5 Popular Sales Tactics that are Manipulation in Disguise

The most important timeframe for sales people is NOW. The most important goal? GROWTH. Losing bids and losing customers is secondary. The problem? Think back to your best personal experience with a sales person. It’s doubtful he or she was forceful or deceiving in any way. Don’t your customers deserve the same treatment? You know not to lie to customers – even though it can bring short-term success. It’s time to reconsider any sales tactic in your arsenal that doesn’t directly help customers.

Here are five sales tactics that are manipulation in disguise:

1. Non-verbal Persuasion

Think mirroring, using facial expressions, how we dress, eyc contact, etc. These tactics are scientifically proven to make a good impression on a customer. They subconsciously make us more appealing. Is this such a bad thing? Maybe not, but imagine a salesperson dressing like you, posing like you, and smiling like you. Creepy!

2. Passive-Aggressive Pressuring

This is anything from showing up smiling at the same client every day to casually mentioning a tragedy experienced by a company similar to theirs. Whether or not your customer notices immediately is irrelevant. Although your words and actions are polite, what do your actions communicate? Is the insight you’re presenting really a cause for concern? Fear mongering and fake kindness waste your customer’s time and ruin relationships. Customer’s work on their own schedule, not yours.

3. Lying by Omission

This one should be obvious but sales people do it everyday. It’s the fine print that we omit from our presentations. It’s the discount card telling you your medicine is $15 when it ends up costing $150. It’s not alway our fault. Sometimes, corporate keeps us in the dark. What the customer doesn’t know, WILL, eventually hurt them. Getting the sale is never worth risking your credibility. Tell the whole truth.

4. Relationship Selling

Strong business relationships are paramount. Personal relationships can be very helpful, but only when they’re genuine. Don’t be the sales person who goes to family parties or sporting events with clients he can’t stand. Sooner or later your customer will know your a fake and so will you. Try hanging with your real friends a little more. They probably miss you!

5. Keeping Score (Quid Pro Quo)

This means using favors of any sort as leverage. John David Mann and Bob Burg’s book, “The Go Giver”, sums it up nicely.  Among other sage advice, they implore us stop keeping score. Stop expecting something in return for the extra care and service you give to your customers.  Instead, be generous because it’s the right thing to do.  Aren’t you annoyed by sales people who think they can trade a free gift in exchange for a high-pressure sales presentation? To truly give something “free of charge” is to offer it without ANY strings attached.

The verdict:
Are you a horrible person because you’ve used one of these sales tactics I’ve mentioned? Not at all. What separates manipulation from skilled selling is sincerity. If you are having a good conversation, you probably automatically use non-verbal relating techniques. Put your time into answering objections instead of avoiding them. If your customer turns out to be a nice guy our gal, be their friend. Just be a real friend, not one that asks for something in return.

But these techniques work!  Isn’t it my job to sell?  Yes, manipulation techniques do work, but only until your customer figures them out. Then you’re screwed. Don’t risk losing next year’s customers by manipulating them today.



If you’d like to get out “The Go Giver” book on Amazon click here.

In Sales, “Playing The Game” Means "You Lose!"

