Turning Negatives into Selling Points
Truth Is The Ultimate Sales Tool. You might think this is a book about ethics.
I’m a big fan of ethics. When I sell, I sell according to my ethical standards. When you sell, I assume you sell according to your ethical standards. I’m happy for both of us. But that has nothing to do with what this book is about. This is a book about techniques that work. It’s about simple, easy to use techniques that build instant trust and credibility and can help you sell more whether you’re an highly-experienced sales professional, a novice sales rep or a complete non-sales type who needs help selling your products and services or even yourself, your vision and your ideas.
The key word here is instant, as in instant trust. Because these techniques will help you sell more, right now, today. If they didn’t, no one would use them. It’s all well and good to talk about honesty and ethics in selling, about selling with full disclosure and building long-term trust and credibility to generate more sales down the road. But no sales manager wants to hear, “I didn’t make my numbers but I’m building valuable relationships.” Salespeople need more sales now. They need to make a paycheck and feed their families.
Do salespeople care about honesty and ethics? Of course they do. Like almost everyone else on the planet, they want to feel good about what they’re doing in their careers and their lives. They want to be honest with their customers; they want to be honest with themselves. They want to be able to sell with full disclosure. But they need to be able to sell—and sell today, not just sometime in the vague future. They need to be able to generate instant trust and credibility. They need to be able to tell—and sell—the truth the first time they ever call on a customer. That’s what this book is all about.
The anecdotes, examples, stories, case studies, parables, and pontifications packed into these pages represent most of what I’ve learned in a lifetime of selling and working with salespeople. Remember that, if sometime down the road I try to sell you a sequel.
Truth is the Ultimate Sales Tool is based on one extraordinarily simple premise. Every product, every service has its potential negatives. Great salespeople aren’t afraid of those negatives. They don’t stumble over them and they certainly don’t try to hide them. Great salespeople use potential negatives as selling points, they even brag about them.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “If you can not get rid of the family skeleton, you might as well make it dance.”
Truth is the ultimate sales tool.
Making the Skeleton Dance
The company sold consulting services. That morning I’d met with some of their less successful reps. Most of them knew exactly why they weren’t selling. “Our prices are just too damn high,” they assured me repeatedly. I’d heard it before. Price is often the single biggest objection, the single biggest potential negative that salespeople have to deal with.
Now, I was riding with Helen Daniels, the woman who’d been at the top of the company’s national sales report for the last three years running. We were meeting with the VP of Operations of a good size uniform company. Sure enough when the issue of price came up, the VP acted exactly as those reps had predicted, using almost the exact same words they’d used.
“Sounds to me like you people are awful damn expensive,” he said, accusingly.
““Absolutely,” Helen agreed, offering her brightest smile.
“So why do you charge so much?”
“Simple,” she said. “Because we can!”
“We charge that much because we can. Because our clients are not just willing but happy to pay those kind of rates for the results we generate.”
“But can’t they find someone else to do the job for less?”
“Somebody who will do the exact same job for less?”
“Well, they could certainly find companies that will charge less. I’m no expert on the kind of work these people might do, so I really can’t say whether or not they’ll do the exact same job.”
“So you’re saying, You get what you pay for?”
“No,” she smiled, “I’m saying to get us, you’ve got to pay for us. I really don’t know that much about the kind of work these other companies do. Or why they charge less. Maybe you should ask them. I don’t know a lot of businesses that charge less if they could charge more, but maybe they’re humanitarians.”
“I seriously doubt that,” VP said.
“Well, like I say, I’m no authority about their work. We charge more because our clients are happy to pay more for the results we generate. Maybe these other companies charge less because that’s what their clients are willing to pay for the results they generate.”
“But your rates . . . ?”
“Exactly. And worth every penny. And let me tell you why.” Which she then preceded to do.
That’s Making the Skeleton Dance. Helen took the potential negative of price and bragged about it so hard she not only made that skeleton dance, she made it polka. Twenty-five minutes later we walked out of there with a signed contract.
