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Selling Differently, Part II

By Cathy Jackson, Sales Coach, Sales Champions

This article is the second of a two-part series. To review part one, click here.

In the first of this two-part special feature we looked at the background and scientific research that has proven without a doubt that the most authentic predictor of sales success is “the number of contacts initiated with prospective buyers on a consistent basis.” All of you “solution sellers” are probably having a hard time allowing yourself to believe this. After all, we have spent the last decade learning how to use “consultative selling” to improve sales performance. But before you get a chance to sell your solutions, you’ve got to be able to initiate contact with your prospects. In this second part, we’ll take a closer look at the hidden emotional barriers that undermine your ability to build a consistent pipeline of potential buyers.

Last month we introduced you to the psychology behind self-limiting behaviors that keep you and your sales organization from making your numbers and filling your sales pipeline. If you have allowed yourself to believe the evidence behind the 30-year research by George W. Dudley and Shannon L. Goodson, then you are ready to confront the twelve faces of “sales call reluctance®.” I will also introduce you to some of the countermeasures that can counteract behaviors that may be slowing your sales and constraining your ability to act. If you keep doing the same thing, you will continue to have the same results. Here’s something that you can do differently next year to grow your business and compete more effectively for limited dollars available to purchase high-tech products?

In the first part of this series, I gave you the background and painted the picture of what sales call reluctance is and where it originates. Now let’s discover how you can put this valuable insight to work and make this selling season the best you’ve ever had, and more importantly, put your sales career on a powerful trajectory.

Confronting the Enemy
When the fear of self-promotion attaches itself to people in the sales profession, it imposes an artificially low ceiling on prospecting activity and this limits the bottom line, even for sales people who think they are doing great. It goes on in the background, sometimes without us really tuning in. It’s an emotional short-circuit in an otherwise motivated and goal-directed person.

Call reluctance isn’t a one-dimensional trait like “shyness” or “timidity.” Some refer to it as the “fear of rejection” or “fear of failure.” These are designer labels given to behaviors that are more complex. Under the mounting evidence of the complexity of call reluctance, the researchers identified 12 types and as their research continues there may be more.

Four keys unlock the door to emotional freedom from prospecting apprehension and they are start with “A.” They are:

  • Admit – Allow yourself to ask, “what emotional barriers are restricting me and/or my sales team from initiating contacts sufficiently to support our sales goals?”
  • Awareness – Learn what sales call reluctance is and what you can do to predict, prevent, diagnose, and overcome it.
  • Assess – Measure your sales call reluctance scale
  • Apply – Apply countermeasures that can eliminate and manage non-productive behaviors caused by sales call reluctance.Sales Call Reluctance® Types
    To help you understand call reluctance types, I have described those types that occur the most frequently in sales professionals in the high-tech market. These types were developed from scientific research over thirty years. The SPQ*Gold: Sales Call Reluctance Scale is the instrument used to measure call reluctance types.

    This instrument is also used to measure motivation and goal orientation. Think of motivation as the amount of energy available for prospecting and goals as the target that the energy is plugging into. Without sufficient motivation (or energy) to prospect you may not have a call reluctance problem but a “motivation” problem that needs addressing first. If you don’t have clear and focused prospecting goals then your motivation gets diverted to “coping” with prospecting instead of actually prospecting.

    Our researchers like to tell the story of a major sales presentation they made to a large company. Being an Over-preparer Call Reluctance type, George spent many hours preparing a 90-minute presentation with featured facts, figures, charts, statistics, endorsement letters, some anecdotes, and one unreliable joke. Early into the presentation the customer asked, “what do I have to do to get started using some of these today” “who do I write the check to.” Seemingly unaware that he could make the close, George continued. Finally, at a break, Shannon tells George that the customer is ready to buy now and that if he continued they might lose the sale. Emotionally stiffening for a fight, George exclaims, “I spent 14 hours learning this presentation and this guy is going to hear it.” Sound like anybody you know?