Are you playing the game?
Do you ignore the inept policies, bad managerial decisions, and unrealistic expectations that come with your sales job in hopes for a brighter future? Do you instead do EXACTLY what you’re told in the manner you’re told to do it? Do you tell management what they want to hear, not how you really feel?
Why We Do It:
You look good to your manager.
You get favored treatment.
You have job security.
You see no other alternative, except the shame of undperformance.
Why We Shouldn’t Do It:
1. You look good only if your numbers are good.
Most of us are only two bad quarters away from a performance improvement plan. Following company protocols rarely, if ever, saves anyone with weak sales results.
2. You take incomplete or bad advice.
If making the sale was as simple as following the 5 step strategy you learned in training, you wouldn’t have a job. A high school kid would be doing it. There is always more to do and learn than management tells you.
3. You often don’t improve your skills.
Doing only what your told is a convenient excuse for not trying anything new. It’s been years since your boss has really sold anything. Have the courage to expand your abilities by talking to customers, reading books etc.
4. You are vulnerable to the next market change.
Selling by the book may pay handsomely now, but when your market changes, you’ll be behind the reps who were thinking ahead.
5. You annoy your customers.
Your customers pay for the value that you and your product bring them. Even the ones that like you have limited patience. Don’t waste their time with anything that doesn’t meet their needs even if it makes the boss happy.
6. You perpetuate the very conditions you complain about.
Can you lose weight without diet or excercise? If you don’t at least TRY to change your company for the better, nothing will happen! The pharmaceutical industry is a great example. For years, many doctors have often not allowed sales reps to talk to them. To make their sales call metrics, pharma reps have, for years, simply put fake calls into their CRM systems. The result? Unrealistic call metrics never go away!
Modern research supports not playing the game as well. For a more in-depth analysis, read on:
Sales is a world of accountability gone wild. When they say “Sell!”, we say “How Much!” Yet we are only as good as our latest sales report. Again, regardless past achievements , most of us are only two bad quarters away from a performance plan. You tell yourself you seek challenge, achievement, and money but more so, you fear failure.
In her book, “Leading Professionals: Power, Politics and Prima Donnas”, Professor Laura Empson says that many companies look for employees they describe as “insecure overachievers”. These employees hide their insecurity behind a tremendous work ethic.  Many salespeople suffer from what I call the Oxygen Mask Problem.  “Please put your own mask on before attending to children” We’ve all heard the safety message when flying. The Insecure Overachiever does the opposite. He or she thinks that taking care of everyone else will ultimately result in taking care of herself.  Except the world doesn’t work that way, especially in sales.
Playing The Game
Playing the game in a sales job means blindly following a set of rules with the hope that your career will be taken care of. As an official game player, you may see others who don’t follow suit as irresponsible or reckless. Ironically, it’s you that is not facing up to reality.
Sales people complain about everything from unfair pay, to manufacturing delays, to the color choices for their next company car.  Some complaints are frivolous.  Some are not. Either way, when at the next company meeting, a manager asks for feedback, you, the good rule-follower, remain hidden in the crowd refusing to speak up.  Then, at the hotel bar later that evening, you unleash your complaints on whomever will commiserate. Congratulations! Send me your jersey size because you are officially playing the game!
You tell yourself there are valid reasons for doing this.  It’s what everybody else does.  It avoids getting you noticed for being a complainer. It puts you on your boss’s good side.  Playing the game paves the way to your next promotion. It’s the best thing to do for you and your family. When the opportunity comes to act independently or speak up you turn it down. Ironically, in an effort to avoid betraying the system, you betray yourself.
Take A Time Out
Change is scary isn’t it? The system you hate is still one you know.  Why take a chance when things can get worse?  “I’ll just put my head down, do my job, and wait until things get better,” you may think.  Unfortunately, things don’t usually get better on their own.  Some have thought, “I’ll change the system by first rising through the ranks and then working to make a difference.”
Eric Barker, author of the popular motivational book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” calls this sequencing.  It’s the belief that you can plan your life in large chunks. Life often intervenes with family issues, health isssues, and anything else to send your dreams up in smoke. After downing the huge dose of conformity it takes to be promoted, you will you have the willpower to think of the less fortunate souls you left behind?  There’s a reason newly minted sales managers are know for playing by the book.  They are pre-selected based on their willingness to do so.
So, am I saying you should flip off the boss at the next meeting or conduct a Ghandi-style hunger strike until conditions improve? Absolutely not! Let’s revisit some reasons not to play the game and explore some ideas of what to do instead.
Reason One:  Your Boss Is Human.
Sales people, like craftsmen, see their skills grow with experience.  Unlike craftsmen, the material they work with, their customers, change constantly and have a mind of their own.  Chances are, the customers and situations your boss dealt with, as a salesperson, are not the same as yours are now. High performing salespeople don’t even make the best managers, according to a large study published by the National Bureau of Economic research entitled, “Promotions and the Peter Principle“. The sales advice your boss gives you has it’s limits.   The more experience you have in sales, the less valuable this advice is.  Lower your ROI expectations on what your boss tells you.
Reason Two:  You are being judged on your results, NOT on how well you follow rules.
What you do means more than a number on a spreadsheet.  Like it or not, this is still the way most salespeople are evaluated.  Whether or not you agree with the system is irrelevant.  Most managers are playing their own version of the game and you have to live with it.  In reality, how much you sell trumps everything else.  A stellar record with turning in reports and kissing up to the boss rarely saves anyone with low sales numbers.
Reason Three:  Remaining silent helps no one.
The Bystander Effect, coined by researchers John M. Farley and Bibb Latané in the 1960’s, is a phenomenon in which witnesses to emergencies are less likely to help a victim when in a crowd.  Sound crazy?  It’s not when you consider that each individual expects someone else to help out. Ignoring serious problems doesn’t solve them.  It’s like telling your 13-year-old to skip all the difficult problems on his Math final. Not bringing up a legitimate concern to management can do a disservice to your real boss – the customer.  Don’t forget, he or she makes the buying decision, not your manager.  For a more thorough discussion of this point, check out my post “Think BACk:  Free Will Is A Bitch!” Speaking of customers, how often do they change their buying habits without you or another salesperson supplying them with a reason? Serious problems don’t solve themselves.  YOU need to speak up. It’s that simple.
What you can do about it.
Take responsibility of your own happiness. To address problems you can’t solve on your own, you have three options: bring the issues to the attention of someone who can solve them, decide not to let them bother you any longer, or seek out a better job.
Be thoughtful in the way you present your concerns.  Do not make your complaint personal or deliberately insulting.  Explain the ramifications of the problem as you see it.  How does the problem hinder the sales process or your customer’s business?  Finally, be prepared for any response.  If you’re miserable and your company shows no signs of improving, look for a better opportunity.  The same holds true if your company ignores problems and sacrifices the business you worked hard to win.
Be brave enough to demonstrate how much you care about your company. It’s unlikely you’re alone in noticing what needs improving.  You might gain more respect from your peers for doing it.

