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How NOT To Be Dismal at Sales and Why it Matters to You

business-card-1237833-640x512Today I’m going to share two stories to illustrate something that has been bugging me: bad sales people. I’m not just talking about ineffective sales people; I’m referring to flat-out irritating types who drive you to think of a host of uncomplimentary words as you high-tail it out of their store.

A Tale of Two Financial Advisors

My husband and I have never used a financial advisor since that profession’s overall success rates are somewhere between “dismal” and “no better than random”. However, I am willing to concede that every once in a while you find an example of an impressive advisor who serves his/her customers admirably, and by admirably I mean that they actually beat the market, otherwise why not just invest in index funds? They do exist out in the wild but they aren’t exactly thick on the ground.

John (not his real name) spent a good chunk of his career in the financial industry before deciding to become an advisor. He approached us to see if he could talk to us about our investment needs with the clear intention of becoming our advisor. We thanked him politely for thinking of us, wished him every success in his business and declined.

He kept at it. Emails: “I’m going to be in your area. Can I set a time to meet?” Again we declined.

Then more emails. Finally we said look, we just don’t have a need for a financial advisor for our personal investments. We’re doing well, we’re getting great returns and we’re on top of it. Thank you very much but no thanks.

He changed tack: “How about your business? What if I could show you ways that you can save on taxes for your business?” We pointed out that we already have a good accountant, but he insisted that he had some information that could make a significant different to us. This went on for a bit until I finally said to Mark, “This will never end until I give him 30 minutes to make his case and be done with it. If he has something interesting to say then fine. He does have a lengthy business background; maybe there is something to this. If not, it’s just 30 minutes.”

I’m going to make a long story short by summarizing the experience this way: He showed up, pulled out a binder with his generic, here’s-our-great-company-and-what-we-can-do-for-you spiel and he started in. I stopped him, reiterating that I was not interested in hearing about this because a) I’ve already sat through countless (mind-numbingly dull) presentations and have seen this all before; b) I already know all of the material that he was going to cover; c) this is not what I had bargained for; and d) we have no interest in talking about personal investments.

“I know, I’m getting to the part about your business. I just have to get through this first.”

“No you don’t. I told you that I’m just interested in discussing business.”

“Just one more minute please. There’s some important information here.”

He kept going. If it were possible to fire poison darts from my eyes he would have been a dead man. I couldn’t bring myself to throw the guy out of my house for being so utterly disrespectful, but I kept thinking about it. Then I played a game with myself to see how many social cues the guy could be oblivious to while remaining undeterred.

Slightly more than one hour later he wrapped up and asked if any part of the information was of interest.

“No.” There, I said it.

“So I’ve just wasted my time for the last hour?” Yes, he actually said that.

After I closed the door behind him I spent a long time pacing around my kitchen just to cool off. Can you believe that the guy had the audacity to suggest that I had wasted his time?! More uncomplimentary thoughts.

Now let’s switch gears and talk about another experience with a financial planner whom I’ll call Ian (not his real name). We were introduced at a business conference and during our fifteen minute conversation I found him completely engaging. Where John was over-eager and pushy, Ian was relaxed and confident; John was boastful whereas Ian was humble and low-key.

We ended up meeting in his office the following week to discuss some mutual business and not once during an hour-and-a-half-long discussion did he bring up the subject of my investments. We spoke about all manner of topics related to finances, yet there was never a moment when I felt that he was gunning for my business. His was an attitude of service, curiosity and exploration.

One week later I received a package with a book inside. The inscription inside the cover reads, “Doris, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. Ian” I had not asked him to send me the book; it had simply come up in our conversation about financial literature and he sent it as a favour to me because he thought I would enjoy it. He was right: it was a great read – and what a great gesture.

Every time I meet with Ian the experience is the same: I walk away thinking that he is knowledgeable, trustworthy and successful. When a friend called me to ask whom I would recommend as a financial advisor, I pointed him in Ian’s direction.

So what does it take to be good at sales?

First of all we need to understand what the purpose of selling is. It’s not about making a quota or upselling or finding the perfect pitch or figuring out how to close or mirroring your potential client or any other of the myriad tactics that are taught in courses on sales.

First and foremost, selling is about solving problems.

