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The Great Myths and Delusions in Selling

Since the profession of selling has always been considered in the past as more art than science, there have been a lot of half-baked, hokey and downright silly theories and strategies that have successfully infiltrated smart and well-intended sales professionals’ techniques. Many of these strategies worked reasonably well in a bygone and quaint era where business was won on a smile and a firm handshake.

When presented with these myths and delusions, many salespeople grimace in disgust. Yet I consistently find that their actions subscribe to these dated, archaic and caveman-like sales strategies. However, in good conscience, I must disclose that if you violate one, many or all of these tenets, you can still enjoy success in your sales career. This is one of the true, sad tragedies in our profession. There are legions of salespeople who enjoy some measure of success, who perpetuate these myths and delusions. In my training classes, I call this madness “positive-negative reinforcement theory.” You get just enough to get a modicum of success and never get enough to get what you really want. So the myths continue because you can be effective, but you rarely get to see the enormous downside in inefficiency because it is so masterfully masked.

The Myths and Delusions

    1. Winners never quit, quitters never win. Actually, the most productive salespeople learn to quit early, fast and with minimal expenditure of resources and energy with prospects who ultimately will waste their time.
    1. ABC – Always be closing. Closing is the most overrated skill set in selling. The most important skill set is opening. Too many salespeople try to close prospects that Moses couldn’t close. Salespeople have been taught to ask questions that get their prospect used to saying “yes” so they can position their close with a final affirmation of “yes.” This is insulting to prospects and they see right through it. The same goes for any facsimile of questions such as “Can you see how this will help you?”
    1. A great presentation will pave the way for many sales. The presentation is the least important part of the selling event. The most important presentation at the selling event is the prospect presenting their problems, their consequences and their priorities.
    1. Sales is a numbers game. This works to about $40,000 dollars in income. It’s not the numbers, it’s the quality of the engagement that carries the day.
    1. It is important to educate my prospect. Actually, education too often is done prematurely without prospect input and perspective, and it too often leads to loss of leverage and control, sets one up for unfair comparison, raises unnecessary objections and reduces one to a commodity.
    1. An objection is a sign of interest and a request for more information. This one is so silly and archaic, it doesn’t even need to be addressed.
    1. Learn to love objections. I’ve seen this in enough classic sales books; I had to throw it in for grins.
    1. Never take “no” for an answer. The more inclined a salesperson is to hearing and accepting “no”, the more inclined their prospect is to not flex their will.
    1. Sell the sizzle (FAB) – Features, advantages & benefits. This style of selling that worked so well in the past no longer works like it used to. Companies pride themselves on their value add and value proposition, and from the prospect’s position, their value proposition is valueless. What FAB works so hard to prevent, commoditization, it actually creates. The fatal flaw with FAB is that it puts all the emphasis on the least important person in the selling event… the salesperson. The only sizzle that one should sell is pain.
    1. Enthusiasm sells. Ironically, enthusiastic selling kills more deals than it sells. The fatal flaw of enthusiastic selling is that one can’t be problem focused and prospect focused and at the same time be positive, excited and enthusiastic. How can you ask thought-provoking questions that cover fear, risk, liabilities, potential loss. and at the same time be upbeat and enthusiastic. Of course you can’t. It is totally out of context. How many physicians have you known who are upbeat, bubbly and excited when they are doing a diagnostic review with a sick patient? The other killjoy for enthusiastic selling is that one can’t remain objective and emotionally detached from the sale and the outcome.
    1. Always answer your prospect’s questions. The problem with this tenet is prospects rarely ask the real question they are most concerned with. Salespeople fault by trying to be accommodating and courteous and they lose out in really learning what was the question behind the question.
    1. Find out what their needs are and you’ll uncover their buying motives. One problem here: people don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want. Prospects don’t buy drills. They buy holes. Too many sales organizations think they are in the drill business, when in reality they are in the hole business.
    1. Prospects buy rationally, logically and intellectually. Most companies are positioning their offering in a well thought-out logical manner, and their prospects are buying from their gut, their intuition and their emotions.
    1. First sell yourself, then your product and then your company. Where is the prospect’s situation and perspective in this equation?
    1. Everyone needs your product. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if they do need it, it doesn’t mean they have the means, motivation, and authority to change.
    1. If you are a great conversationalist and have the gift of gab, you should be in sales. How come we never hear what is most important: you are a great listener, you demonstrate empathy and understanding, you should be in sales.
    1. You are paid and rewarded to fix problems. But not really. You really are paid and rewarded far more handsomely for identifying problems, helping prospects understand the cost of their problems, the consequences, and helping them understand the reality of changing.
    1. Pre-call planning is a must. Too often, pre-call planning is a poor substitute for listening, questioning and coming to a meeting with no agenda to control or to sell. Pre-call planning is very effective when you are extremely knowledgeable about the prospect and their situation and you use that information to gain more information. Most salespeople use pre-call planning as a tool to control the agenda and the meeting and to steer the call in a direction that will get them to the conclusion they are seeking, instead of surrendering control and allowing the meeting to take its natural course based on the reality of the prospect’s unique situation. Most pre-call planning doesn’t factor in enough the consideration that no matter how pre-informed you are of the prospect’s situation, you’ll rarely, truly know the prospect’s unique situation without getting their personal interpretation and rendition. Unless they’re willing to admit to problems and ‘fess up to their consequences, it doesn’t matter what you know. You need to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Unless your prospect is verbalizing their problems and are willing to emotionally go back in time to re-experience it, you don’t have an engaged prospect.
    1. Internal sales training prepares salespeople to effectively sell. Most internal, company produced sales training is simply marketing and product training. It convinces salespeople to regurgitate senseless product information without any perspective of the prospect’s business and/or problems. It focuses all the attention on the least important party in the selling event. You guessed it… your company.
    1. Selling is an art. True… for the 5% who are truly gifted. The remaining 95% of us mere mortals rely on the science of principles, formulas and processes to make up for pure natural intuition. If you believe selling is an art, “it presents a self-fulfilling excuse for salespeople not to get better. If selling is an art, and I’m not an artist, then I'm off the hook,” says John Holland.