    This type of call reluctance behavior over-analyzes and under acts. Sales presentations tend to stress information and is product-oriented while neglecting emotion. The sales professional with this type of call reluctance will spend more time getting ready to prospect and burn up available energy and have none left over to actually prospect. A learned behavior and most frequent in technical sales people, this type of call reluctance is preventable and correctable.

    Dressing for success and managing your image to customers is no doubt an attribute to sales success. But for salespeople with Hyper-Pro Call Reluctance, being overly concerned with how you look and speak, your knowledge, and with the image that others have of you ceases being instrumental and starts to interfere. It drains energy earmarked for prospecting and becomes an end in itself. To a Hyper-Pro, most prospecting is inconsistent with the image they project, so it’s emotionally impossible. I worked with a salesperson that felt he couldn’t call on the executives of prospective buyers unless he had an executive title like Vice President. He actually had business cards (and paid for himself) printed with that title. If you are reading this and suspect that you might have Hyper-Pro characteristics, then ask yourself, “is your image more important than your career?” The outlook for this type of call reluctance depends entirely upon self-responsibility. If you are able to admit to yourself that you have call reluctance, then the outlook is bright. This is the fifth most frequently occurring type of call reluctance and found among sales managers and consultants.

    Most technology salespeople will have to present or demonstrate their products and services to prospective buyers. The format may be one-on-one demonstrations or presentations to groups of prospects. If you have Stage Fright Call Reluctance, you may be uncomfortable speaking in front of clients, one-on-one, small groups, or large groups. Avoiding opportunities to present, can limit the types of prospecting you can do. For example, you may totally avoid seminar selling or doing theatre presentations at tradeshows. A learned behavior, this form of call reluctance is the easiest form to correct.

    Walking through a tradeshow exhibit floor, I picked up business cards from the staffers doing booth duty. The titles on these cards revealed a common theme among high-tech companies. That theme is related to Role Rejection Call Reluctance and occurs when a salesperson is intellectually willing, but emotionally unable to accept a career in sales. Afflicted with this type of call reluctance, a salesperson may be unaware of the problem except for the nagging feeling that he or she should be considering a career change. These salespeople are hiding the negative beliefs that salespeople are just peddlers, sales is dishonorable, and they are disappointments to family and friends. What I saw on the collected business cards, were deflected titles such as; sales engineer, document management analyst, marketing associate, technical consultant, sales consultant. I commend those companies (which were very few) that actually had a “sales representative.” Sown early in life, this type of call reluctance is learned and easy to correct.

    The Yielder Call Reluctance type has difficulty asserting themselves particularly when it comes to prospecting and is a blood cousin to “close reluctance.” This behavior is afraid to incite conflict or risk losing approval. Always tentative, they are unwilling to appear pushy or to seem intrusive. They don’t want to bother the busy, disturb the indisposed, or interrupt the otherwise engaged. They are always waiting for the “right” time, the “right” circumstance to prospect. There is a hereditary component to this type of call reluctance but with appropriate training procedures, it has a positive outlook. It is ranked number one in frequencies of occurrence among sales professionals. (On a personal observation of my own call reluctance, I feel being raised in the south is ground zero for this type of call reluctance!)

    If you are planning to reach higher in the decision-making hierarchy to catapult sales in 2004, then assess the level of Social Self-Consciousness Call Reluctance in your sales team. Typically, Socially Self-Consciousness salespeople shun prospects with wealth, prestige, power, education, or social standing. Your salespeople may do great calling on the IT manager or department head, but freeze if they are to make contact higher up in the executive team. When a company shifts marketing emphasis to the board room, or when purchasing decisions for a product or service are made at high organizational levels, or when educated, professional people constitute the prime market for a product or service, Social Self-Consciousness Call Reluctance can be lethal to a sales career. If detected early and the proper training provided it is a relatively easy form of call reluctance to correct.

