How NOT to make a sale…or start a relationship

“The way you position yourself at the beginning of a relationship has profound impact on where you end up” – Ron Karr

There is a lot of talk these days about how sales is changing. How cold calling is dead. How relationship selling is dead. About how we need to be insightful and challenge our customers.

All of this is great, and what you adopt and adapt to your own sales process will depend on many things….your market, your ideal client, your product or services, the value your customers see in your offering and just what suits you best.

While we can all learn to sell better, there is no point trying to adopt a style of selling that you are uncomfortable with and can’t adapt to how you sell. You need to retain your ‘authentic self’. And there are some basics in selling that have stood the test of time regardless of what approach you take, what process you adopt or methodology you use. If you get these basics wrong, you have no foundation on which to build…it doesn’t matter what sales training you’ve had or methods you use.

It might be cliched, but people still buy from people (and businesses) they know, like, trust and respect. And that comes down to attitude. These are the basic foundations on which you must build.

“Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman – not the attitude of the prospect” – Tony Alessandra

I was prompted to write this simple post after a sales approach I received from a salesperson late last year. It was an epic FAIL.

Here’s how this unfolded…

During last year I received a voicemail from this particular person asking me to contact him. No reference to what it was about, not mention of his organisation, no mention he was a salesperson. I had no idea of the purpose of him contacting me, but did return his call. After all, it may have been someone looking for my services! After a short conversation that included a canned sales pitch I thanked him for his call and advised him I had no interest in his services. Then, a few months later, the following exchange took place on LinkedIn, starting with an InMail

Subject Line: Glad I came across your profile Wayne

Hi Wayne,

Hope you don’t mind an introduction via email, I’ve been meaning to reach out you for some time,

To keep it short, management consultants are xxxx’s bread and butter, and our 95% membership renewal rate for Management Consultants (ave of 65% in our industry) suggests we’re indispensable to them as well. I’d like to have a chat with you to see if our suite of reports will add value, increase billable hours and save on research costs as it does for your peers.

I’ll be calling you in the new year, but I thought I’d give you fair warning.

Hope you have a merry Xmas, talk soon.



My response….

XXXXX, you did contact us earlier in the year and we advised we are not candidates for your services

Have a great Christmas


Salesperson’s response….

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for responding, I’d like to have it noted that I don’t contact people who aren’t “prime” candidates as it would be a gross misuse of my time. As you may appreciate, our renewal rate for your industry of 95% is no happy accident.

Entertain me by having the conversation in the New Year and the worst possible outcome is some free information from me. The best? I help you save on wage cost, research cost, add further credibility to your existing research and ultimately, increase those billable hours.

Looking forward to your response.

So where did this all go wrong? Well for most reading this post it will probably be obvious. But let me walk through the experience and highlight not just where I see it went wrong, but how it could have been made better…for the salesperson and me.

As I mentioned above, the initial contact was a cold call with no explanation. I returned the call as I was totally unaware of the purpose of the contact. It may have been a prospective client, it may have been an unknown contact at an existing client with a problem…it may have been a cold sales call.

During this conversation, the sales person made no attempt to understand my business. He had no idea whether I was a potential ‘ideal client’, nor did he attempt to determine this. He was so focused on delivering his pitch he made no attempt to identify the value he might be able to deliver. He did the talking, I did the listening; he failed to ask questions, I had nothing to answer. At the end of this interaction I had little trust in this salesperson and no respect.

I expect you can imagine my surprise when I received the above email from this same salesperson. Obviously he had made no effort to maintain his contact database or he would have realised he had already ‘reached out to me’. He should have understood my business from our earlier discussion and unless something had changed in either his business or mine, I was not a ‘prime candidate’ for his services.

But let’s assume for a minute that this was his first contact. Again, so much of the basics of B2B selling is missing.

His initial email is all about him and his business. What about me? He is giving me ‘fair warning’ that he’ll be contacting me in the new year. Fair warning? Gee thanks. Glad you saw fit to offer me cautionary advice of what I should expect.