Sales Doesn’t Have To Suck – How Therapy Taught Me Why

Ok. You’re in sales. You’re busy. You have a deadline and a quota. You don’t want to be at the bottom of the next sales ranking and you will do whatever it takes not to be there. Am I right?
I get it because I lived these same thoughts every day. When you see one of your peers rising in the sale ranks you wonder why, correct? Have you ever met a sales rep with lackluster numbers who still seems happy? Again, did you wonder why? Here’s a possible explanation: the other rep in question is emotionally healthier than you. That’s right emotionally healthier. It’s often obvious when someone’s physical health differs from you. Emotional health? That’s something you feel for yourself.
Although I’ve started this discussion in terms of having an emotional edge over another rep, competition is not what emotional health is about. That’s a good thing. It’s not about being better than someone else. Instead, it’s about being a better version of yourself. When I started therapy a few years ago, my goal was to gain control of my anxiety in order to be a better sales person, father, and husband. What I came to realize was that my job was actually the reason I needed the therapy. Not vice versa! This forced me over a period of time, to seriously rethink my priorities. As a result, I came to three realizations:
Realization One: Traditional sales management uses fear and extrinsic rewards in a way that’s potentially detrimental to your health.
There is a reason you don’t like disappointing your boss. It makes you afraid. That fear causes the hormone cortisol to course through your body. It’s the same chemical that helped our ancestors sense danger approaching them on the African plains. The problem is that our bodies weren’t designed for us to feel fear all the time. According to Simon Sinek in his book, “Leaders Eat Last”, having excess cortisol elevates our blood pressure, impairs our cognitive ability, and decreases our immunity from diseases. Of course, let’s not forget the accompanying psychological effect of anxiety.
When we get exstrinsic rewards, which includes anything from commission checks, to pats on the back, to even the ‘ding” of our phones telling us we have a new text, our bodies release dopamine. It’s the “ahh” feeling of getting something done or accomplishing a goal. It’s what drives you to make your sales goal and win that extra commission kicker.
What’s wrong with this? Did you ever notice that the high from achieving anything never lasts? It’s because the effect of dopamine is always temporary. Therefore, people can literally become addicted to it. Have difficulty putting your phone down? That’s because every new message gives you a small hit of dopamine. Like cortisol, this brain chemical may have been essential to our evolution but in an age of abundance like today, less of it is definitely more.
Realization Two: Despite the negative influence of sales management, you and I are responsible for inflicting the negative effects of our jobs on ourselves.
“Wait a minute, it’s my fault now?”, you say. Yes, but we all have a valid reason for making the mistake. In his book, “Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better“, world renowned psychologist Albert Ellis, coined two important terms. Conditional Self Acceptance (CSA) and Universal Self Acceptance (USA). All of us, according to Dr. Ellis, use one of these two methodologies to create our self-image. Your boss. Your coworkers. Even authors of sales literature. They all tell you to measure your self-worth in dollars. The premise has been for years, the more you sell, the happier you will be. Almost every sales book is based on this premise and no one dares to question it. Given what science now knows about dopamine, long-lasting happiness as a result of sales success is a lie. Selling more of anything will never make you happier in any long term sense.
Still, don’t we need to sell more so we can buy more things? Unfortunately, bigger houses and nicer cars commit us to making more money long after the dopamine high of their purchase wears off. Dan Pink, in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” emphasizes the importance of Type I or intrinsic motivation over Type X motivation which is based on anything external.
Before we can realize our own Type I, internal motivations we need to rid ourselves of the external ones. This involves adopting USA vs. CSA. Unconditional Self Acceptance means treating yourself much like your pets do. No, not just as a life-giving source of food, but as a good person no matter what you accomplish. Yes. It’s a touchy-feely concept, but to reap it’s rewards, you will need to get over that. Dr. Ellis mandates that you adopt a new attitude about yourself. Regardless if you screw up a sales call or a sales quarter, you accept what happens and move on.
Therefore, USA opens you up to Type I motivation and CSA locks you into traditional Type X motivation. When you have USA and Type I motivation, your happiness is not based on what you own, what’s on you latest W2, or even what your boss says to you. You accept the futility of being anyone other than yourself and are motivated by a purpose. For example, the reason I started this Blog was to improve the way sales people are managed. I write for the fulfillment of writing and expressing these ideas – not the paycheck.
Realization 3: In a very real way, letting go of the metrics forced on us by our jobs, allows us to actually become happier in general and often more effective at work.
Traditionally, companies have assumed that workers are fundamentally lazy and require carrots and sticks for the motivation. Carrots are the extrinsic rewards like money and accolades. Sticks are the fear tactics such as terminations or reprimands. According to Daniel Pink, in the Industrial Age, most occupations involved simple and repetitive tasks. It made sense to pay a factory worker based on the amount of parts produced because he or she could clearly see how increased effort resulted in increased output. For complex jobs, people required intrinsic rewards. They want the stimulation of learning something new or the gratification of helping someone. Contrary to what many sales books teach, the process to complete a sale with each new customer is unique and cannot be boiled down to a shortlist of repeatable tasks.
Complicated, multi-step jobs like outside sales require creativity. We all have creatitivity within us and the way to unlock it is with the positive emotions that USA allows us to feel. For me, making the change to USA with Type I motivation gave me back all the time I was wasting on worrying. I then proceeded to use that time to think of new ways to do my job. Just think, instead of stressing over doing your job perfectly, you could be selling in newer, more effective ways your management never imagined!
This new mindset obviously requires a leap of faith – in yourself. Of course, fear may have made you work harder in the past, but never at your best. Chasing extrinsic rewards is forcing you to use temporary happiness in the place of long-term fulfillment. My process of learning all this started with a trip to a therapist. If you’re in sales, I suggest you spend the co-pay and do so yourself.
I welcome your comments and suggestions!
Ps. Yes. As a result of therapy, I sell more now than ever, but I also have the sense to know that I can never sell my way to true happiness!
Books Referenced:
“Leaders Eat Last”, by Simon Sinek – to access it on Amazon click here.
“Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better”, by Albert Ellis, PHD., – to access on Amazon click here.
“Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, by Dan Pink – to access on Amazon click here.

