Sales is a part of business. Call it development, revenue generation, or anything really, but it boils down to someone or something bartering products or services for money or in trade in order to better the bottom line. We often have a negative association with “sales” because of the stereotypical “salesman” peddling used cars, appliances, or any other large ticket item. I have known thousands of sales people over the years. While some of them were that stereotypical salesperson, I find that stereotype to be the exception, not the rule. In fact, after many years of selling things and managing sales teams, the truth about the majority of salespeople is that rather than doing whatever they have to do to make the sale, they give up far too easily. Seriously, the worst thing they can say is “no.”
I consider myself a perpetual student. I’m always reading sales materials, listening to webinars, attending seminars, and generally trying to stay ahead of the game. Recently I had the misfortune of finding a piece that does one of the greatest disservices to us as salespeople: It gives us too many ways to take no for an answer. In all of my years selling, training salespeople, and managing sales teams, I have always found it very counter-intuitive to give salespeople any up-front reasons to abandon a sale. That’s the best way to ensure that salespeople will give up early and often.
In her book “Nonstop Sales Boom” author Colleen Francis lists her eight behavioral clues that supposedly demonstrate buyers who aren’t going to bite. This author is entitled to their opinion, and just because I happen to disagree does not make them wrong. I understand where they’re coming from, and I respect their position. Productivity, as a salesperson, should always be fiercely protected. It is our productivity that makes us money. But we must not sacrifice our tenacity and determination in the name of productivity when what we are actually doing is listing excuses that make us feel better about just taking no for an answer. I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but the majority of my sales training in various industries treated this as a cardinal sin. As you can see, the book is incredibly well reviewed on Amazon. I don’t doubt the validity of much of the advice in the book, but I have a problem with quantifying “the best ways to give up.”
The Quest to Save Time
Time is a precious resource for us as salespeople. Everything we do takes time – prospecting, qualifying, cold calling, presenting, closing, all of it can be incredibly time consuming. The urge to trim the sales process is strong. The more time we can save during one phase the more time we can spend on another, more valuable phase. There’s a trap in there though: once we decide one lead isn’t worth developing or one prospect isn’t worth calling again, we’ve set a precedent for ourselves. We will now find it increasingly easy to dismiss potential sales as “not worth it.” That’s a slippery slope that can lead to a lot of missed opportunities. Francis refers to these prospects as “Buyers who will not bite.” I accept that these buyers exist. We will never close every sale we attempt, and there is wisdom in knowing when to walk away, but throwing in the towel too easily is worse than being the salesperson that never knows when to walk away. We constantly balance these two extremes in an attempt to build relationships – or at least we should. So I have come up with counter points to the 8 behaviors that Francis listed in the book.
Supposedly, if a buyer exhibits these traits, they should be abandoned. What follows are those behaviors and my reasoning for not abandoning the leads.
1) They demand to talk about price right away.
“Prospects who ask about price early have already made up their mind to buy from someone else,”
This reads like a textbook cop out response. If a prospect wants to discuss price up front, that could mean they are price conscious, market savvy, suspicious of the product/service, or just plain cheap. Price consciousness is no reason to let go of a prospect. How you overcome this very common objection can show your mettle as a salesperson. Give the prospect enough benefits so that they no longer care about the price. If your product costs more than comparable products, don’t sell it on price, explain why your product is worth the higher price.
2) They insist you work around their schedule.
“If a prospect is only willing to give you a very specific and brief window of their time, you are being used at the last minute to justify a purchase decision for another product”
Depending on their insistence this could just be a tactic to see if you will accommodate them instead of inconveniencing them. Often, if you jump through a few hoops a prospect will be more likely to respond positively. Simply writing them off because they value their time and want you to do the same is a good way to just plain lose a sale. Sure, be reasonable with the amount and types of hoops you’ll jump through (you don’t want to be used) but be willing to go a little extra and it will usually pay off. This is what I meant by “building relationships.”
3) They won’t give you their budget.
“Prospects who refuse to talk about their budget are either playing games, are not serious prospects, or do not have the power to buy. And none of those scenarios will result in a sale.”
On the flip side of this, is any sales person that refuses to disclose their actual cost just playing games? Be reasonable – anyone that keeps their budgets to themselves could very well have a perfectly good reason for it. Your job as a salesperson is to find a way to fit into their budget by outlining the benefits and making your product irresistible, not by shrinking away because they won’t divulge what some view as proprietary information. Just because you want to know something doesn’t give you the right to know it.