You and the Perfect Product
Truth: You may have no need of this book:
Perhaps your products and services are perfect; perhaps there’s nothing negative that anyone can say about them. Perhaps competitive reps pack up their samples in despair and slink out the door at the mention of your company’s name. Perhaps the first seven people you contact tomorrow morning will interrupt your initial interest-creating remark to tell you they’ve been waiting for a call like yours because they desperately need a huge order of your most expensive, highest-commission product. Perhaps. Stranger things have happened. Not in my lifetime, but I suppose they have happened.
Of course if your products and services were perfect, you wouldn’t have a job, would you? A perfect product wouldn’t need a salesperson, just an order taker.
Truth: Your products are not perfect.
As a salesperson, you know that better than anyone else. Your customers constantly remind you of current imperfections. From time to time, they stumble upon new ones. Prospects pick your presentations apart for slightest signs of potential negatives. Anything they miss . . . Well, maybe that’s why God created that army of competing salespeople: to help keep you honest. (Just like mosquitoes, bubonic plague, Brussels sprouts and political commercials, there has to be some reason for their existence.)
Hiding the Rotting Rhino
So your products are not perfect. That’s why your company had to recruit and train someone like you to sell them rather than just hiring someone at minimum wage to go out and fill up bushel baskets with stack and stacks of orders. But for you to be able to sell those products you’ve got to deal with those imperfections, those potential negatives, in every call you make. Now, there are any number of ways that salespeople try to deal with potential negatives, some more successful than others. Before we try to make your particular skeletons dance, let’s take a quick look at some of the classically unsuccessful strategies that salespeople frequently resort to when confronted by potential negatives in their products and services.
The first I call, Hiding the Rotting Rhino. If there’s (somehow) a rotting rhinoceros in the well that provides the drinking water of that country estate the sales rep is trying to sell (it could happen), he’ll do everything in his power to see that the buyers don’t discover that unsettling little detail until after the deal is closed and his commission check cashed. Aside from the ethics involved, hidden rhinos are like embarrassing relatives: they seldom remain hidden for long. So this is not a strategy that generates repeat business and long-term customers. It is however the perfect strategy if you’re planning on leaving town right after the sale, you’re never planning to return, and you have no conscience.
Because of these rather obvious drawbacks, until recently major corporations seldom actively embraced the Hidden Rhino strategy, though management sometimes looked the other way when it was being used, hoping to insure the sales force reached its quotas. Nowadays however with such massive pressure to make short-term goals and with long-term thinking less and less lucrative for corporate leaders, even some of the world’s best known companies are hiding some pretty big rhinocerosii.
Long distance companies may have led the way. The hidden charges in their “low rate” calling plans are legendary. And growing by the moment. My own long distance calls are handled by a telecommunications giant that shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say that their initials are AT&T. Last month, I was trying to call one of my vendors. But every time I dialed the number, I got a recorded message. “Sorry, your call can not be completed at this time. Please try again later.” This went on for hours. Since I was calling New Hampshire I assumed it was a rural area and maybe the string had broken between a couple of the tin cans or perhaps Indians had cut the lines. Still this is the 21st century even in much of New Hampshire, and I figured that five or six hours should be more than sufficient to complete a phone call. Eventually, I dialed the operator. For her, the call went through, immediately. Unfortunately by that time the office I was calling was closed.
A few weeks later I got my phone bill. The charge for the one-minute operator assisted call—which actually must have been considerably less than one minute—was $10.88! Plus tax.
Now I have no doubt that the operator’s time is worth $652.80 per hour ($10.88 per minute x 60 minutes). At least it is to her. And I’m sure AT&T is paying her close to that. But it wasn’t as if I’d used her assistance because I was too lazy or too incompetent to dial the call myself. I’d had to go to her because the service I was paying AT&T for wasn’t working.
Since phone bills are more difficult to decipher than the average CIA code, normally I never even would have caught this type of charge. But I got lucky on this one. And I complained about it. At least I did after I finally stumbled through their audio-text labyrinth (suggested motto: We raise our productivity by lowering yours) and unearthed a human being, a customer service rep.
The rep sounded like Mr. Rogers—if you can imagine an exasperated, long suffering Mr. Rogers. “You did, “ he sighed, “have the option of continuing to try the call yourself. That would have cost you nothing.”
Somehow this failed to appease me. It wasn’t the money, you understand it was the prin . . . No, come to think of it, it was the money.