Fifteen Thoughts Top Performing Sales People Have But May Never Share With Their Managers

Attention Sales Managers! Sorry, but when you became the boss you knew you were going to lose the buddy-buddy relationships you had with your fellow sales people. Dont’ make the mistake of assuming that your non-complainers or top performers don’t have serious complaints or your complainers hate the company. Here are some thoughts they may have:

      1. I don’t need to be constantly reminded to sell more. I’ve done this for years and I support a family just like you do.
      2. A big commission check, bonus, or sales trip is only motivating if it’s realistic to attain.
      3. I know when your spinning the truth. I’ve heard myself do it enough to recognize it. You’re better off spending your time helping me sell rather than selling TO me.
      4. Just because I question you or the company doesn’t mean I don’t care. On the contrary, I want to believe in what we’re doing and need more information to do so.
      5. Please don’t offer me choice between two things when you are going to force me into one choice anyway. True empowerment is letting me make decisions.
      6. If you anger one of my customers I make efforts not to take you there (or anywhere important) again.
      7. No, I actually don’t think you are, or ever where, a better sales person than I am. You’d still be doing this job and ‘kicking ass’ like you used to if you were that good.
      8. I may think you’re a decent guy/gal but we are not friends. Friends don’t fire one another to protect their jobs.
      9. Despite what you say, if you put your own interests before mine, I will return the favor.
      10. If it seems like we share a lot off identical opinions and interests, it could be that I’m kissing up to you. Conversely, if you find we don’t have a lot in common, it could be that I am just being very real with you.
      11. If you chose to not help me or hinder my advancement within the company, I will respond by looking for another job.
      12. Pay me fairly versus my peers. Expect me to find out if one of my colleagues makes 30% more. Despite what our HR paperwork says, people talk.
      13. Filling our sales reports and using cumbersome CRM systems rarely help me sell anything. That is why I hate them and consider them a waste of time.
      14. If you don’t have the guts to advocate for me within the company, you are hardly worthy of the term “Leader.”
      15. Although I claim to want more and more money, a sincere compliment can go a long way. One last thing, please don’t use me or my performance as a way to make another sales rep feel inadequate. It creates mistrust within the team – something I assume you don’t want.

