hurt Your Conscience.

A few days ago, I got a message from a salesperson who used to work for me many years ago, when I was a sales manager. It said, “Troy, you’re not going to believe this, but I have found a sales job that I am not good at!”  From most salespeople, even those who have worked with me, this wouldn’t raise much of an alarm.  But this message was from one of the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with, who has had a long track record of success across multiple industries.  I immediately perked up. I asked her what she was talking about.

“My problem,” she said, “is that I’m trying to save customers from quitting their service – but when they tell me why, I actually see it from their point of view, and I feel like I’d probably do the same thing!”  It’s not a big surprise that she sees things from the customer’s point of view.  One thing that makes her great (and can make you great, too) is her empathy and ability to see situations from the customer’s point of view – and if seeing things from the customer’s perspective is a hindrance to success, that’s a signal that bigger changes are needed than a simple sales approach.

To make a long story short (I know I don’t do that often – don’t get used to it), the real problem is that the company’s business model is obsolete now, given the wider range of choices available to the consumer. Those choices tend to not only be priced lower, they also provide better service and better meet the customer’s needs and expectations.  Essentially, her company is selling high-priced buggy whips in a world that is adopting the automobile.

The larger problem, for her, is that it hurts her conscience when she “succeeds” in getting a customer to stay, even when she knows it’s not in their best interest to do so.  I understand that – I had a job like that in my sales career, and I stayed for less than a year.  When you make promises to customers that aren’t being met, and you know they won’t be, it’s a stain on your personal integrity.

Worse, she has caught her management in enough lies that she no longer believes in the integrity of her company.  She will leave this job, I’m sure, and the company will lose a quality salesperson.

But believe it or not, this article isn’t about her.  It’s about you and your company, and the need that we all have to take a quick self-check from time to time about what we do.  If you aren’t having the kind of success and results that you feel you should have, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does what I’m selling still have value in the marketplace? Sure, everything has SOME value – but is your product or service worth what you charge for it?  If time has passed you by, it’s time to update and evolve.
  • Is my customer making a good decision by buying my stuff? This is the crux of selling.  My definition of selling is this:  Selling is the act of helping customers make positive buying decisions.  If you’re winning when you make a sale, but your customers aren’t winning, it’s time for a re-evaluation.
  • Am I asking my salespeople to make promises that I know I won’t fulfill? Yeah, it sounds awful, but it happens every day.  I once left an industry when the service manager at my company said, “Troy, your department’s job is to sell fantasy – my department’s job is to re-sell them on reality.”  If there is a significant difference between the sale and the service, you are being unethical.  Stop it.

It can be tough to know when to evolve or change.  And not all evolution is good – many businesses have evolved themselves right out of business, when staying the course would have kept them viable.  But if the answers to the first two questions are “no,” and the third is “yes,” you have a problem.  And there’s no better time to fix it than the present.

My former salesperson will be fine (and frankly, I’m a bit honored that after nearly 20 years, she still comes to me for advice and counsel).  She’ll end up leaving this company and find another position where her skills are more appropriate.  Her company, however, won’t be fine.  They might be okay this year and next year, but soon, the obsolescence of their business model and the nature of their sales process will catch up to them.

My Top Five Rules of Successful Selling

If you’ve read my work before, you know that one of my common statements is that our profession of selling has changed more in the last ten years than in the hundred years previous.  That’s 100% true.  And it’s also true that 2020 has put the pace of change on fast forward.  We’ve talked about that in this space before (and if you haven’t seen those articles, visit my blog here; there are a lot of them).

Some things haven’t changed about selling.  It’s funny – in many of my speaking and training programs, I refer to my “Number one rule of selling,” which we’ll discuss below.  I’m often asked what my OTHER big rules of selling are, so for the first time, here are my Top Five Rules of Successful Selling.