But almost immediately he said, “Well, I can lower this charge for you. I’ll give you a credit.”
I accepted the credit of course. But from a customer service standpoint, offering the credit was almost worse than the original charge. It was like admitting it wasn’t justified. Because he wasn’t saying, “The charge was a mistake. I’m sorry. We try not to make mistakes but when we do, we fix them.” It seemed more like, “We’re going to do our best to screw you but if you’re vigilant enough to catch us, we’ll make it right.”
How much has AT&T spent over the years trying to build consumer trust? And of course they’re hardly the only major company that seems to have adopted this type of hidden rhino practice recently. Nowadays, the strategy for many corporations appears to be, “When the customers uncover the rotting rhinos, maybe they’ll just assume that competition is as sleazy as we are and they won’t bother to take their business elsewhere.” Or maybe its, “Let’s just do whatever we can do to make our goals for this quarter. Maybe we can cash in our stock options and get out before the backlash hits.”
Tapping the Landmine
Another classically unsuccessful strategy that some salespeople use for dealing with potential negatives, I call Tapping the Landmine. A landmine tapper sees every potential negative as a deadly explosive. But her ethics or her company or necessity require that she disclose the horrible thing to the prospect, and that means at least tapping the ground where the landmine is buried—even though she’s terrified that it’s going to blow up in her face.
The tapping often goes something like this. “I just need you to initial a couple of these clauses on the contract. Mostly just boilerplate legalese. This first clause guarantees delivery in 10 days or less. The second one here simply gives the price: $897 per month, just as we agreed. This third line is your color selection. Sunrise Yellow, right? This next clause here makes us your only supplier in perpetuity. Oh, and this section down here is the full parts and labor warrantee. The best in the industry, believe me. Good for a full 120 days. What? No, I said, In perpetuity. But look at this warrantee. Isn’t that something? One hundred and twenty days come hell or high water, come feast or famine. Parts and labor. What? No, just us. In perpetuity. But isn’t this a great warrantee!?! And it’s going be yellow! Sunrise Yellow. Isn’t that just glori . . . What?”
Treat a negative like a landmine and when you do tap, you virtually guarantee an explosion.
The most common unsuccessful strategy for dealing with potential negatives is probably mealy-mouthing. Think of Helen Daniels, that top consulting company rep I discussed at the very beginning of the chapter. (Why do we charge so much? Because we can!) A mealy-mouther is the exact opposite of Helen. And the week after I worked with Helen I ran into her opposite—on the same issue, price.
The woman was gorgeous, and she was waiting for me as I came off the stage after making the keynote presentation to an association of corporate executives. While I answered questions for other attendees, she stood at the edge of the crowd, smiling—seductively I thought—whenever I looked over. She reminded me of Michelle Pfeiffer, only more so. It was hard to imagine that this was a woman who could possibly be having trouble selling anything to anyone. At least not to any man. Whatever her product or service might be, I was ready to buy one on the spot—possibly two. And I was the sales trainer here.
Once I finished talking to the others, she approached, her face lighting up. She said, “I’d like to discuss hiring you to consult with our sales force.”
“Damn,” I said, “I was hoping you were some kind of a sales training groupie.”
“Sales training groupie?”
“I didn’t say there were a lot of them.”
She told me she was the CEO of premium industrial machine company. She had a number of problems with her sales team, and she thought I might be able to help. “But the biggest issue, first and foremost,” she said, “is that we have a lot of low cost competitors, and our salespeople are getting killed trying to deal with the problem of price.”
She looked at me as if she expected me to remedy the situation right then and there. When I just stared back, she invited me to lunch. We went to an overpriced restaurant in the hotel lobby called, Viva Zapatos!
“I think they mean Viva Zapata, the Mexican hero,” she explained. “Viva Zapatos means Long Live Shoes! “ We ordered anyway. Over $18.00 worth of watery tostada, I looked through her product catalogues.
“I can see why you’re having a problem with price,” I said.
“Certainly. Your machines are too expensive.”
She looked shocked. “They are?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Is that what you tell customers?” I asked. “That you don’t think they’re too expensive?”
“No. Of course not.”