Think BACk: Confidence Is About More Than Just YOU!

Want more confidence?  Don’t we all?
“We chose John Doe’s product over his competitors’ because he really believes in himself!”, said no buyer ever.  Make no mistake, self-confidence is important. However, focusing on it alone starts you in the middle of a 3 phase process. Begin by building your own confidence in your company and what you offer. Only then should you move on to believing in yourself. Finally, with the first two confidence pieces locked in place, work on your customer’s confidence.
Phase 1: Believe in what you offer.
Be positive! Think positive! We all get tired of hearing it from our managers. You probably don’t want to feel good about your job, it’s just not possible to force it on yourself.  Ask yourself, instead, if you’ve given your own product a chance. Are you really sold on what you sell?  A good model to use is David Hoffield’s “Six Why’s” in his book, “The Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal“.  Be a customer for moment and attempt to answer the following questions about you product or service:

  1. Why change what I’m doing?

  2. Why now?

  3. Why your industry solution?

  4. Why you and your company?

  5. Why your product or service?

  6. Why spend the money?

No. Your own company’s training is rarely provides enough objective information to answer adequately answer these questions. In training, they are attempting to sell you, a non-customer, on SELLING their product, not on BUYING it. Having an objective view on your product may not be as uplifting to your personally. To your customer, you have just become more trustworthy and a lot more valuable. Sorry, your product will never be ideal for every customer. Still, you may find that a specific customer type (often more specific than what your company tells you) that really connects with the benefits you offer.
Phase 2: Believe in yourself
Confidence in yourself is trickier than you think. Customers are turned off by reps who skip Phase 1 and believe in their product simply because it’s THEIR product. I call this the “Trust me” approach. Ironically, it makes customers more suspicious. No, this mistake is not restricted to used car salesman. Do not start or end your personal development with this Phase of confidence. Explaining why you have the best solution shows your customer a baseline level of respect. Customizing your offering to their needs shows them more. Finally, allowing them to question your product and have an opposing view shows them even more respect.
This is when your true confidence shows through. When a customer sees that you can handle hearing negative feedback they may open up to telling you how they really feel. Those opinions are exactly what you need to address in order to make a sale. Many of my non-sales friends say they lack confidence to do this job. Yet, ask them about their favorite TV show, favorite beer, restaurant, etc. and they will sell you like a pro!
You may also require some soul searching.  Do you have self-limiting beliefs?  If so, think back to the work you did in Phase 1.  Even if you determined your solution is just good and not great, don’t you have an obligation to present it to your customer?  Again, allow yourself to risk being questioned by being direct and frank about your product’s benefits. You want to HEAR their objections – not avoid them.  For your customer, the sales process is about solving their problem, not passing judgement, good or bad, on you.
Phase 3: Inspire you customers to believe in themselves.
Often a strong conviction in your product and yourself is all you need to make the sale. Sometimes, more effort is required. Most customers do not have the thick skin that sales people develop. Even high-level executives may secretly fear rejection of their ideas at the hands of their superiors, co-workers, and customers. This is when you step in and remind them their company gave them the authority to choose and why other stakeholders stand to also benefit from your product.
It’s easy to overlook that our decision-makers can play the role of salesman themselves throughout their day. I’ve heard well-respected physicians confess apprehension at making firm treatment recommendations to patients. In essence, they need to be convinced to use their own authority. One caution with this approach, is to avoid being overly complimentary and insincere. Encouraging a client to make decisions above their pay grade will backfire – for both of you.
Can you admit your product isn’t perfect? Can you admit you don’t know everything? If so, you’re on the right track. Confidence for the sake of protecting one’s ego or towing the company line helps no one. Remember, your customer makes the purchase – not you, and definitely not your manager.
Ps. To check out David Hoffield’s book on Amazon, <a href=”http://The Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal“>click here. I found it to be a refreshing research-based way to look at selling.
Pss. If you’re wondering what think BACk means.  Be A Customer. Get it?  B.A.C.?  I knew you’d get it!

