Jul 09 2009
But nobody wants to be sold!
The room was thick with tension. The salesperson looked each of us in the eye as he asked his rehearsed series of questions designed to lead us all down the inevitable path of ordering his wares.
The evening started out innocently enough: Dinner at my son’s apartment, prepared by a cookware company’s sales representatives. My daughter and son-in-law were there, along with my son’s fiancee and my wife and me. We watched with smiles as the salesperson/chef demonstrated the features and benefits of the cookware and the kitchen filled with the wonderful aromas of chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables. We ate the dinner while enjoying light chatter and pleasant stories as the company’s rep cleaned the kitchen and cookware.
Then came the high-pressure closing tactics. As we sat in a circle in the living room, he passed around pictures of the different packages and asked his questions in the classic Socratic manner:
“Don’t you agree the food was tasty?”
“Did you understand how we showed you that the calories and fat content were significantly lower?”
“Didn’t you notice how easy and quick the clean-up process was?”
“Don’t you agree that our line of cookware is far superior to any you’ve seen or used?”
I wanted to run away. I knew where this was going, and it was very uncomfortable. Sure enough, he then went after us with the old-school “alternative choice close”: “Would you rather have the Deluxe package or the Chef’s Choice package?’
Predictably, when we all hesitated and buried our heads in the brochures, hoping he wouldn’t ask any more questions, his cohort tried to break the tension with a touching story. It seems a recent customer decided to buy packages for all of his adult children and their families. Of course, he looked right at me as he finished this heart-warming story.
It was like being in a time warp. I remembered my mother being “pitched” by the Hoover vacuum cleaner salesperson when I was a child. That memory was soon replaced by the World Book Encyclopedia salesperson opening volumes of books and asking my father if he wanted his son to be ahead, or behind his classmates in competition for the coveted college scholarships.
They all used the same techniques! They used virtually the same questions. And there was the same embarrassed tension in the room in all of those scenarios.
Today’s savvy buyer requires a different approach: If there’s pressure on either the buyer or the seller, the seller is doing it wrong. There is too much information readily available to the buyer, and in most cases a variety of options from which to choose, and the hard-sell will only back-fire on the selling party. Despite that salesperson’s outrageous claims about his cookware, no one bought anything from him that night. And nobody went home happy. It was an unpleasant experience for us all. Most likely, that guy was in someone else’s kitchen doing exactly the same thing the next night. And the next.
Questions are certainly a critical tool for selling, but they must be used with care. When phrased in the annoying Socratic manner that only has one answer and leads your prospect toward an inevitable and predictable outcome, resentment rears its ugly head.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions that have no apparent “agenda.” Even though you may not be able to predict the answer, you’ll have a pressure-free conversation with your prospect that will enable them to tell you exactly what they feel, and that will tell you exactly where you stand.
You just might end up shaking hands with your new client when the conversation ends.
Al Simon is president of Simon, Inc., an authorized licensee of Sandler Training – providing sales training in Atlanta.