A while ago, I had the opportunity to shadow a top-performing salesperson who sells an innovative service to small businesses. We spent a high-energy day visiting business owners to see if this service was a good fit for them.
It wasn't easy to get past the receptionists. They sized us up as one of two things: a customer or an inconvenience. They went from smile to sourpuss the instant they realized we were selling something. And even if you get past the gatekeeper, the decision maker isn't usually too happy to see you either.
Staring down grumpy receptionists and business owners for one day is a fun challenge. Engaging in these unfriendly interactions every day for weeks, months, quarters, and even years can be a grind. But you have numbers to make so you take shortcuts to close the sale. Unfortunately, shortcuts often lead to a trap door right out of the sale as well. Here are the usual shortcuts:
- Be vague and evasive -- Some people in my high-performing client's industry don't tell receptionists who they work for, even when asked. If you're asked a direct question (especially one as basic as "What's your name and who do you work for?") and you dodge and weave, there are only two natural responses: confusion (bad) followed by suspicion (worse). It's better to have credible answers to legitimate questions.
- Pitch first, ask questions later -- We often forget that customers are really profoundly disinterested in our stuff until we understand them. Oh, they're endlessly fascinated with themselves and they love to know that you're interested in them -- and better yet understand them too. You'll get to share about your products and services eventually. It's better to ask questions first and really understand your customer. If nothing else, it will reduce the time you spend answering objections.
- Exaggerate about your product or yourself -- We're all tempted to try to look impressive. But while lying about your product, your company, or yourself may get you through the door, it will eventually get you kicked right back out. "But I can't sell our product if I tell prospects the truth. They wouldn't say yes often enough for me to hit my goal!" As one of my clients once said, "If the truth about our product doesn't sell at our price point, then we have a product problem -- not a sales problem." It's better to tell the truth and face the fact that you won't win every sale, but you will build a strong reference stream with those who do choose you when you're straight.
- Commit the sin of omission -- There's bad news about almost any product or service we sell. There are situations where it just won't work. Even when it does work, we often serve up pain along the way with our solution. But we rarely tell prospective customers the bad news up front. "I don't want to scare them off," is the reason salespeople give. So you'd rather have them freaked out after they bought from you - and then tell all of their friends and colleagues to avoid you like the plague? It's better to acknowledge that your product/service isn't a panacea.
- Avoid objections/blow through objections -- One of the toughest moments for any salesperson comes when a customer voices an objection. It takes legendary self-control and a very focused mindset to not give in to the temptation to either avoid objections or blow right through them. But everyone has legitimate concerns and questions about a buying decision. It's better to be curious and helpful instead of defensive about objections.
- Create false urgency -- "I have to close that customer on the spot or they might change their minds after I leave." It's a classic plea of a desperate salesperson -- but it belies a failure to really get the prospective customer to understand and own the decision to solve their problem for themselves. If you need to create an atmosphere of false urgency, you're really trying to create an "impulse sale." But as my friend, Rick Gibney, says, "Impulses go away; problems don't." It's better to help your customer see if she really has a problem you can solve.
Here's why shortcuts make a difficult sales job even harder: customers (that's you, me, and every person on the planet) have highly tuned BS detectors and don't like the smell of it. So the bad news about shortcuts is that customers sniff them out. The worse news is that once you have the stench of shortcuts on you, you can't get it off. In that person's mind, you will be a pest perpetually.
Shortcuts aren't unique to salespeople. Anyone who gets things done through coercive influence versus building relationship blows their main currency -- their own credibility. No matter what or who you're selling (a product, your IT project, your R&D brainchild), it gets easier when your credibility is high and just about impossible when your cred drops.
The guy I shadowed took none of these shortcuts but he's not normal. And because so many salespeople do take shortcuts, the door is wide open for someone like him. Salespeople who build a sustainable career do it because they differentiate their products, services, companies -- and most importantly themselves -- by resisting the temptation to take shortcuts.
Which shortcut do you and your organization need to replace with a better long-run approach?