    1. The customer is always right. This assertion encourages salespeople to be approval seekers who rarely challenge in a professional manner the actions, beliefs and statements of prospects. Prospects frequently aren’t right. The goal of salespeople is to learn when to professionally challenge and when to choose to fall back and exercise other options. Salespeople need to realize that they also project an arrogant air of always being right. As they temper their own assertions, they will find that prospects will tone down their own assertions – like attracts like.
    1. Salespeople should do what prospects tell them to do. This is a close cousin to “the customer is always right.” Salespeople have to diligently assess every request from prospects as to what kind of return on investment they will get from their actions. Salespeople need to have the confidence to walk away from deals and opportunities that they deem a waste of time, energy, resources and information.
    1. Prospects are honest. So often prospects aren’t honest because salespeople paint them into a corner. Not only are prospects not always honest, but salespeople aren’t honest always. How can you tell when a salesperson is lying… their lips are moving. When salespeople project a more neutral, unbiased and impartial approach, that is when prospects will return the favor and be more transparent themselves.
    1. The more thoroughly my prospect understands my value proposition, my technical information and my products and services, the more successful I will be in selling them. The reality is, the more you understand their business and their unique circumstances, the more successful you will be.
    1. Price is the #1 criterion for purchasing for prospects. All the research supports that out of the top five buying criteria, price is #4. When price becomes a driving factor, it is usually because of the way salespeople sell.
    1. Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. This isn’t a court of law. The whole idea is to ask questions to get your prospect’s unique spin on it.
    1. Answer objections with feel, felt and found. The problem with answering objections is so often you are answering the wrong objection. Rarely does the prospect state their real objection. The key is to ask questions when you get objections.
    1. Always ask open-ended questions to fully engage your prospects. This is without a doubt the best questioning tactic. However, it only works when you have trust, cooperation and an open-minded prospect. This questioning tactic can be especially ineffective in a cold solicitation call on the phone where resistance is high. When resistance is high, close-ended questions are more effective, since they require less time and commitment on the part of the other party.
    1. Show me a persistent, dogged salesperson and I’ll show you a winner. The problem with persistence is that it isn’t highly targeted. There are legions of salespeople who are persistent with prospects who have no authority, no problems, no money and no inclination to change. The other problem with persistence is that it works only 50% of the time; salespeople don’t know which is the 50% that works, so they are equally persistent with everyone. Persistence also doesn’t work as well in the information economy because it is so hard to get hold of people because of voicemail, email, caller ID and electronic secretaries. I find persistence is too often a skill set overused to make up for poor selling strategies and skills. And as in dating, no one likes to do business with someone who is “needy”.
    1. When closing, always position for a “yes” response. The problem with this is when prospects are only given the choice of saying “yes” out of discomfort to tell you “no,” they will “yes” you to death. Prospects are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for. When you honor your prospects with the freedom to come to their own conclusions, independent of your selling agenda, you build trust and you save an untold amount of time not wasting your effort and resources on unqualified opportunities.
    1. Always establish early rapport with chitchat to connect to the prospect personally. All the research that I see today, especially from the Brooks Group, underscores that prospects find that unsolicited, superficial chitchat with salespeople is distasteful and counterproductive (80% of respondents). So you better be sure you are with the right person under the right circumstances when you decide to engage them with light chitchat.
    1. Don’t bring up price or money early in the sales cycle. As soon as you’ve done your due diligence in understanding your prospect’s problem, you should bring up your prospect’s willingness to spend money to get rid of the problem. This should be done early in the sales process. Salespeople who wait to the end to have a frank discussion about price generally have a personal money weakness and they weaken their negotiating stance.
    1. Leaving voicemail while prospecting is productive. Industry research shows that the average hit rate for leaving voicemail with prospects is 1 in 130. To underscore the futility of leaving voicemail, I tell my seminar participants that my best friends don’t return my messages, how can you expect total strangers to return your messages.
    1. Prospects who want to “think it over” will eventually buy. Unfortunately, prospects who want to think it over are saying in a nice way, “I’m not interested.” The same is generally the case when they say, “Send me some information, call me back next week or I still need to talk this over with my boss and I need some more time.” For some salespeople, these are still considered buying signals.
    1. Always be first in with your proposal. This is especially not true in a very competitive marketplace. The general rule of thumb that will consistently give you a better return is, be first in to define the problem and set the parameters for the proposal and be last in for the solution.
    1. Don’t ask too deep or too many questions because your prospect will resent the personal intrusion. The salesperson who has the deepest understanding of the prospect’s business will consistently outsell the salesperson with the best price and the best solution. Prospects only resent your questions when they don’t trust you, or they have no interest in your offering.
    1. Always put your best foot forward: lead with benefits, don’t bring up negatives, presume the close and have an attitude that the prospect should buy from you. Since all of these fit a similar theme, I bunched them together:
      • Lead with benefits – Most salespeople are taught, especially when they are doing new business prospecting, to lead with benefits to establish credibility and interest. In the information economy, to establish credibility, don’t tell them about how you can help them and what makes you unique; simply tell them the problems and pains you fix and address.
      • Don’t bring up negatives – Bringing up negatives is how you create credibility and authenticity. If you never bring up negatives that you know the prospect is thinking about, you’ll never be able to consistently get the prospect to share “the truth” with you. You’ll also find prospects will give you the run-around and “yes” you to death, or give you long drawn out “no’s.”
      • Presume the close – The classic presumptive closes such as: “Would you like to meet on Tuesday at 8:00 or Friday at 3:00?”; “Can you see how this can save you so much money?”; or, “I’m assuming you’d be interested in learning?” are early warning signals for prospects that they are dealing with a company-centric, self-centered amateur salesperson.
      • Assume the prospect should buy from you and you can help them – This tenet is probably one of the hardest, most deeply conditioned habits to break. When you take on the posture that you can help the prospect and they should buy from you right out of the gate, you tend to have a one-way, unengaged conversation with the prospect politely nodding, and never getting to the core of deeply understanding whether that prospect has a compelling reason to change or buy from you.
    1. Always have a positive mental attitude. Many salespeople are into the cult of “Positive Thinking”; however, so often what they think about doesn’t result in prosperity. This is an age-old problem. The reason is regardless of the surface level of positive thinking, we ultimately don’t understand and value our true self-worth. If you really knew your true worth and were in touch with it, you wouldn’t feel that something was missing. Arguably, positive thinking has surface benefits, but they are too often so superficial.