  1. If it works for you, and it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical, or against the best interest of your customers or company, do it. This is the one I refer to all the time in my speeches.  Not everyone sells exactly the same way, which means that some people are going to do things that I (or you) might not do and might not work for us.  BUT – I always say that if you are having success with a technique that doesn’t match my teachings, with the above caveats, keep doing it – but consider at least trying a different approach.  Great salespeople are constantly learning, and you’d be amazed at how many people have a technique that works for them, finally try something new, and then have a new technique that’s working better for them. In this case, the rules of successful selling are very personal.
  2. They can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist. This is probably the greatest reason to keep prospecting.  Social media is great – but it’s still a “crank and hope” strategy for most B2B salespeople.  You should always be working to make sure that every potential customer in your territory or market sphere knows you exist and has an opportunity to buy from you.  I’ve always used what I call the “blanket” philosophy of prospecting – I throw a virtual blanket over my market and then work to touch every prospect under it.  You should too.
  3. The only real market research happens when you ask someone to buy. Sure, focus groups, surveys, and other hypothetical approaches are great – but if you really want to know if a particular product or service has legs, try to actually SELL it to someone.  I’ll never forget working for a company about twenty-five years ago that rolled out a new product. It was well researched; in fact, some of my own customers were very positive about it – right up until I asked them to write a check for it.  It wasn’t just me, either; the entire product flopped because, in the hypothetical sense, it looked great. In the actual sense, nobody was all that excited about paying for it.  Your salespeople are always the best market researchers.
  4. Comfortable Customers Buy. This simple three-word statement forms the basis of my sales training and approach, and it’s one of the biggest rules of successful selling.  Think about all the manipulative and phony techniques that are designed to maneuver a customer into a corner – and throw them away forever.  Customers that are comfortable with you and your sales process (which respects their buying process) buy, buy more happily, buy more often, and pay more.  When you make a customer uncomfortable in their dealings with you, they’ll find someone else – or just buy it (whatever “it” is) online and not have to deal with a salesperson.
  5. You must love the ACT of selling, not just the result. Sales is a hard job.  What makes it harder is that, for even the best salespeople, the majority of their activity does not result in a sale – that’s why we have sales funnels.  We recognize that not every call results in an appointment, not every appointment results in a proposal, and not every proposal results in a sale.  Salespeople who only love the sale (the result) tend to burn out quickly; salespeople who love the calls, the appointments, the proposals, and the rest of the work not only have longer careers, they have more successful ones.

Now you know my top five rules of selling. There are definitely more guidelines – but most of them fall under one of those top five rules.  Which one is most important?  I’m not sure there really is a hierarchy, despite my numbering them.  Follow them all and you’ll have a great career – even in the weird selling world of 2020 and beyond.

Five Outdated Sales Techniques That Have Only Gotten Worse With Age

I’ve been going back lately and reviewing some of my past articles; as Jeff Foxworthy once said when listening to his old material, “There’s some good stuff in there!”  Some of these articles are pretty relevant today as-written; others will do with a little updating.  I’ll put updates, where necessary, in italics.  This one focuses on outdated sales techniques that should have been retired long ago.

Some outdated sales techniques are not like wine or cheese – they don’t get better with age.

I was listening in on some sales calls with a distributor of high performance auto parts, along with their Inside Sales Manager.  A customer had called in to ask about a particular engine wiring harness.  The salesperson explained that, yes, the harness would work on his engine just fine.  Right as the customer was about ready to buy, the salesperson said, “However, it’s not designed as a stock replacement harness; it won’t work on your original 2000 Camaro.”

The customer stopped and said that what he wanted was a stock replacement harness for his Camaro, and the salesperson explained that this harness was designed to swap the engine into an older car and wouldn’t support all the functions of the Camaro’s system.  The customer thanked the salesperson and hung up, and the Inside Sales Manager came unglued.  He referenced one of the worst outdated sales techniques you can use, and if you’re using them, you’ll want to STOP now.