Think BACk: Did You Really Just Ask That Question?

BACk is short for “Be A Customer”. Thinking BACk entails thinking like your customer would.
“Telling is not selling! You need to ask questions!”
Sound familiar? The above statement summarizes about 90% of the sales training I’ve ever experienced. Situation questions, problem questions, implication questions, and of course, the elusive need-payoff questions. Thank you Neil Rackham and your fabled “Spin Selling” for transforming me from a glorified product presenter to a would-be problem solver! No sarcasm here. Neil’s approach has probably saved customers countless hours of sitting through unfocused and ineffective sales presentations.
It’s unfortunate that the undying impatience and goal fixation we have in sales causes us to oversimplify and overplay every new idea. If asking questions results in more sales, shouldn’t asking more questions result in even more sales? And out we go to our sales calls armed with questions, questions, and more questions!
Stop what you’re doing!
It’s time to question the concept of asking questions. I propose that every question we ask precipitates at least one question in our customer’s mind. Most likely, that question is, “Why do you want to know this information?”. When the grocery clerk asks you paper or plastic, you probably don’t even think. You just answer. That’s because you know why he’s asking. Now imagine if, while you’re rummaging through your wallet, the clerk asks, “Boxers or briefs?” Failing to address the importance of why they asking is one mistake sales people make with questions. Additionally, we ask too many irrelevant and selfish-minded questions and fail to consider their impact value as statements.
Why are you asking me this question?
Think of the struggle you undertake every day just to get your customer’s attention. When you finally connect, don’t make the mistake of taking their time for granted. You may have won the appointment, but you still have to prove why your conversation is important. Understand that, as your questions get more complex, more effort is required from your listener to respond. If your customer seems confused or unhappy in response to a question, you may want to explain why the answer is relevant to matching your product to their needs.
Of course, this approach requires you to know what information is needed and how to ask for it. If you know that, in order to be a good candidate for your product, your customer needs to provide details, A through D, ask for exactly that information. And, be prepared to explain why you need it. The last thing you need is for your customer to assume you want the information for selfish reasons.
Have a conversation not an interrogation.
Early in my sales career, I used to fear having personal conversations with customers. What if we never get to talk about my product? What will I do? In response, I forced myself to ask sales questions, even when I didn’t really need the answer. What I lacked was a deeper knowledge of my product and my customer. This insight allows you to make your personal conversations more productive and your product conversations more personal. Ideally they are one in the same. Achieving this oneness between the personal and business conversation allows you to have an actual conversation. You know, one in which your attention is in the moment and focused on your prospect, not on what you’re going to say next.
This is precisely why asking clients about their “top five initiatives for the year” or “three biggest challenges” go over well in sales training but not in real life. Sure, if someone honestly answered, you would get good information. If your the customer, you gain virtually nothing from answering it. Sorry high level account managers, the CEO of the hospital system probably doesn’t think the bed pans you sell warrant an explanation of his five year growth plan. Feeling interrogated tells your customer they are wasting precious time for your benefit.
Your Question Makes A Statement.
If you don’t think so, try asking your spouse, “When are you going to lose weight?” It’s great that you know the problems your product can solve. Just be aware, the executive you’re about to call on may not be keen on admitting that they even have a problem. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, in their book, “The Challenger Sale”, advocate an approach using new information to shock customers into acknowledging new problems. While a wake up call may be in order for some of your customers, keep in mind that the book has been out since 2011. Customers may be getting wise to it’s tactics. If you can take control of the conversation in a respectful way and it serves their interests as well as yours, go for it! Just keep in mind you will never control your customer.
The problem with sales techniques is they are, by definition, techniques. They’re an artificial way to manipulate a conversation. In order to execute any sales tactic in a conversation, you must devote extra energy. Try being real instead. If you need to know something in order to assist your customer, by all means, ask. When you honestly want to help them it will show through in your demeanor. Conversely, acting in the role of sales person forces the customer to act in the role of customer. Neither actor gets as much done as two real people talking.

Think BACk: Free Will is a Bitch!