    How many of you sell a product or service that could be used by a friend or family member? I can hear your answer now. Nada. Zippo. Zero. What most of you are saying is that I don’t sell a product that could be used by a family member so this type of call reluctance doesn’t apply to me. Two of the most common types of call reluctance are Separationist and Emotionally Unemancipated. Separationist Call Reluctance types believes that selling to friends is exploitive, and would never prospect to friends. Emotionally Unemancipated Call Reluctance types feel the same way when it comes to selling to family members. Maybe friends and family are not potential customers for your products and services but have you ever considered that they may know other people who could open a door for you. Have you ever really described what you do and told your friends and family what a good lead would look like to you? Give that some thought. This behavior is learned and easy to correct.

    The sales world we live in today has tight or non-existent travel budgets and the use of technology is replacing face-to-face sales calls. Sales professionals with Telephobia Call Reluctance types are struggling to get to work every day. I have known salespeople who would rather hop on a plane to follow-up on dubious sales leads then use a telephone to prospect. It’s not about knowing how to prospect on the phone or what to say. It’s about feeling comfortable enough to do it. One negative episode for prospecting purposes is all it could take to stigmatize your phone. Did you ever call someone for a date and get rejected? This one isolated event is enough to cause severe Telephobia when using the phone for sales prospecting. A learned behavior, it can be corrected once a serious commitment is made and serious measures are used.

    Most salespeople will tell you that the best lead and route to increased sales is getting a referral from a customer. Salespeople with Referral Aversion Call Reluctance types are losing out because they don’t want to jeopardize the relationships with clients by asking for a referral. Millions of dollars go to the competition because of the reluctance to take this one small step toward your next sale. I think most of you would agree that your customers expect you to ask for referrals and would gladly endorse you and your products, if asked. Sales professionals afflicted with Referral Aversion call reluctance find this too distressful and will avoid asking for referrals at all cost. The behavior is learned and could originate with one unexpected and discourteous reply. With proper diagnosis and training, it is easily corrected.

    The Remedies
    Now that you have allowed yourself to at least become aware of sales call reluctance types you may be curious. Given that you did identify with any of the types, what can you do to eliminate these barriers and boost your sales performance.

    I will introduce you to some of the countermeasures that have been field-tested and work when you actually practice them. It’s important to note that thinking about doing the work is not the same as doing the work. It’s also important that you not try to understand why and how these techniques work–just do it.

    There are two categories of countermeasures: word-based and mechanical. Several techniques under each category work with specific types of call reluctance. I will share with you one word-based procedure and one mechanical procedure that can be used with all types of call reluctance.

    Word Based
    Word-based procedures depend on words and self-persuasion. You will have to talk yourself into doing what we want to do.

    I’ll start with Thought Realignment. Although this procedure may be less effective for combating call reluctance, it may be more familiar to you than some of the other techniques. It’s best suited for preventing call reluctance.

    The principle behind Thought Realignment is this:

    What you SAY…influences what you FEEL…which alters what you DO. So, if you want to change what you DO… modify what you FEEL…by altering what you SAY.

    Can you remember a time when prospecting that you talked yourself out of making a call? A Yielder call reluctance type may hesitate to make the call if they had just tried making contact two days before. Maybe you were going to ask a customer for a referral and then decided to wait a little while longer to make sure the implementation went well. You have your prospect list in front of you and before you start calling you decide you must know what’s going on in the account first. The Overpreparer in you starts searching the entire Internet for news about this customer. Without realizing it, you look at the time and it’s 11:45. You say to yourself that it’s too close to lunchtime and nobody will be around. You’ll start right after lunch.

    Okay, to change the above scenarios, you have to change your self-talk. There are two types of self-talk; goal supporting and goal obstructing. Goal supporting self-talk uses statements like “I want to…” “I’d prefer to…” “It would be better if… This kind of self-talk doesn’t put undue pressure on you to achieve perfection every time. Goal obstructing sounds like, “I’d better…” “I can’t…” “I have to…” These statements set up undesirable imagined consequences if not met. This kind of self-talk is obstructive because it can divert your energy away from prospecting and into coping with the imagined consequences of failure.