It’s not about you, the person selling, it’s about the person who has a challenge, need or desire. What exactly do they need? What are they looking for? Are they even looking for or open to potential solutions? What’s important to them? What are their fears and concerns? It is all about them.

The classic mistake that so many sales people make is that they show up and throw up. “Hey, look what I’ve got. It’s perfect for you!” How many times have we had someone talk at us about their wonderful service, product or widget without even taking the time to figure out what we are really looking for?

I see this when I go shopping for clothes and salespeople glom onto me the moment I walk in. When they find out what I’m looking for, say a blouse, they immediately pull stuff off the rack and tell me how great it would look on me. Never mind that they don’t know the first thing about me or my tastes or the fact that I couldn’t give two hoots what they think because they have not earned my trust and respect for their expertise.

I see this at networking events when people foist business cards in my hand two milliseconds after meeting me and then proceed to drone on and on about what they do and how awesome they are. Whatever happened to building a relationship first, even a trivial one, where people get to know a bit about each other before launching into a pitch? Back to my comment about not having earned my trust and respect yet.

peacock-1407785-639x482I experienced this after Malcolm died when well-intention-ed friends tried to hook me up with other men. The peacocks would spread their tail feathers and use the most outrageously bad come-on lines when all I wanted was to have an intelligent conversation first. As one friend put it, open the kimono just a little bit to start, don’t strip. Maybe I hate peacocks. How would you know unless you talk to me first?

In order to be good at sales, whether it’s selling a product, pitching yourself to a boss for a raise, asking for funding for a project or appealing to a potential mate, the approach is the same: Know your product cold (e.g. the features, the benefits, the pros and cons), spend the bulk of the time figuring out what the other person wants or needs and see if there is a fit between what you have to offer and what they’re looking for.

That’s it. No begging, no chasing and certainly no vomiting. Attract, don’t push.

And if most of your sentences start with “I think”, you’re doing it wrong. What you think is irrelevant.

Why should you care?

Everything we do involves an element of sales. If you have children, then you will know without a doubt that many interactions with them involve an element of salesmanship: Please eat your broccoli. Please clean your room. Please don’t pummel your sister. Don’t you have homework? It’s 20 below – you need a hat. The dog is not a toy.

If you’re still looking for a mate you are definitely involved in sales. Want to see this in action? Just read a few online dating profiles, though I’m not sure if that’s more fiction than sales.

Any man or woman who has tried to sell his/her spouse on a new toy/vacation/house has ventured into sales.

If you’ve ever asked for a raise or gone through a job interview, you’ve done a sales job.

When you change the focus from “I/me” to “them”, the dynamic changes and so do the results. Give it a try.

Now it’s your turn – please share some of the most memorable sales experiences that you’ve had when someone else was trying to sell you something. Good, bad or ugly, let’s hear it. Please share below.

Until next time, Survive, Thrive and Grow.

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3 Responses

  1. During my early 20’s I walked into a local car dealership, I was looking at buying a reasonable, entry level car, my extra’s maybe being air conditioning and cruise control. Here I was looking at a base model, sub compact car. I believe when the SALESperson approached me, he might have smiled, and perhaps said hello. His first question? “How much money do you make?” Irrelevant! I am all for asking questions, helping guide a client towards a solution that best fits his or her needs. A salesperson is there to facilitate the client decision making process, based on the client’s wants or needs. Perhaps start with some small talk, basic questions like if I have driven with a standard transmission etc.. “How much money do I make?” Really? Now, I was a young, starving student, and his question might have hit home. I felt like responding: “I don’t make a dime, my grandmother is buying me a graduation gift and offered to buy me any car of my choosing, she suggested an entry level BMW or Mercedes as she prefers quality European vehicles. I though however I would be responsible and reasonable and look in a basic price range. I believe that I will buy a basic car at first and wait for my multi-million dollar trust fund to kick in at age 25 before buying a luxury vehicle” I instead replied that I was just looking and left, It was 15 years before I walked into that brand’s dealership. I was a new account manager taking over the dealership’s account. I believe there are good car sales people out there. There are good and not so good folks in every occupation. Best way to find them is by asking your friends and family who they use.

    1. I’m stunned by the salesperson’s question. I can honestly say that I have never been asked point-blank how much I earn. I wonder if he had a short career in car sales? Thanks for the great story.

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