“So what would you tell me if I were a prospect: and I said that I thought your skimming machine here on page 25 was too much money?”
“I’d say, No. No, it’s really not all that expensive.”
“I mean, it’s not that expensive. Not really. Not when you understand that our patented skimmers are working for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Or at least they’re capable of that. So if you do the math, it’s really less than 93 cents a minute, and when you amortize that over the effective life of the machinery and figure in the potential long-term savings in quality control, not to mention the benefits in morale and subsequent increases in operator productivity and the possibility of at least slightly increased customer satisfaction, then put all that together and it comes to less than . . . blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.“
She sounded like she was trying to convince herself. She could have been twice as beautiful, and the spiel wouldn’t have persuaded anyone else. And since it was obviously a canned recitation of the company line, I could imagine that her salespeople sounded just as lame. It was a timid, semi-apologetic effort to prove that black is white, that a lot of money was not really a lot of money. And I could see that when this type of mealy-mouthing didn’t work, her salespeople might just be tempted to forget to mention the additional shipping charges or the costly downtime necessary for installation. When I asked her if those types of omissions were sometimes a problem, she nodded.
What I mean by mealy-mouthing is stumbling around the potential negative, apologetically explaining—make that over-explaining—insuring that the negative becomes the focal point of the entire presentation. The more the rep goes on, the more importance the negative takes on in the mind of the prospect. It doesn’t take long before the mealy-mouther starts sounding like a three year old explaining that he wasn’t the one who took the cookies. Not him. Really. Never mind the crumbs all over his chin and his shirt. And the chocolate chips smears on his fingers.
This CEO’s sales reps were afraid of the cost of their own products. I can’t think of a better way to frighten away potential customers.
The Small Con
One of the oldest strategies for dealing with potential product negatives is The Big Con: getting prospects to buy by conning them into it, by misrepresenting the terms of the deal or simply failing to deliver what was promised. These are the people who get exposed by Mike Wallace or Morley Safer on TV then have the chutzpah to feature As Seen on 60 Minutes in all their advertising.
Some of them are notorious. Home improvement scam artists that prey on the elderly after hurricanes. Fund raisers for groups with familiar sounding names where virtually none of the money raised goes to those it’s supposedly intended to help. Used care dealers who re-sell totaled cars that have been doctored, or who crank back odometers to make everything old seem new again. But those who practice The Big Con aren’t salespeople, not by any stretch of the imagination, they’re criminals.
Unfortunately though, there are sales organizations that practice The Small Con. They call us up and pretend we’ve won some type of prize or trip. They offer guarantees with enough undisclosed strings to build a macramé skyscraper. Their hidden charges turn what sounds like a good deal into something uncomfortably close to a swindle. When sleazy telemarketers do this kind of thing, it’s call fraud. And the government, occasionally at least, prosecutes them. Reputable organizations of course, never resort to The Small Con.
Of course not. And I know something about dealing with reputable organizations, believe me. In fact, I recently received a message on my voice mail informing me that I had just been nominated to serve on the Republican Presidential Committee. Would I please call their toll free number immediately? When I called and asked who had nominated me, the woman who took the call told me that the nomination had come from the Republican Congressional Committee. And I didn't even realize those guys even knew that I was alive.
"So who on the committee nominated me?" I wondered.
The woman wasn't sure. She did know that the committee thought it would be invaluable if a key business leader like myself would lend his name and agree to serve.
"You know I never thought of myself as a key business leader," I said.
"Well, that's the way we think of you here."
She explained that there would be no time commitment, so exactly what my service might entail was a little vague. But there would be a press release, announcing my appointment to my local paper. And agreeing to serve would give me a chance to meet top Republicans like the Speaker of the House, "perhaps even President Bush," and give them my thoughts. So I'd have access to them on the issues that concerned my business.
They'd also appreciate it if I could contribute from $300 to $500.
"But if I can't come up with a contribution just now,” I said, “I can still lend my name to the cause and be on the committee and meet President Bush, right?"
"No." No amplification, just a flat no.
"So my name won't help you without the money?"
"We need your name and the money."
"But without the money you won't use my name."
"Are you a Democrat?" she asked suspiciously.
"Would the Republican Congressional Committee nominate a Democrat to serve on the Republican Presidential Committee?"