    To give you an example of how this works, let’s take the Yielder scenario above. Using goal supporting self talk, the Yielder could say, “I know I just called this prospect two days ago and I’m sure he has been very busy and didn’t get a chance to return the call. He will be glad that I am diligence in trying to reach him.” Our Yielder changed what he said to himself which changed how he felt about making the call that changed what he did. He made the call.

    If your sales call reluctance personal prescription includes Thought Realignment, you’ll use a simple worksheet to keep a daily log of where you are and what you’re doing whenever call reluctance strikes. You’ll write down what you hear yourself say this prospecting situation means to you. It’s important to learn to listen to your self-talk themes. The technique also requires that you challenge the validity of your self-talk. Ask yourself these three clearing questions:

    1. Is there proof this has to be a frightening situation?
    2. Can you prove that making a phone call (giving a speech, asking for a referral, etc.) requires you to be afraid?
    3. Do I have to feel the fear right now?

    Mechanical procedures work whether you understand or agree with them. They are more powerful than word-based techniques because they are powered by “brain wiring.”

    Most call reluctance is a habit-level behavior. A habit is a “learned automatic sequence of behavior.” Like remembering the feelings stirred by an old song or how it feels to bite into a lemon, you don’t think about your negative reactions to prospecting. They’re automatic. Mechanical procedures work by attacking the automatic stimulus-response sequence.

    The mechanical technique, Thought Zapping can be used to prevent and correct all types of call reluctance and if the procedure is applied and practiced, has immediate results.

    Here are the six steps for Thought Zapping:

    1. List your negative intruders: These are the goal-obstructing thoughts you experience about prospecting.
    2. Identify emotional reactions: These are your energy leaks, the physical and emotional responses you experience. For example, refilling your coffee cup, or feelings of irritation.
    3. Establish a base rate for intruders: This means that for three days, you’re simply going to count how many times negative feelings intrude on your prospecting activity.
    4. Zap to interrupt: Once you begin, it’s important to zap yourself every time a negative thought intrudes on your prospecting. (Wear a thick rubber band on your wrist and zap the top of your wrist.)
    5. Insert substitute: Replace the negative thought with a positive image. It can be a reward you hope to obtain, or simply a word of encouragement.
    6. Measure your progress: After zapping yourself consistently for a few days, count how many times your negative intruders occur now. Most people find that as thoughts that are more positive begin to take hold, the old negative thoughts decrease in frequency.

    That decrease represents recovered Motivation: energy that had been diverted to coping but is now available for prospecting. Used correctly, Thought Zapping can actually provide a measurable increase in available prospecting power. Would that help you to move closer to making your sales goals and filling your pipeline for 2004?

    Straight from the Heart
    I have been selling for almost 25 years. I have been successful, won awards, made money, and advanced up the corporate executive ladder. During all this time, sales call reluctance hovered over me like a buzzing mosquito biting without warning. My escape route from call reluctance was through management. I had the best sales training and mentors but nothing touched the core of selling–that is being able to comfortably initiate contact on a consistent basis with prospective buyers. A lot of salespeople will continue to hide, deny, and suppress their call reluctance fears. For those who will allow themselves to open their minds and to admit to the possibility that call reluctance may be limiting their ability to achieve sales performance (and do something about it), 2004 will no doubt be a stellar sales year.

    Good Selling!



Selling Differently

By Cathy Jackson, Sales Coach, Sales Champions

You may already be thinking about the outlook for your sales this year. If you’ve been reading the paper or watching the news, one thing is for sure. This year will be at least as tight as last year, maybe tighter when it comes to your customer’s technology budgets. So, what’s your plan? What will you do differently this year to grow your business and compete more effectively for limited dollars available to purchase your products and services?

One strategy is to sell higher. Deep cuts in spending budgets may have forced more buying decisions to the executive office of your customers. But selling to senior-level executives can be intimidating to a lot of sales people. That’s why now is the ideal time to turn your attention to this two-part feature about a critical matter that is only recently being addressed– emotional barriers that slow you down and constrain your ability to take action. It’s the psychology behind catapulting your sales this year.

