I’m looking for someone. He’ll be mid to late 40s by now, balding and slightly overweight. Smells faintly of booze, enjoys letting his gaze linger on the bottoms of passing females, and has at least entertained the possibility of owning a Ford Probe. He’s faced a lifetime of rejection, interspersed by occasional glimmers of acceptance that have converted into financial reward; subsequently exchanged for ill-fitting suits and a casual drug habit. Probably. While he certainly isn’t representative of IT salespeople today, he was all too common back then. We need to find him to stop him doing himself any more harm.
Selling – as easy as ABC…
It was the year 2000 and my first big Christmas networking function as a wet-behind-the-ears PR exec. Anxious to introduce myself to journalists (in the vain hope of establishing enough of a rapport that they’d publish my stories/talk to my clients) I stumbled across this sales guy and his colleague. Their names have been changed.
Me: “Hi, I’m David”
Sales Guy: “Hi. Alistair; this is the lovely Sandra…”
Me: “Hi there, wow it’s busy in here!”
Sales Guy: “Yeah it is. And…?”
Me: “So, er… are you a journalist?”
Sales Guy: “I cannot f—king believe this! Hey Sandra, this kid has come up to talk to me and hasn’t even got his business card out for me yet!”
He plainly wasn’t a journalist – I learn later that he sells kit for an IT equipment company and Sandra is the account manager at the PR agency his firm uses. Alistair clearly though I was trying to sell to him, when in fact nothing could have been further from my mind. In any case, I’d clocked him as a monumental arse. It isn’t his fault. He’d clearly been brutalised by a sales environment so macho that he felt it necessary to impose himself like a urinating skunk. Eager to spar, he’d all but demanded my business card but, despite the conspicuously enormous stack of newly printed ones in my pocket, I wasn’t about to actually apologise (in true British style) and present him with it. So we continued our awkward tête-à-tête:
Me: “Oh well… er… how are you guys doing for a drink?”
Sales Guy: “Seriously – are you not going to give me your business card? He’s not giving me a f__king business card Sandra!”
Me: “Well, I…”
Sales Guy: “This is f__king classic – too late mate, I’m not interested. Bye!”
Sandra: “Aww Alistair, c’mon he’s only being friendly…”
Me: “Look guys, I hope you have a nice party and everything… I’m going now…”
As I moved to withdraw, Alistair took my arm and leant in to impart a brotherly, conspiratorial piece of advice: “ABC, mate – yeah? ABC…? First rule of sales: Always. Be. Closing.”
So I feigned politeness before retiring to the toilets to scour every trace of Alistair off my skin, from my ears and out the back of my retinas.
‘Alistair’ represents the abundant lack of sophistication that lurks in the darkest recesses of the worst salespeople. It isn’t just that he’s rude and boorish. It’s that he can’t possibly hope to win with any buyer that he can’t successfully bully, or who isn’t at least as ignorant as him. Despite apparent confidence and expertise in the matter, he shows how people like this understand nothing about how the process of selling works. In case you’re wondering, a full-on sales hammering on a cold prospect is a sure-fire way to fail.
To me, organisations must recognise two universal principles:
- People do not like being sold to
- Customer requirements, preferences and decisions need time to arrive at
Do you like being sold to?
Another, less abrasive attribute that marks ‘Alistair’ out as a particular breed of salesperson is his professed delight at being sold to. I’ve encountered this many times in my career, and it would be dangerously unfair to characterise all people with this view as being knuckle-scrapers like Alistair. I assume/hope that the reason for this state-of-mind is wariness. By being totally cognisant that you are the target of a cold sales pitch, you can guard against it, or even study it from a position of safety. Ergo, they enjoy being sold to in much the same way as some people enjoy goading the animals at the zoo, from a secure vantage point behind three inches of toughened perspex.
For everyone else, here are several reasons why ‘enjoying being sold to’ (i.e. in a ‘cold’ or unsolicited scenario) is either a lie, or symptomatic of some kind of underlying personality disorder:
Being sold to makes the buyer feel stupid
The process of being sold to is essentially a reasoning framework. The salesperson learns about your situation (or has intelligence about it already) and then applies reasoning to why buying their product or service promises a positive resolution. The entire premise for being sold to is therefore: you can’t adequately reason for yourself.
Being sold to is like being tricked
You’ve spotted that you’re being sold to, and sirens are blaring in your head that say: “This person wants my money.” But watch the very best salespeople at work and you can’t tell they are ‘selling’. This explains their success: if people could better experience the sensation of being sold to then they would buy less. Therefore, being sold to is unpleasant.
Being sold to invites faster decisions than you need to make right now
As Alistair points out, the real skill of salespeople is often around ‘closing’. They might be given a ‘sales lead’ that is highly qualified and engaged, and their job is to engage with that lead and provide whatever support necessary to make it into revenue. In this instance, all of the ‘selling’ is around timing, and the timing is very transparently chosen to benefit the seller. As a buyer, if you want to take your time, then you should.
If I wanted this, I’d be calling you (not the other way around)
Consumer rights programmes like Watchdog are full of stories about vulnerable pensioners who suddenly find themselves burdened with a £20k conservatory/loft extension/insurance product that they didn’t actually want or need. If they weren’t vulnerable to succumbing to sales pitches (I’m not talking about unscrupulous criminals here; just everyday salespeople) then they wouldn’t have these problems. We live in a day and age where all the information you need about everything that’s available to procure is just a click away. You can lead a successful life and career without ever ‘missing out’ on the opportunities presented to you by someone contacting you and trying to sell you something.
No – being sold to is not nice. But plenty of organisations do a fantastic job of engaging existing and prospective customers in their products, their philosophy and their value. They can’t achieve this by going after their leads like a bull in a china shop.
Nurturing pays dividends
Great salespeople are valuable assets to their organisations, and each of them already knows all of this. The conclusion I’m driving at is a patient and purposeful approach to marketing. Not quite slow marketing perhaps, but certainly a methodology that accepts the distaste that buyers feel for the sales process, and the importance of positioning content and insight of genuine value as part of a ‘nurturing’ process.
Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about what this actually means. I’ve made sure I’ve got plenty of business cards lying around just in case, though I’m reserving one of them for a special someone…