OK. What the heck is BACk? A misspelling? No, it’s an acronym for “Be A Customer”. It’s great to know your product, your competition, and your industry. You may even know quite a bit about your customer and her business, but can you think like her? Can you empathize with what challenges she’s dealing with and anticipate how she may react to you or what you offer? That’s what thinking BACk is all about and when you do so, you begin to realize how silly some of our beliefs and tactics are in the sales profession.
Think BACk to a time when someone forced you to buy something. Come on now! Dig deep! No, that last succulent dessert you just had doesn’t count. The best example I can come up with is insurance. There no mortgages to be found on uninsured homes and driving without car insurance is against the law. Still, in these instances I at least had a choice of what vendor to use. Can you admit that no one forced you to buy the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the house you live in, or virtually anything else?
Technology has informed customers in ways not possible just 20 years ago. At the same time, the ancient-yet-relevant philosophy of Stoicism has made it’s way into to popular business books. These two seemingly unrelated forces are combining to change the way we, as sales people, should look at our jobs.
Can you remember a time when you needed a salesman to help you buy a computer? Heck, I might have sold you one! Retail computer buyers back in the 80’s and 90’s often didn’t know what they wanted, what they needed, or even where to start. They would slowly wander up to the electronics display, in the department store where I worked, and stare at the price tags. At the time, my goal was to entice them into a conversation about what they needed to do with a computer. Inevitably, I could then display my superior knowledge to them. This would often result in a sale because I had information they didn’t have when they walked in the door. They needed the help of someone like me in order to make a decision. Today, computers are bought online or in stores with minimal, if any intervention needed from a sales person.
Daniel Pink, in his insightful book “To Sell Is Human”, cites the availability of information as creating more of a level playing field between sales people and customers. To this day, most retail workers expect to get blown off when they ask the traditional “May I Help You?” The difference from when I was in retail in the 1990’s is that now, the customer often is not lying. They DON’T need our help.
If you think this change doesn’t apply to B-to-B, think again. Do you find yourself being brought in later and later in the decision-making process? If so, it’s because they don’t perceive a need for your “expertise”. No one wants their time wasted by someone telling them what they already know. Don’t take it personally. It’s just a fact of life! Today, I find myself selling the added-value of what I do for my customers just as much as my product itself. Sure, there are times when they think they don’t need our help and they actually do. That’s why we have jobs. Regardless of who we THINK has the leverage in any sales situation, there is (and some would argue always has been) one person in charge of the customer’s decision process – the customer.
Thinking back to your house, car, or any other major purchase you’ve made, who is ultimately responsible for making your payments? You, of course. The bank doesn’t care how friendly, how knowledgeable, or how sly your sales person was. The choice to buy the house was, and continues to be, on you. In the corporate world, I’ve seen executives lose their jobs over bad choices with vendors. Once, when I sold software, I had an exec blow up in anger over a price negotiation. Yes, I did eventually close the sale, but soon thereafter the exec was working for a new company.
Just as access to information is giving customers the ability to make better decisions, we are realizing the power to decide may have always been theirs alone. The Stoic philosophers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius wrote about the power of choice. All any of us control is our ability to make choices. We choose not only what to do but how to feel. Your customer does the same. At our absolute best, we are merely influencing our customer’s decision. Ryan Holiday has written two excellent books: “The Obstacle is the Way” and “Ego is the Enemy” that very nicely summarize Stoicism into a modern-day context.
Of course, in sales, we take credit for as much good news as possible. The bad news is that when we do this, due to customer free will, we lie to ourselves. The customer made the buying decision – not us. Again, think like a customer, not a sales person. You likely researched the last car you bought by looking at reviews, blue book values, and CarFax reports. In doing so, you essentially sold it to yourself. Ironically, as you pulled out of the parking lot, the sales person probably bragged about how he “closed” you.
When our sales are down, things get a little more complicated. We may cite all the factors out of our control to the boss. All the while, we feel the shame of not seizing control like we were taught in sales training. The good news? Due to customer free will, we are rarely fully responsible for our bad numbers either. Can you improve your craft and therefore your results? Along with all the rest of us, yes! Just don’t expect to ever be able to quantify that improvement ahead of time. Does the perfect sales presentation ever guarantee a sale will be made? Only one person knows the answer. Your customer.

5 Reasons Why A Day In Sales Is Like A Trip to A Public Restroom

5 Reasons why a day in sales is like a trip to a public restroom:
1. You may not WANT to begin the process – you MUST. Otherwise, something imminently bad will happen.
2. When others sense what you’re doing they quickly make efforts to get away from you.
3. Sometimes you must strain and push to get what you want accomplished.
4. You never look forward to doing it, but, being done provides a definite sense of relief.
5. Afterward, it’s essential to wash your hands of the whole activity and go about the rest of your life.
The moral of the story? In this job, people will often think you are full of $h!t. Rest assured, if you’ work hard enough, you can always prove them wrong!