That's when she hung up. I'm not sure how that might affect my status on the committee. I expect I'll hear from President Bush himself in the next couple of days. We key business leaders shouldn't be wasting our time dealing with subordinates anyway.
In fairness, I should mention that the Republicans have apparently scrapped these Republican Presidential Committee phone calls. Nowadays, according to ABC News, they’re calling “key business leaders” and telling them that they have been nominated for something called “the National Leadership Award.” It’s every bit as good a deal as the Presidential Committee, just $300 to $500.
Fortunately, very few salespeople and even fewer sales organizations ever sink to the level of politicians. I’ve known few salespeople in my life who would ever tell a direct lie to a prospect. And fewer still who did it on a regular basis. The Small Con, based on lying and blatant misrepresentation, isn’t a big problem in most sales organizations.
The Modified Limited Con
“Hi. I’m Barry, one of the boys in the neighborhood.”
There are sales trainers out there who will hate me for saying this, but selling doesn’t have to be difficult. Selling is the most natural thing in the world. Babies start selling the first time they realize their screaming can get someone else to do something they want: usually to feed them or clean them, often at some ridiculous hour, long after room service is closed in the finest hotels, when nobody should have to be cleaned or fed. I’ve been selling for money since I was six years old, annoying the neighbors, hustling greeting cards door to door to Earn Cash and Win Valuable Prizes as the ads in the backs of the comic books proclaimed. I always took the cash.
My first real sales job—with an actual paycheck and W-2 forms and taxes taken out—came at 16, selling magazine subscriptions door to door. The crew chiefs would haul a bunch of us off to some distant neighborhood after school and on Saturdays and set us loose on the unsuspecting souls who lived there.
“Hi. I’m Barry, one of the boys in the neighborhood.” That was the first line of my pitch. And I was Barry. No doubt about that. And I was certainly a boy, with all the raging hormones to prove it. And, beyond question, I was in the neighborhood. But I certainly didn’t live there. The memorized pitch implied—without ever quite coming out and saying so—that I was trying to build up some kind of a magazine delivery route, carrying all the most popular magazines. Much like a paper route, I suppose. No lies here, of course. The sales company I worked for sold subscriptions for virtually all the top magazines in the country. Every single customer got every single magazine they paid for. Through the mail. Who ever heard of a magazine route anyway?
Not the way to sell, and even at 16 I should have known better.
That’s The Modified, Limited Con. Not blatant, no actual lies, not literally anyway. And the customer usually gets just about what he ordered at just about the price he agreed to pay. Often he gets exactly what he ordered at exactly what he agreed to pay. Still, when those magazines arrive in the mail and he never sees that “neighborhood” boy again, he’s hardly a good candidate for repeat business.
Of course most of us, as salespeople, never use any type of con, no matter how small, how limited, how modified. But we’re all too aware of the potential negatives, the imperfections, the skeletons, that our products and services have. And many of us, perhaps most of us, are not as sold on those products and services as we believe we have to appear to be to make the sale. Many of us do our best to steer our sales calls away from potential negatives, or try to slip those negatives by our prospects unnoticed. We live in fear of objections, of the prospect saying, “Well, Jack, Consumer Reports says that your wheezle-whatzits are not only more expensive than the competition’s, they’re a lot less reliable.”
The beauty of Making the Skeleton Dance is that it can make dealing with a product’s skeletons, a product’s potential negatives, as easy as dealing with its strongest selling points. In fact, as I’ve said, it’s a strategy that’s designed to turn those potential negatives into selling points. Even bragging points. Most skeletons—like price—are impossible to keep in the closet anyway. Others have an annoying way of popping out at the least opportune moments. Personally, I prefer to bring my skeletons out dancing, the way Helen Daniels did.
.Are our prices expensive? Absolutely. And why do we charge so much? Because we can. By the time Helen was finished making that particular skeleton dance, more expensive had become a positive—strong evidence that her company must deliver a superior results. Why else would her clients be willing to pay those high prices? And less expensive had become at least slightly suspect. Would those other companies really charge less if they were good enough to charge more?