      You can’t make negative thoughts go away by focusing on positive thoughts. For example, think positive thoughts for a moment… now think negative thoughts... now positive... now negative. For the next 20 seconds, think of anything other than pink giraffes. The problem is that you have to think of pink giraffes in order to remember not to think about it. Wow. Ironically, the more you try to control your thoughts, the less control you have. Sometimes the more you focus on positive thoughts, the more energy and power you give to your negative thoughts. A positive mental attitude is best characterized by not being emotionally attached to an end result. You maintain positive thinking when you accept your circumstances without resisting them.

      We compound our problems by giving them meaning. The act of being rejected only becomes a problem when we resist the rejection and try to change it and react to it. A positive mental attitude in the traditional sense tries to change our experience, and therefore compounds it.

      “It’s all hocus-pocus. Stop chasing away negative thoughts and just be aware of them and accept them for what they are… random negative thoughts. All obsessions with scarcity thinking come from constantly reliving your past circumstances. If you didn’t mind having negative thoughts, you would no longer have them. It is your resistance and your chasing away of thoughts that make them so real and omnipresent. You guarantee their perpetuation,” says Paul Ferrini. Positive thinking is too often negative thinking all dressed up. You can’t force yourself to be positive and even if you do, it is just a surface projection and it’s superficial.

      “Experiencing your frustrations and rejections allows you to come to terms with them and ultimately release them. Denying and justifying our shortcomings with positive thinking without first truly emotionally experiencing them only represses them deeper to pop up at a later date. When you first see negative thoughts, don’t judge or resist them. When you start to increase your awareness of them, you find that they don’t have as much potency to run your life,” says Paul Ferrini.

    1. Thoughtfully and carefully answer your prospect’s objections. I find it easier to get the prospect to answer their own objections because if you try to, you’ll find that the objection they raised is rarely the real objection. How often have you found that you answer with perfect logic a prospect’s objection, only to find they have an even more difficult one waiting in its wake?
    1. I really like people so I’d be good in sales. Salespeople too often get into sales because they are very friendly, have lots of friends and contacts and believe these are winning attributes. I know far too many unsuccessful salespeople that you’d love to have as a neighbor, but you’d never want them on your sales team. They are very gracious, authentic and kind, and they end up being empty suits – goodwill ambassadors who can’t sell.
Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com