  1. “Never answer the question the customer didn’t ask!” is what the Sales Manager yelled at the poor salesperson.  He said, “If you hadn’t volunteered that information, he’d have bought.”  The salesman was a rookie, so I stepped in.  “If he’d bought,” I said, “that harness would have come right back to you as a return, and the customer would have been upset.  What’s your win there?”  As the manager stammered, I said, “Or worse, he’d have tried to cut into and modify the harness to make it work, it still wouldn’t have worked, and then he couldn’t return it OR use it, and he’s out $1,000.  How does that help anyone?”  “Never answer the question the customer didn’t ask” is an old canard that’s built around “get the order at all costs, and to hell with what happens afterward” transactional sales.  It’s old and outdated.  Your role is to help the customer reach a succesful buying decision.  So here’s your new rule:  If it’s information the customer needs to know in order to have a successful result, give it to them, whether they asked or not.  I’m reminded about the old trope that salespeople shouldn’t be “Free consultants;” another old saw that I disagree with.  My thoughts on that are in this video.
  2. The “take away” close.  The way this one works is that, at closing time, you say something like, “You know, you really shouldn’t buy this (for whatever noble reason).”  The idea is that the customer now wants it so badly that he will then justify why he should buy (and deserves to own), and in so doing, sell himself on the product.  Here’s the problem.  If you’ve been selling correctly, you’ve built up a lot of trust and credibility with the customer.  Based on that, when you use the “take away,” one of two things will happen.  First, the customer will believe you because of the credibility and trust – which means that you lose the sale (or you end up having to re-close, which makes you a liar).  Second, the customer sees right through the tactic, realizes that you’re lying, and walks.  Neither is good.  Just play the close straight.  Only take it away if you’re really going to take it away; i.e. it’s not a good purchase for the customer. Or, I would add, bad business for you – I’ve taken offers away more than once if they wouldn’t result in good business for me.
  3. Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.  This is the old “lawyer’s technique,” and basically it means that the salesperson is scared to death of being surprised by the answer to a question.  There are two problems with this philosophy.  First of all, you must ask questions to which you don’t know the answer to properly discover and interpret needs – and be prepared for surprises and for the call to go in directions you hadn’t anticipated. Second, by the time the lawyer gets into the courtroom, the witness has already been questioned – numerous times – and the lawyer already knows what the witness is going to say.  That’s not the case in a sales call.  Not asking questions to which you don’t know the answer means that you’re fearful. Drop the fear and do good customer discoveries – that’s the best way to sell today. It always has been the best way to sell – and always will be.
  4. The salesperson should seek to control the customer and the sales process.  First of all, any salesperson who believes that he has “control” over the customer is fooling himself.  The customer can always remove themselves from the process.  Whatever control we have is more aptly referred to as “influence,” and is shown by the customer allowng or asking us to direct parts of the process.  Seek influence, rather than control, by respecting the customer’s intelligence, showing your expertise, and working side by side for a successful result.
  5. The Up Front Contract.  Essentially this is a technique where you open the sales call with a closing question designed to lock the customer in with “intent to buy if things are right.”  This can range from the car salesman’s “Are you here to buy a car today?” to “If you like what you see today, is there any reason we can’t move forward?”  The problem with this question is that it occurs at the start of the selling process, before you have built any trust or equity with your customer, and before you have earned the right to ask a closing question.  At this point your customer knows nothing of your offerings, your pricing, and many times their needs haven’t been defined and matched to a product or a service – and you’re asking a closing question?  Ridiculous.  And if the customer says “yes” to the question and later says “no” to moving forward, the only thing you can do is whine, anyway.  Don’t worry about the buyer’s intent until the buyer has a reason to have intent.  If they are seeing you, they are Motivated to enter a buying process – but that’s all.
  6. I’m going to add a sixth technique, which I call the “Good Time Charlie.”  Good Time Charlies hardly ever focus on customer needs and solutions; instead they focus on being the customer’s buddy, buying lunches, drinks, sports tickets, etc.  They seldom know much about their product, and beyond the personal level, they know little about their customers.  GTC’s were becoming obsolescent – but the events of 2020 have made them obsolete.  If you are one, or if you employ one, it’s time for that person to update their skills.  It’s never too late to do so.

All of these outdated sales techniques have one thing in common – they are designed to maneuver and manipulate customers into places that they don’t want to be.  If you’re using them, the ‘70s called and they want their sales techniques back. Even the customers of the ’70s didn’t like these techniques – they just didn’t have an alternative.

Today’s customers do have alternatives.  The ability to buy nearly anything over the Internet allows customers to eliminate salespeople from their buying process at will – and if you use any of these techniques, they will eliminate YOU.