How NOT to do Sales, Part 1

No Family PhotosHow often do  you get the chance to benchmark yourself against another salesperson selling to one of your prospective customers?

In the late 1990’s I visited the University of Cincinnati for a couple of days to demonstrate some equipment to one of the scientists there.

Apart from not winning the order, the abiding memory of the trip was a lesson in ‘how not to do sales’.

I was setting up my system prior to the demonstration – about half a day’s work – and had been getting on pretty well with the guy I was visiting.  We were roughly the same age and came from roughly the same sort of background, although I’m British and he’s American. Anyway, we just hit it off straight away.

About mid-morning, another (American) sales guy rolls up for his appointment.  He’s probably a good 10 years older than us, maybe more.  The scientist asks me if I mind him seeing this other sales guy.  Of course I don’t – he’s not a competitor, I’m going to be busy for a couple of hours and, as they are just across the lab, I can keep half an ear open to what’s going on.  Always benchmark when you can!

It soon becomes apparent that the scientist either is or has been an existing customer of the other guy’s company and the purpose of the visit is to sell him some more stuff – gloveboxes or some such piece of lab equipment.

Where it starts going wrong

The sales guy trots out his prepared pitch which bounces off the scientist like he’s armour-plated. My alarm bells start ringing right there. OK, so I’m in sales, which might give me a slight advantage in recognising a pitch, but this just sounded too slick. The words flowed without any indication that they had passed through the brain before emerging from the mouth.

The scientist fires some questions at the sales guy who comes back with boilerplate answers that really don’t address the issues from the other side. Second alarm bell: “dude, you’re just not listening to the questions. Give the man the answers he wants, not the ones you think he should have.”

As the meeting goes on it’s clear (to me, at least) that the scientist is rapidly losing interest and patience and the sales guy is getting more desperate as nothing is sticking.

In a final act of desperation, as he is being ushered out of the door, the sales guy whips out his wallet and gets out pictures of his kids and attempts to engage in a conversation about family! I nearly sprayed my coffee across the lab.

Sales guy despatched, the scientist comes back into the lab.  “Neil, let me give you one piece of advice.  Never, ever attempt that sort of BS ‘family photos’ trick.  It may have worked 30 years ago but it just doesn’t cut it any more.  I won’t be buying anything from him.”

Lessons learned?

By the American sales guy – none at all, I suspect, apart from he lost an existing customer and didn’t know why.

By me at the time – Listen to what your customer is saying, how he says it and adapt your selling approach to match your buyer.

Over the intervening years it’s become more and more obvious to me that it’s NEVER about you, your products or your process; it’s ALWAYS about the buyer.

Yes, they may have a need to buy something to solve a problem. Reality check – they don’t need to buy it from you anywhere near as strongly as you want to sell it to them.

I guess the key lesson in ‘how not to do sales’ was this:

Don’t ever rely on ‘we’ve always done it this way’ because when the world changes, you’re sunk. Always be learning.

To put a different spin on that tired sales cliché – A B C – Always Be Changing. If you aren’t changing, you’re standing still and if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.

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