In this first of two special features on this fascinating topic, I’ll give you the background and paint the picture. Then in the second part of the article, you’ll discover how you can put this valuable insight to work and make this selling season the best you’ve ever had, and more importantly, put your sales career on a powerful trajectory.

Your Pipeline is Your Sales Lifeline
Your company no doubt invests in marketing programs, product development, and training your sales organization about your products and services. But, what have you done to assess and address barriers that may be limiting your sales team’s ability to initiate contact with the high-level decision-makers who increasingly sign off on deals for a wide range of technology? Maybe you don’t even know such barriers exist – but the latest research has shown that these barriers do exist and in some cases are crippling sales organizations without them recognizing the problem or understanding why… believe me when I tell you, your sales organization is not exempt!

Here’s the bottom line: prospecting is the oxygen, it’s the life of your business that feeds a steady flow of future buyers into your sales pipeline. Companies where emphasis is placed on consistent prospecting by the sales organization are growing at a faster rate than those who don’t. But most organizations simply do not have the pipeline to support the growth they expect (or could achieve) and are surprised when the numbers come up short. Simply putting an emphasis on it (a.k.a. “turning up the heat on the sales team”) is not enough, especially since the go-go days are over and there isn’t room for slack in our business practices anymore. Research on this phenomenon is now being taken seriously.

Thirty years ago two behavioral scientists, George W. Dudley and Shannon L.Goodson, set out to discover why some sales professionals excel in prospecting while others plateau. They studied the behavior of sales people in a variety of industries. They wanted to explain an observation, as scientists do, and the question was this: If after hundreds of books written, sales training courses, and gurus all espousing the “secrets of success,” then why were sales professionals still not succeeding in their chosen career? This research yielded an internationally best-selling book, “The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance®“.

After reviewing the statistics, George and Shannon discovered the primary difference between top-performing sales professionals and those whose productivity was mediocre. What they found was not new– certainly not “rocket science”—but it was finally scientifically proven. The indisputable formula for sales success seems obvious, but elusive: the greater the number of contacts initiated with prospective buyers on a consistent basis the greater the performance. That’s it! Top-performing sales professionals have more sales because they have more decision-makers to sell to. Sounds overly simplistic, doesn’t it? But in fact, it’s not, because the human psyche gets in the way of taking action to correct something this basic and even prevents us from seeing it.

Emotional Barriers Get in the Way of Every Sales Professional
Most sales professionals know they need more prospects – people who can make buying decisions. But the research shows even good sales people don’t, won’t, or can’t prospect with the right people sufficiently to achieve top performance. Nearly all salespeople are in denial about this proven situation. But if you sell to technology buyers (or if you manage a sales team or any sales channel that is supposed to be doing this) a shortage of real prospects – the executives who make the decisions—is almost surely having a negative impact on your sales. Do you know how much or why? Probably not. Though many theories (and excuses) are often offered by sales people to justify their performance, research has revealed the truth.

When the fear of self-promotion attaches itself to people in the sales profession, it imposes an artificially low ceiling on prospecting activity and this limits the bottom line, even for sales people who think they are doing great. It goes on in the background, sometimes without us really tuning in. It’s an emotional short-circuit in an otherwise motivated and goal-directed person. Importantly, we are not just talking about the slackers. Emotional barriers are the cause of more than 80% of new sales professionals leaving the profession within their first year and 40% of tenured sales professionals to leave – even while they are achieving their sales targets. The emotional burden often becomes heavier than the financial rewards.

Being behavioral scientists, of course, the researchers dug deeper to see what caused this emotional interference in talented and knowledgeable salespeople. This involved collecting thousands of data points and conducting years of study of different people in many selling situations. The outcome? They identified and categorized twelve types of emotional barriers. Each type is characterized by human responses that limit almost every salesperson’s ability to prospect. And the good news is, after an assessment, salespeople could be made aware of their specific areas for improvement, and countermeasures applied to the non-productive behaviors. In other words, there is effective treatment to reduce emotional barriers – sales call reluctance – that keep even talented, top-performing professionals from reaching their full potential.