Calling All Sales People: Do You Feel Safe?

“Your Fired!” It’s a phrase that we go to great lengths never to hear. How safe is your job in sales? According to Simon Sinek in his bestselling book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t“, good managers make their employees feel safe. In other words, their teams feel free to do their jobs, speak honestly, and ask for helppexels-photo-326642.jpegwhen they struggle.
Accord to Sinek, managers need to create a “Circle of Safety” for their teams. In such an environment, underperformance is not met with reprimand but instead with true concern for the employee’s struggles. Imagine if, when your sales numbers are waning, your boss calls and says “It looks like you might be having a rough time. How can I help?” When delivered in earnest, this message engenders trust. Your manager is on your side wanting to help you. Instead, most of us get a variation on “Why aren’t you selling more?” or “Why are you making me look bad?” Just in case you are wondering, a “How can I help” followed by a “Why aren’t you selling more” is not a genuine offer of safety.
Here are some of my favorite safety-killing sales manager statements:
“My expectation is…”, “The company’s expectation is…”
You name the sales metric. It doesn’t matter. Sales people need to know how to complete the task, why they are doing it, and what will happen if they don’t. Their managers need the courage to elaborate. Sometimes the difference between realistic and unrealistic request is an explanation of how it will be accomplished within the framework of a sales person’s busy day. An explanation reassures the employee, “I respect you, your time, and what you want to accomplish.”
The second component is “why”. Does accomplishing this task help me sell more product and make my job more secure? Or, does it simply benefit my manager or someone higher up the chain? Fear and tension arise when salespeople are continually asked to do things that serve them no direct benefit. These tasks, however small, add up and siphon away their time to do what is ultimately asked of them-to sell. Therefore sales people appreciate knowing the consequences of not doing something, especially if it results in lower sales.
“I can’t protect you if…”
The very phrase, “I can’t protect you” implies that you, the sales person, already have no protection. Consider the reprimand, “If you continue to turn your expense report in a day late, I can’t protect you from what might happen.” Conditional protection is not protection. Would you say to your child, “If you don’t get good grades, I cannot protect you from sexual predators?”
Should making a mistake on a company report, like in the movie Office Space, result in a career-altering reprimand? The proper response would be to ask the employee why they are struggling, listen to their answer, and ask how they can help. Why should reps be asked to do anything that takes away from their selling time with no return on investment?
He or She “left the company.”
When an employee leaves your company, are you given an explanation? I didn’t think so. I know corporate HR execs and attorneys will emphasize employee privacy and corporate liability as the reason for this secrecy. Not being a legal expert, I do know that laws can be interpreted in many ways and even changed once in a while.
Regardless of how restricted companies truly are in sharing the circumstances around people leaving the company, we cannot deny the consequences. From a sales person’s perspective, having someone leave your company draws immediate concern. Did she find a better job? Am I wasting my time staying here? How bad were his sales numbers? Could this happen to me? Hiding any information from employees only serves to make it appear more important. Can you fault sales people for wondering what happened to John or teammates?
“We need to talk about your numbers.”
Safe? I’ve worked for managers that would tell you that the purpose of a sales quota is to prevent you from feeling safe at all. Whether or not sales people require aggressive sales quotas is a discussion for another day. The fact remains, they have them. Is there any way to avoid this reality? Not in sales! Again, think about what the effect is on you. Do you spend more time covering yourself vs. doing actual selling? All of us need food to survive, can you imagine someone consistently reminding you of this? The problem is not that we are being asked to do something challenging. Rather, it’s that management looks at sales people as investments and not people. The minute our revenue outlook goes south, they look to offload us for a better bet.
To be fair, our managers may also feel a distinct lack of safety in their roles. Sadly, our profession has, for years, built itself into a perform or die culture. Think back to the best leaders that you’ve worked with in the past. Chances are, they made you feel secure enough to take a risk and try something new. After all, don’t we grow by taking chances and risking failure?
Before you dismiss the idea of safety as idealistic, nonproductive nonsense, check out the examples in Sinek’s book. He cites several examples of companies who are treat their employees like they’re more important than the revenue they generate and make handsome money doing it. To dive deeper into the concept of safety and leadership, be sure to check out the book on Amazon.