Monday, March 5, 2012

The ONLY Sales Tips That Matter

Sales is one of the most talked about, written about, and mythologized occupations. Unfortunately, much of the writing has come from non-salesmen. This isn't surprising. When a profession reaches such a steep level of visibility, reams of outsiders are bound to comment. And like other much discussed professions--the soldier, the boxer--the inherent drama of being a salesman lends itself to dramatization.

Because so much ink has been spilled about sales, everyone thinks they have something to add to the conversation. The fact that most of these commentators have never spent an hour in sales doesn't deter them from chiming in. And given how ubiquitous sales motifs and fictional accounts of salesmen are, you almost can't blame non-salesmen for thinking they have usable advice for those who do sell. I guess the only remedy is to somehow shift the focus to another profession. Maybe I should write an iconic play called "Death of an HR Administrator".

It doesn't stop with fiction. All kinds of "how-to" sales guides are published each year. Some are encyclopedia thick. None deserve to be. There isn't much to say about the nuts-and-bolts of sales, and the nuts-and-bolts are so tedious that reading them offers all the fun of being burned alive without the sweet release of death part. This is why books about sales typically fill in the gaps with wispy sales "philosophies."

It has been my experience that the salesmen who do the most philosophizing are the ones who do the least actual selling. The only sales pitch they're capable of is selling themselves to the clueless sales directors who keep hiring them.

The salesman who can "sell ice to Eskimos" is a myth. Sometimes a hot chick can sell ice to Eskimos, but then a hot chick can sell a lap dance to a man with no lap. Hot chicks can be plugged into most professions and gain an edge (see Danica Patrick).

And even a hot chick has her limits. When a market is saturated, when demand has cratered, when the public stands up as one voice to reject your brand (New Coke, anyone?), your product ain't going to move. A hot chick couldn't do anything with a Vegas condo right now (neither could Houdini for that matter).

Here are the only sales tips that matter (notice that the list isn't even long enough to be a table of contents, let alone a book):

1) Be on time. This is one of the few things you can control, and being late always puts you in a compromised position; you're off your game, you have to open with an apology, and you risk annoying your prospect (which leads to more compromises).

2) Don't wear anything ridiculous. The point of a suit is to build credibility, not be pimped out. Everywhere has heard awful tales of salesmen in "cheap suits," "sharkskin suits," "linen suits," etc. People inherently dislike salesman, especially loud salesman, and ESPECIALLY loud salesmen in loud, cheap, linen suits. Don't dig a hole for yourself by dressing like an arch-nemesis of Batman.

3) Be a retort man. Begin by offering some details about your product, then wait for the prospect to lead the conversation into other areas. The more he talks, the more likely he will be to believe he is actually getting what he wants. Along the way, just counterpunch as cleverly as possible and keep him doing the majority of the talking. The more he talks, the more of his hand he is likely to reveal. And when you're doing all that listening...

4) Listen (or pretend to listen) demonstratively. Be animated about it. Do lots of scribbling on your pad so it seems like you're taking copious notes. Scratch your chin a lot. All these moves create the impression that the prospect's requests are being considered and that he is therefore winning the negotiation. If he thinks he is winning, he is more likely to say yes. Remember: Pretending to concede means having to make fewer actual concessions. And when you do ask questions...

5) Only ask open-ended questions. Yes-or-no questions include NO, and the last thing you want to do in sales is make room for the word "no." (this is also useful when talking to a woman you hope to seduce).

There you have it. The Glengarry sales tips. If my blog had existed 60 years ago, there wouldn't have been a Willy Loman.

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