The Mirroring Effect
I sold software solutions for almost twenty years, and did very well by every measure in every organization I served. I was always a top performer. I even climbed to the position of VP of Sales and Marketing for the software company I worked for most recently. I took my job very seriously, and while I was considered one of the best salespeople and managers around, throughout my sales management career, I continuously looked for the newest and latest sales skills training to improve my own and my sales teams’ performance.

In the nineties, I embraced relationship and consultative sales methods that were all the rage at the time. I trained my sales reps and incorporated this selling style into the organization. Maybe you’ve taken some of these courses, too, and relationship selling is good stuff. But what I found was this. Since many of my sales staff came from former users of the software or were technical people transplanted into sales jobs, focusing on relationships was easier for them to embrace than prospecting for new opportunities. Although, the relationship method and other sales training helped my sales team, I was exposing them to my own sales call reluctance without even realizing it.

Believe it or not, some of the reluctance to make a sales call (prospecting) is a learned behavior. It’s learned from people that you are exposed to who have never fully recognized, understood, or dealt with their personal fears. Even leaders of successful organizations can instill the attitude. You may remember Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment Corporation. He is a brilliant engineer and his company’s mission was to lead the world in designing the fastest and most well-engineered computers. Digital Equipment’s sales people were called “sales engineers” and for many years they were salaried employees. Mr. Olsen’s leadership influenced the sales culture and because technology was a hot new market for two decades, most of the time the sales engineers were order takers not order makers. This is what I believe has been going on in the high-tech markets over the last few years. Budgets were relatively fat. Computers and technology were being installed and networks built out. But now we have a very different story and sales managers and company presidents are scratching their heads as sales are going flat, pipelines are drying up, and everyone is looking for a recharge.

Where’s the Energy in Your Sales Organization Going?
You may have a well-trained, articulate sales team or reseller channel that can demonstrate your products convincingly. You might be fortunate to have the latest sales automation system, the most efficient sales process, the most innovative products, and a brilliant marketing plan. But guess what? None of that matters when the people in your organization responsible for finding new business opportunities aren’t emotionally able to consistently engage enough potential customers. Again, you may say, “Not my sales team – they are on top of it, they are constantly prospecting, they are true sales pros.” That’s the problem. There is widespread denial. Our industry is blind to its weakness and little has been done to address and correct it.

I have been doing sales training and coaching with a number of technology organizations over the past few years. I have heard comments like:

  • “I don’t prospect, it’s a waste of my time. We have telemarketers that call prospective buyers and then I only follow up with those who are qualified.”
  • “I don’t want my salespeople making prospecting calls. I rather they use their time advancing and closing sales.”
  • “We work hard to generate leads for our sales department. I don’t feel our sales team is following up on leads that our marketing department gives them.”
  • “I don’t want my customers to think that I am trying to sell something to them. I want them to see me as a consultant helping to solve their problems.”
  • “I’m really an account manager and support my clients with my technical experience and product knowledge. I don’t have to prospect.”
  • “I need help with time management. I don’t have enough time to prospect.”
  • “I don’t know how many contacts I make a week with prospective buyers. Besides it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality of the calls I make.”
  • “I would sell more if I had more time to prospect.”
  • “I would sell more if we had better marketing materials.”Do any of these comments sound familiar? There are endless excuses why sales professionals don’t prospect. Why? Because there must be enough motivational energy available to sustain prospecting activity. And when this energy is short-circuited (often unknowingly) it gets diverted to coping with prospecting, which leads to rationalization. The prospecting energy is redirected to non-productive behavior and activities.Overcoming Emotional Barriers: Don’t Miss Part Two!
    So here we are. Having presented this concept to lots of sales professionals and managers, I can imagine your reaction. You may not accept the research or want to deal with the implications. Most salespeople and some managers (many of whom are ex-sales reps) are uneasy dealing with their emotions and discount the research as irrelevant to their own situation. However, I’ve found that most salespeople and sales managers who are genuinely looking to achieve the highest levels of performance are convinced when they open their minds and take an objective look at the evidence. George Dudley and Shannon Goodson continue their research into emotional aspects of selling and continue to produce scientific studies from many different industries to confirm their findings. More importantly, those sales professionals who apply their remedies will attest to the positive results.

