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 This one focuses on outdated sales techniques that should have been retired long ago.
Some outdated sales techniques are not like wine or cheese – they don’t get better with age.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 He referenced one of the worst outdated sales techniques you can use, and if you’re using them, you’ll want to STOP now.
- “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 It’s old and outdated.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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.