4) They won’t introduce you to any additional stakeholders.
It’s hard to garner support if your prospect won’t let you talk to anyone else at their organization. This is a sign that the buyer doesn’t trust you, and therefore, won’t buy from you.
I see the merits in this way of thinking – if the top dog doesn’t want you, move on. BUT. If the top dog doesn’t want you, that just means they don’t want you now. Take some time to cultivate and nurture a relationship with those around the top dog (if not the top dog themselves!) and ingratiate yourself with the prospect. Gain the trust of those that the top dog trusts and you will be launching from a firmer position. Find a way to get referrals to the top dog from common clients or partners. Don’t just give up because someone said no in a creative way. Again, be careful of time management here, but don’t just give up. Remember relationship building!
5) They already work with a supplier that can provide the same thing as you.
If the buyer already works with a vendor that sells what you sell, why do they want a proposal from you? Probably so they can force their supplier’s hand on price. Beware.
This is nothing but opportunity and it has potential sale written all over it. Don’t jump to be the best on price, jump to have the best benefits and advantages. This is an important distinction that many salespeople fail to differentiate, and it can easily make one look like an expert or a used car salesperson, depending on how it is handled. I always recommend that salespeople use the “Yes, and?” method of determining benefits and advantages. Features are boring and printed on the side of every box. Every time you notice yourself giving a feature (e.g. multi-speed windshield wipers come standard) think to yourself “Yes, and?” to prompt the benefit or advantage (e.g. less wear and tear during light rains or slower speeds) that goes along with that feature. Features are just a description of what a product does. Benefits and advantages tell a prospect why a product is better. If a feature has no benefit immediately associated with it, don’t mention it. If price is the only concern, you might have undersold the product. Sell on value with advantages and benefits instead of selling on cost with just the price.
6) They totally fall off the map.
Once you’ve established a relationship with a buyer, they will keep it going if they’re serious. Prospects who talk for a while but then go silent probably aren’t going to suddenly resurface. Whether that’s because they decided to abandon the project or go with another supplier is irrelevant; what’s important to remember is “absence doesn’t make the buyer grow fonder.”
This is all true. But it is no excuse to walk away from a prospect. Prospects that play hard to get are frustrating and time consuming, so it is important to know when to budget your time spent tracking them down, but don’t give up on them. The salesperson that took one extra step closed that sale after you had decided they weren’t worth the effort.
7) They can’t answer these three questions.
If these questions are met with an “I don’t know” then disqualify the prospect.
1. What does success look like with this project?
2. Who else will be involved in this decision?
3. When do you need to have this project done by?
There’s validity in this piece of advice. If a contact doesn’t have the right information, then they aren’t the right contact. Don’t abandon the prospect because you got a bad contact though. Find out through conversations who the correct contact is. Develop a relationship with that wrong contact so that when you get to the right contact the prospect will already have a pleasant taste of you as a salesperson. There’s that “relationship building” thing again.
8) They put you off again and again … and again.
Call me back later is really a camouflaged no. Prospects who keep punting meetings or calls to later and later dates are probably just hoping you’ll get the hint. Take it and move on.
This just reeks of complacency. Sure, 13 “NOs!” in a row is discouraging and disheartening, but what if the 14th call was the “YES!” and you threw your hands up at 13? There comes a point where you have to increase the time between touch points, but try not to let difficult prospects slide into the “never again” pile too easily. Someone else will happily make the 14th call if you won’t. Remember what I said about setting a precedent of giving up. As soon as you give up once, it will become increasingly easy to give up again.
Overall, being a salesperson is about achieving balance, building relationships, and closing sales. We’re not measured by how nice or accommodating we were to a prospect. We are measured by the dollars we generate and the number of sales we close. In doing that we need to make sure we are not letting perfectly good prospects go by the wayside because it took more effort to close or convert them. On the other hand, we cannot mistake stubbornness for tenacity. Being stubborn leads us to waste time, but tenacity leads us to make good use of our time. So make the best use of your time – develop relationships – build rapport – present benefits – sell on value vs. cost – and close deals. As I’ve already said: the worst thing they can say is “no.” At that point, you know it’s time to move on. At least for now.
When I first wrote this, it appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on January 8th, 2015. I have updated it for the version that appears here.
Find me on twitter @RiverCityPauly or on LinkedIn at PaulBlakeley