    Many sales people and managers after hearing about and looking into this research say they know someone who they believe suffers from sales-call reluctance. But rarely do they admit to these behaviors themselves, and almost all sales managers say it doesn’t affect their top performers. It’s human nature. But, what about you?

If you are willing to open your mind to the possibility that something may be holding you or your sales team back – keeping you from achieving top performance – then you will want to read the second part of this special feature in the Part Two. I’ll give you the specifics about the twelve kinds of emotional barriers proven to limit the performance of almost all sales people to some extent, and suggest how you can begin to apply this new knowledge to boost the performance of your sales organization this year.

Top 3 Fatal Sales Mistakes: What Not to Do to Succeed in Sales!

By Colleen Francis, President and Founder, Engage Selling Solutions

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a series of particularly heinous sales techniques – all of which were aimed at getting through a gatekeeper to a decision maker, and all of which ended disastrously for the sales reps involved.

I firmly believe that, to improve our skills and the relationships we have with our prospects and clients, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. In that spirit, I decided to recount and dissect these painful experiences, in the hope of sharing with you where these sales people went so wrong – and what they could’ve done instead!

One word of warning: while I’ve chosen not to use any names in order to protect the potentially innocent companies who may be employing these sales reps (and may not be aware of the “techniques” they are using), the stories you’re about to read are, unfortunately, all true. Viewer discretion is definitely advised…

1: The Case of the Anonymous Acquaintance
First, a couple of weeks ago, I received a magazine article in the mail that detailed the benefits to sales people of taking a public speaking course. On second look, I saw that the article was actually an advertorial, complete with a registration form for the course at the end.

Attached to the piece was a post-it with a handwritten note which read: “Colleen, I thought you would find this interesting.” It was signed with an illegible initial – maybe a J? Maybe an I? – I couldn’t be sure. I had no idea who had sent me this “highly informative article,” but because of the handwritten note, I assumed I must know them. I looked at the envelope it had come in, and, sure enough, found no return address and an automated bulk mail stamp – sure signs of unsolicited mail.

I’d never heard of the company offering the seminar, nor anyone they were associated with. Clearly, they were trying to hide behind their anonymity because they knew, that I knew, that they did not know me.

Why is this crossing the line?
Because by trying to pretend that they know and have a relationship with me even though they don’t, they are lying. To me, an approach that is based on a lie is the worst kind of mistake – and the absolute worst first impression – that any sales professional can make.

This lie is being used in the hope that I’ll feel guilty enough about not remembering who they are that I will call the company to find out, at which point they can try to sell me on their seminar. Will I be in the mood to be sold anything once I figure out their game? Will I ever buy anything from this company, or recommend them to my colleagues and associates? Am I likely to respond warmly to any follow-up call that might happen to come along?

The answer is NO! So if you’ve ever been tempted to try to lure new customers with a lie, first ask yourself this: if the customer or prospect finds out what I’m really up to, will they be mad, or will I be embarrassed? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then find yourself a different tactic – fast!

How not to cross the line
The idea of staying in touch with your customers and prospects by sending them an occasional article or other information is a good one. But if you use this technique, make sure the following rules of thumb are applied consistently, and without exception:

  1. The article is relevant to the prospect.
  2. The article is simply that – an article, not just a glorified advertisement for your product.
  3. The prospect knows you and you clearly sign your name so they can see it is from you.
  4. You identify who you are on the envelope.
  5. You make a follow-up call after they’ve received it.

2: The Case of the Schoolyard Bully
While on vacation in March, I received a frantic call from my office. My assistant was panicked because she’d gotten a call from a man who insisted that he had a meeting set up with me for that day, and that it was “critical” that he talk to me. He also told her that he “had talked to me directly,” that this was “a follow-up meeting,” that I had “promised to talk to him” – and even that he had “time sensitive information” he had to get to me.

