"The Navigator" News Blog

Lessons From a Bad Salesperson

I’ve always said that it’s possible to learn from sales fails as it is from sales successes.  If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly doing postmortems on past sales calls, both winners and losers.  What salesperson hasn’t sat in his office, shaking his head, saying, “Good grief, why in the world did THAT come out of my mouth?”

As you can imagine, I’ve become a collector of sales stories.  People are always coming up to me and starting stories with, “Hey, you’re a sales guy, let me tell you about THIS salesperson that called on me!”  It’s fun and funny at the same time.  Today was no exception; in talking with a friend of mine in the marketing business, I heard a story that can teach us all a few things – especially with the surprise plot twist at the end.

My friend opened with, “Let me tell you about THIS sales call!”  Immediately, my ears perked up.  I knew I was about to hear something good.

“I was cold called,” she said, “by a guy who represented a company offering a service to marketers like me.  This was a couple of weeks ago, and it happened to be an absolutely horrible day.  I was slammed at work, some things had gone wrong, and my stress level was about a 12 on a scale of one to ten.  Still, what he had was of interest, and I told him that I wanted to know more.  Could he call back after 5 PM, or on Monday (this was on a Friday morning)?”

She continued, “The prospector responded that, if I was interested, he’d have Brian call me back.  Apparently Brian was the guy who really knew the program and he could handle my questions.  The caller was just a prospector.”

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings on this issue.  I’m usually not a big fan of ‘prospectors’ in selling; however, this one was at least effective enough to generate the lead.  The story continued.

“Brian called me back in about an hour.  He said that his prospector told him that I had reached out to them regarding their program, and wanted to know more.”

My note:  Why would the prospector not take credit for the lead generated by the cold call?  Especially when doing so forced Brian into a false statement?  This hurt their company’s credibility, which is one of the hardest things to establish.

She continued, “I explained to Brian that I hadn’t reached out; his caller had.  And then, I told Brian that I’d told his prospector that this was a very bad time, and that after 5 PM or Monday would be a better time.”

Brian apologized for the mix-up, and then asked, “So, what would be the best time to talk?”

My note:  She’s already told him that.  Why not instead agree to call back after 5 PM, or set a time on Monday?  Brian didn’t listen.  I don’t have to tell you what a mistake this is.

My friend responded, “Honestly?  Saturday morning would be the best.”

Brian:  “I don’t work on Saturdays.”

“OK,” my friend said.  She could have reminded him about Monday, but at that point, she was rapidly losing interest.  Can you blame her?

Brian offered, “How about I send you a written workup with costs and ROI numbers?  That way you’d have more information.”  Personally, I think that Brian’s offer to ‘send info’ was a big mistake.  ‘Send info,’ when it comes from a customer, is usually a stall or a put-off.  Why Brian would choose to offer to be put off is beyond me.  But, of course, he still hasn’t cottoned to her offer to talk on Monday.  My friend agreed to receive his information, and the call ended there.

In fact, so did the sales process. Brian never sent the info.  Offering to be put off by sending information is bad; not actually sending it is far worse.

PLOT TWIST:  The previous events happened nearly three weeks ago.  I wrote the above article yesterday afternoon.  Just as I was preparing to send it, my friend called me and said, “You’re not going to believe it.  Brian called just now.  He wanted to ‘follow up on my interest,’ he said.  My interest has GONE by now.”

This, to me, is a case where a good sale went to die.  After the first phone call, my friend was a motivated prospect – and those are like gold.  How did the sale get killed?  Let me count the ways.

  1. The nature of the first call was misrepresented, thus damaging Brian’s credibility.
  2. Brian was offered two choices of call back days, didn’t listen, and missed them entirely.
  3. Brian refused to call on Saturday (I can’t ding him too badly for this – I try to keep weekends free – but the Saturday issue was the result of #2).
  4. Brian then offered to be put off by offering to send info.
  5. Brian then failed to send the info that he volunteered to send.
  6. Finally, Brian called back with no recollection of anything that had gone before.

Now, look in the mirror and be honest.  Have you committed any of those errors?  This year?  Last year?  Note that none of the unforced errors above was huge – but they all add up to a customer that likely won’t buy at any price.  Sales is about the conversation; make sure yours are meaningful for you and for the customer.