If you’ve got a potential negative the customer has a right to know about—or one that’s bound to come out sooner or later whether the customer has a right to know about it or not—why not get it out there, and get it out there loud and proud? Why not deal with it on your terms? Why leave it hidden away for the customer to discover later when you have no control over the situation?
And once you can make the skeleton dance, once you can turn those potential negatives into selling points, there’s no longer a temptation to try to hide them or to try to slide them by a customer unnoticed. There’s no longer any reason not to sell with full disclosure. As we’ll see in upcoming chapters, Making the Skeleton Dance allows you to actually sell your product or service by detailing everything that’s wrong with it, by explaining to the customer just exactly what it won’t do.
Truth: Bragging about a negative is much more fun than apologizing for it. It’s also much more effective.
More Expensive, Less Reliable
But what happens when it’s your product that Consumer Reports has rated as both more expensive and less reliable than the competition? Imagine pitching the general manager of a prospective account and having him suddenly wave that particular issue of Consumer Reports in your face, demanding, “So what have you got to say about this?”
“We saw that article too, Mr. Customer,” you might say. “And we investigated their methodology. And do you know what we found?”
Mr. Customer can see where this is going, and he’s already looking for a shovel, thinking it’s going to start getting deep in there. He shakes his head, not in answer but in disgust.
“What we found, Mr. Customer, was that Consumer Reports was absolutely correct.”
“Our machines are more expensive. And it turns out they’re also less reliable. In fact, of the seven companies surveyed, ours were the least reliable steam cleaners tested. The very least reliable. Now let me tell you why these are exactly the machines you need to turn your business around.”
The skeleton is out of the closet and grinning. Now all you need to do is start the dance music. Your steamer cleaners are more expensive. They are less reliable. That’s just simple truth. Why try to pretend it isn’t? But you’ve run that simple truth through the Skeleton Protocol in a book called Truth in the Ultimate Sales Tool—you’ve learned how to make that skeleton dance—and you have only just begun to make your case. You’ve got the customer’s complete attention, and your credibility has just gone from non-existent to massive. And in sales, credibility is everything.
“So we’re more expensive and less reliable,” you repeat. “Why is that?”
“You’re greedy?” the customer suggests.
You shrug. “We like to make as much money as we can. And we do that by selling the best machines at the best price.”
“You just told me you’re more expensive and less reliable.”
“And believe me I wouldn’t lie about a thing like that.”
“So which is it? Best machines at the best price or more expensive and less reliable?
“Both,” you smile. “That’s because our steam cleaners do the work of three different machines and do it better. According to the report in Industry Standard magazine, our machines get carpets over 30 percent cleaner than standard carpet cleaners, drapes 45% cleaner than any other drapery cleaner, and upholstery almost 75% cleaner than any other upholstery cleaning system you can buy. We’re more expensive all right. Somewhat more expensive than buying just one of those machines. Far cheaper than buying all three. And you know about our reputation for building a long lasting machine.”
“That’s what people in the business say anyway.”
“Maintenance Digest says that on average our machines last almost twice as long as any competitive machine. And cost far less to use. And yes, because our cleaners do all those things, do them better and cheaper and at the same time last longer, we are slightly less reliable. According to that article you read in Consumer Reports, that means a breakdown every 10,004 hours rather than their Most Reliable, which broke down every 10,982 hours.”
“So that’s 900 extra worry-free hours with your competition’s machine.”
“Almost a thousand actually. But what Consumer Reports never realized was that our maintenance contract guarantees our machines will be up and running again within 24 hours. And as you told me yourself a moment ago, you’ve had never one of our competitors’ cleaners repaired in less than three days.”
“Usually it’s four or five,” he admits. “And sometimes I’ve got to ship the machines to them.”
“And our service people come to you, of course.”
“Always. And whenever necessary we provide loaner machines. So every 10,000 hours, one of our cleaners is down for a day—at the most. And every 11,000 hours, our most reliable competitor is down for three days—at the least. This is the kind of less reliable performance you can build your business around. That’s why we’re the brand that more professionals like you use to grow their businesses. That’s why there are over 3 million professional units in use today, and we’re selling them as fast as the factory can produce them.”
And this example isn’t some special case. You’ll find you can do this type of thing with the vast majority of the potential negatives you might find yourself facing.