When she finally got me on the phone, explained the situation and told me what company he was calling from, I realized it was all a ruse. I had never talked to that rep or his company before. I did know enough about what they did, however, to realize that what they sold was not relevant to my business and I was not, nor ever would be, interested in the service they offered.

In other words, this rep hadn’t even spoken to me before, let alone scheduled a “follow-up” meeting. He also didn’t offer anything that would be so “critical” to my business that I’d be glad to interrupt my vacation to talk to him.

Why is this crossing the line?
Once more: he lied. As far as I was concerned, that spelled the end of any business relationship he and I might ever have had.

To make matters worse, in order to get though to me (the “decision maker”), he tried to instigate panic in my assistant (the “gatekeeper”) by confusing her into thinking she and I had made a mistake, and I would have to be disturbed.

He knew we’d never spoken, and that we did not have a meeting scheduled. He was simply hoping that I would feel so guilty about the possibility that I’d made a mistake that I would be willing to cancel whatever else I was doing to take his call. He was probably also hoping that same unwarranted guilt would make me feel I “owed him” enough to listen to his pitch.

Whenever you use a tactic that requires making someone else feel bad simply to get what you want, you’re crossing the line not only between appropriate and inappropriate sales techniques, but also between being a smart or stupid sales person – and, to my mind, between being a decent human being and a schoolyard bully.

Just ask yourself: if your prospect found out what you were doing, would they want to have a relationship with you?

How not to cross the line
Assistants can be used effectively to secure appointments and get decision makers on your side. However, you should never attempt to manipulate them or their relationship with your prospect. If you do get a gatekeeper on the phone, try the following, and see how much farther it will take you:

  1. Show them respect at all times.
  2. Treat them like the decision maker, and try your opening lines or lead-in questions with them. They may be able to point you towards other decision makers in the company who could be important to your sale.
  3. Ask them when is the best time to reach the decision maker.
  4. Ask if they can schedule 15 minutes of time with the decision maker for you.
  5. Always thank them for their help.

3: The Case of the “Close, Personal Friend”
Finally, just a few days ago, a sales person called our office claiming to be a “close, personal friend” of mine. My assistant asked if I knew her, and while I didn’t think so, I decided to have her put her through to me anyway.

A couple of minutes into her pitch, I interrupted the rep and asked, “excuse me, do I know you?” She answered: “Not now, but if we do business together, I guarantee we will become good friends.”

Needless to say, we didn’t do business together, and we aren’t likely to at any point in the foreseeable future.

Why is this crossing the line?
Say it with me now: because she lied! Even worse, it was a really stupid lie!

Did the rep really not think that, as soon as she had me on the phone, I’d realize she wasn’t the “close, personal friend” she was claiming to be? Either she was hoping I would think her “idea” was clever, or that I was so stupid I can’t remember who my friends are. Any sales tactic that makes the prospect feel like you must think he or she is an idiot simply can’t end well.

Before you try any technique like this one, please ask yourself: if the prospect finds out what I’m doing, will they want to be my friend? Or will I be happy with the consequences of earning a bad reputation, and a lost opportunity?

How not to cross the line
Every time you call a decision maker, have a compelling reason to speak to them, and make sure your opening line or leading question is tuned to their needs, and offers them value. Then they will want to take your calls, without your having to lie to get them on the phone.

If you want to develop commonality with your prospects without resorting to trickery, try the following simple – and honest! – approach:

  • Use a REAL reference from someone you both know.
  • Tell them a third party story about a customer you’ve helped who is in their industry, and/or who is in their same position (Director, VP, etc).
  • Offer a piece of information that shows you know something about their business or industry that you can help them with. One of my clients who sells to the medical research industry, for example, leads with “your research into XYZ disease caught my attention…”

When it comes to being honest and being branded a liar, the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t, isn’t so much a “fine line” as it is a gaping chasm. Fall in, and you may never be able to find your way out.