In the die hard movies, the guy just doesn’t give up. The same should apply to sales people. They should never give up. But. There’s always a but. There’s a difference between working hard on a sale and hard selling. Hard selling is dead. Some sales reps do not want to accept this. Most everybody else was glad to bury it. Influencers, decision makers, managers, you name it, nobody has the time for hard sellers any more.
The hard seller is the sales rep that lives by the belief that they can sell ice cubes to people living in areas adjacent to the polar ice caps. This is the person that you will buy from only to get them out of your life. If it’s a once off sale. “Yes! OK! I’ll take the printer!” and then in the privacy of your own mind “Just as long as you go away and stop bugging me!” The hard seller is the sales rep that that always knows better and believes that he can break your will not to buy. It gets personal and somewhere along the line it’s becomes a contest. And nowadays buyers just don’t have the time. So if you are looking to lose sales, keep the hard sellers in your sales force. As mentioned previously, hard selling kills opportunities. And an opportunity is a terrible thing to waste. Believe me, buyers have developed antibodies for hard selling, similar to anti SPAM software.
So the modern sales person uses more sophisticated techniques. They are trained to ask questions. They uncover needs and wants and pick up on motivators and, guess what, the hard sellers are back! Let me recount a personal experience. I was sitting in my office waiting for an acquaintance from another time to turn up when he did. After the pleasantries he mentioned that he was now working for an insurance company. Yes, really, totally different to what he was doing in his previous position. He was in Sales at that. And then he pulled out a laptop. My polite smile froze. He opened it and turned the screen towards me. The PowerPoint was already in slideshow mode. Complete with logos and a corny wannabe catchy title slide. Then questioning technique started
“Wouldn’t you like to know that no matter what might be wrong with you, somebody has you and yours covered?”
“And how would you feel if you could choose any medical facility in the world for your health needs, whatever they might turn out to be?”
“Look, John, I think…”
“Good. You should always be thinking about your health. When was the last time you had a physical?”
The guy just wouldn’t stop. He explained over the coffee, I was no longer happy to have offered him, about the merits of colonoscopy with what I felt was more attention to detail than necessary. In question mode. “Have you ever seen the probe?”, “Have you ever wondered if you are conscious during the process?”.
The technique was in there somewhere. He was asking questions. But he wasn’t paying any attention to the answers or to my reaction or body language. Plus, he didn’t mention during the long-time-no-see phone call that he was actually making a sales call. His fault? No. His manager’s. Or the maybe the consultant that trained the sales force was to blame. Or both. This was hard selling in sheep’s clothing. Which made it worse. At least the other type comes at you both guns blazing. This was sneaky and had an even worse effect. At some point I began to feel that my intelligence was being insulted. After the first few questions I pointed to the sign on the door. “John, the sign says “Sales Manger” for Pete’s sake. He still didn’t get it. After going through the motions he ended up with a triumphant slide that had a figure on it. “Am I buying insurance, or part of the company?”
“Surely this is an affordable amount for somebody in your position”. He was now making assumptions on my financial status. And it was all part of the misbegotten, misguided training he had received at some seminar called something like “Increase your sales, guaranteed or your money back”.
The point here is that if you want your sales people to be successful, think like a prospective buyer. Sales techniques are meant to be used as facilitators not to be practiced religiously without straying from the path. You need to be listening to your prospective customers, who by the way have done you the favor of taking the time to listen to you, and you need to be hearing what they have to say. Then you need to ask more questions and then you need to decide if you can genuinely satisfy their needs. If not, you need to be mature and honest enough to say so. Then you have gained their respect, the right to call on them again and maybe even a referral. Because you have integrity. If you do believe they need what you are offering, then proceed. Find out how you can tailor your solution to fit their need. Sniff out what they would change if they could. And have an intelligent conversation. Otherwise you are not building a lasting relationship. You are reminiscent of professionals of an adjacent discipline and your discussions are the same as their lines: untruthful and just part of the script.