I had now lost all respect for this individual as a salesperson.My response was immediate and to the point.

I was amazed , no gob-smacked, at his response. He is telling me that despite having had a conversation earlier where I told him I was not a candidate for his services; despite an email reminding him of this and that I am not a potential client; he wants it noted that he doesn’t contact people who are not ‘prime candidates…it’s a gross misuse of HIS time. What about my time? What about the fact I no doubt have a better idea of my business and my needs than him? Entertain him? Is he kidding? He doesn’t want to waste his time, but I can waste my time to ENTERTAIN him. Does my LinkedIn profile picture show a court jester? By now I am just shaking my head in disbelief. Then he’s going to help me save wage costs…I don’t employ staff. He’s going to help me add credibility to my research…he has no idea what research I do, or in fact whether I do research or not! And if I do, why does it currently lack credibility? Then he’s going to help me increase my billable hours. How? He obviously hasn’t bothered to understand my business so how can he help? Oh, and if I don’t get that, at least he’ll have been entertained and I’ll walk away with some free information…It’s not freakin’ free…I’ve paid for it with the time I’ve wasted.

So how could this have been different?

Firstly, had the salesperson taken time to research me and my business in detail, he may well have been able to make a ‘pitch’ that was of interest. He could have ‘warmed up’ his initial cold call by engaging with me online and providing me with information that would be of interest, and would suggest how working with him would be of value to me. White papers, case studies, industry reviews all may have all helped him get my attention and potentially make me interested in engaging.

Now let’s assume something slipped through the cracks, his database was corrupted or there was some other reason for him not knowing he had previously contacted me. How could the email engagement have gone better?  Again, there was no research done. He had absolutely no idea about me or my business. He could not have possibly known whether I was prime candidate or not. Had he done this and determined I was in fact part of his target market, why would I want to talk to him. His LinkedIn profile does nothing to suggest he knows anything about my industry, nor his own for that matter. Nothing I found of this person on LinkedIn or elsewhere suggested there would be any value in me engaging with him. He’d had made no effort to build a personal profile, not ‘warm me up’ with information that might make me interested in any future communication I received from him…I was just another phone number on his list.

When responding to my email advising we had already spoken, he simply, in effect’, told me I was an idiot because he wouldn’t waste HIS time if I wasn’t a ‘prime candidate’. No apology. No understanding of the value I might see from his services, just more of the ‘canned spiel’ that no doubt goes to every person he contacts.

Had this person made an effort to better understand me and my business, the worst thing that could have happened for him was I may have been able to suggest some consultants that would in be ‘prime candidates’ for his services – he could have gotten some warm leads (in fact I know several). But what has happened is he has lost my trust and respect and any chance of future business engagement.

“The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it” – Dale Carnegie

But where does the fault lie? Sadly it probably lies not with this young salesperson, but with the organisation and the management of that organisation. I suspect they have a database of consultants and engage young, enthusiastic ‘salespeople’ to ‘work the numbers’. They ‘train’ them on the product, give them a desk, a phone and a computer and then let them loose, measuring their call rates and other dated KPIs that say whether they are ‘doing the work’, not how they are doing it or how they could be better. It probably starts with a poor recruitment process, followed by poor induction, lack of personal development and poor management.

This is a well-respected multi-national research company that is living in the past with respect to how it engages with it’s market. It is burning young salespeople along the way. They are doing nothing the develop their sales staff to understand selling is about an exchange of value and the value MUST be defined by the customer. That is not just disappointing, it is wrong, by today’s standards in selling it is immoral and it is sad. Companies and sales managers have a responsibility; not just to make the numbers, but to develop their people, treat their staff and customer with respect and deliver VALUE.

Know, like, trust, respect…four simple words that could make such a difference to so many sales engagements and careers if they were still understood to be critical foundations to success.

This article was originally posted by me on LinkedIn

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