Sales: Bad selling

There’s a mantra in most of the sales articles we read these days: how to sell in a down economy! Call me out of touch, but I don’t get it.

Bull or bear, good selling is good selling, and bad is bad. A down economy is just less forgiving of the bad.

Here’s just one dimension of selling that should come under intense scrutiny – especially now – because it falls squarely in that bucket called “bad selling”: Salespeople over-committing time and resources chasing opportunities they have no business chasing. 

This is actually a subset of the broader malady of salespeople in general spending too much time (and other resources) on sure winners and sure losers. Remember, if you’re spending too much time there, you’re not spending it where you can make a difference.

Anyone who follows these pages knows that the notion of, “the customer is always right” is a dogmatic belief that is part of the creed of most salespeople. And therein, I believe, lies the problem. Do you agree? Before you answer, take a look at the question in Exhibit 1.

Are salespeople wired to be a bit too responsive?

This question comes from a diagnostic my company has been administering to salespeople for several years, so our statistics are quite valid. About 80 percent choose “a,” 15 percent “c,” leaving a mere 5 percent choosing what I believe is the right answer: “b.”

Why so many choose “a” is fairly obvious: it’s just how salespeople are wired. 

The other two responses are the interesting ones. When we ask some of the 15 percent who chose “c” to explain their selection, the answer is consistently along the lines of, “I wanted to choose ‘b,’ because I do try to protect my company’s resources, but I’m not really comfortable having customers actually know this.” Oh? Why not?

Spin this any way we like, but the bottom line is that 95 percent of salespeople are not comfortable letting customers know that they (the salespeople) need to protect their own company’s resources. The implications of this thinking are profound – and costly!

One area where this thinking can get us into trouble (and there are plenty) is with the RFP. Let’s say an RFP comes across the fax machine or email. We take a look at it and determine that it looks real, it might be a good fit and it might be winnable.  

Putting it into words

However, before we spend too much time and resources developing a response to the RFP we need to know more about the “big picture” (note this is NOT referring to getting more technical details) so we can better size up our chances of winning and making money on this thing. So, we’re going to call the prospect who sent it to us.

If we’re like the 95 percent of salespeople described above, the call might sound something like this: “Hi, this is so-and-so from XYZ Company. Thanks for sending the recent RFP in our direction. I have a few questions I’d like to ask about the RFP, do you have a couple minutes?” The problem with this language is that the prospect thinks you are calling to clarify some details before you bid (i.e. that you are going to bid), and that’s pretty much all you can expect the dialog to yield.

If you have a mindset like the 5 percent, above the call might sound more like this: “This is so-and-so from XYZ Company. Thanks for sending the recent RFP in our direction.  We’ve taken a preliminary look at it and, on first blush at least, it sure appears to fit nicely with our expertise and our business in general. However, it’s also a pretty substantial RFP that will require considerable time and resources to respond. So, before we roll up our sleeves and commit those resources – and I’m sure you can appreciate this – I’d like to get a better sense of the big picture of the project just to make sure it fits with our own business model, expertise and the like. If that make sense, would you happen to have 20 minutes or so right now?” What does the prospect think in this case? What do you think this dialog will yield?

The cost of bad selling is high … always has been; always will be. But bad selling doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

Exhibit 1: 


Which of the following best describes your own thought process as it relates to how much of your company’s resources (including your own time) to devote to any particular sales situation?

  1. I always want to appear responsive so I probably err on the side of being overly accommodating.
  2. I’m basically pretty protective of my time and my company’s resources and I want prospects and customers to understand this.
  3. Neither best describes my thought process.

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