Just One More Interchangeable Beauty Queen
Truth: Candor creates credibility.
We all want to be credible. But too frequently we’re afraid to be candid. That’s why candor can also set you apart from the selling herd, that horde of salespeople your prospects spend so much of their time fending off.
What happens when most salespeople walk in a prospect’s door? They’re dressed like a salesperson, they look like a salesperson, they’re carrying a salesperson’s case and/or laptop. Everything about them screams Salesperson! The prospect’s defenses go up quicker than air bag in a head-on collision. Then the salesperson starts talking like every other salesperson; the prospect’s suspicions are confirmed and those defenses get just that much more rigid.
“Get the hell out of here, we don’t want any,” a dry cleaner once yelled at a sales trainee and myself before we’d even gotten through the door.
“Of course you don’t want any,” I said, grabbing the arm of the trainee who was already backing out. “Who can blame you? But you need it. In fact, you have to have it. So get your checkbook out. It’s not cheap.” We hadn’t even mentioned what it was we were selling yet.
“And you’re on commission, right?”
“I’m not,” I said, then I pointed to my companion. “But he sure is. And the more you spend the more he makes. And if you give us a second here, he’s going tell you why need to be spending more—and making him a nice piece of change. And why you’re going to be delighted to do it.”
Right away we were different from every other salesperson that had walked in there that day or that week or ever. The dry cleaner obviously believed he had nothing to gain by listening to any of them. But if I’d turned on my heel and started to go, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t even have let us leave—at least not before he could find out why we were so confident, why we were so convinced he’d need our product that we could be so candid.
I once saw a movie on TV about the Miss Texas beauty pageant . I missed the first 15 minutes but I’d watched for a half an hour before it dawned on me that the woman the film was following through the pageant might actually be two separate women. And the only reason that occurred to me then was that she seemed to be practicing two different talents, one as a ventriloquist the other as an Irish dancer. It was 15 more minutes before I was certain it was two different women. That’s how close, how cookie cutter, at least to me, the women in that pageant were. A lot of people see salespeople the same way.
You walk in the door. You’re wearing a suit, you’re carrying a case, you smile ingratiatingly. Or you phone. There’s that pause while the predictive dialer makes the connection. Bingo! You’re a salesperson, not a human being, just a salesperson like all those other salespeople than they see, day after day after day. All pretending they only want to help. All paying lip service to customer service and consultatitve selling, but most far more concerned with walking away with the biggest possible sale. And a lot less interested in the customer after the sale than they were before.
And this guy, this prospect, doesn’t particularly trust salespeople. He might like some of them, but he doesn’t entirely trust them. And he doesn’t believe they have his best interests at heart. So anything you can do to separate yourself from that salesperson image is helpful.
There’s nothing wrong with being a salesperson. There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re a salesperson. In fact, saying you’re a salesperson rather than a Customer Service Advocate or a Marketing Consultant or a Small Business Advisor or any of the thousands of other euphemisms that companies come up with for their sales reps might be one way to differentiate yourself from the bulk of the salespeople most businesspeople and consumers encounter.
Don’t forget, I’m a commission salesperson. The more you spend, the more I make, Now let me tell you why you need to be spending more and making me more. I’ve told prospects that thousands of times. And every single time it ADDED to my credibility; it never detracted from it.
I was never ashamed to be a salesperson. I was never ashamed to be working on commission. What would I gain by acting like I was ashamed of either?
According to her business card, a friend of mine is a Hospitality and Heath Care Consultant. She sells janitorial supplies. I recently went shopping for a mattress and was amateurishly high-pressured by a woman whose card labeled her a Sleeping Systems and Solutions Specialist. I hope she was good at the systems and solutions because she certainly wasn’t much of a salesperson.
Prospects see a salesperson, they put up barriers. No matter what that person might call him or herself. Act like every other salesperson out there and you’re making it even harder to get those barriers lowered. And when it comes to lowering barriers and building trust, there’s nothing like a little truth. Hell, it might even get you elected Miss Texas.
Besides the first person you’ve got to sell—the most important person you’ve got to sell—is never going to stay sold unless the sale has been made with complete and total candor. The first and most important person you’ve got to sell is yourself.