Buying Lessons from a Master Salesman

I spent some time in South Florida this weekend with Sam, a retired former rep for a national clothing manufacturer—that is, he wholesaled clothing lines to retail stores and chains. His territory was New York.  Here’s what he taught me about buying.

How Buyers Say They Buy–from Expertise

A few years ago, he got a terrible pain in his left knee.  Three doctors in a row said he needed either a knee replacement or arthroscopic surgery.  A fourth doctor said he suspected it was actually a hip problem which caused a pinched nerve, which resulted in knee pain.

“I’m not a hip guy,” said doc four, “but my new young colleague is.  I’d like you to have a chat with him.  “Fine,” said Sam, “anything to get rid of this debilitating pain so I can get back to tennis and golf.”

“The doctor was young,” Sam said.  “That was no problem.  But he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He told me it was a hip problem all right, and all those other fancy doctors had it wrong.  None of them had even taken an x-ray of my hip, but he did.”

“Problem was, I couldn’t get over him not looking me in the eye.  If a buyer or a seller won’t look the other in the eye, I just don’t trust him.  Kiss of death and all that.  So I says to him, ‘hey, I’m over here—who you talking to?’  He just said he was a distracted kind of guy, nothing to worry about.”

“But that’s exactly what I worry about.  So I went back to his boss, Doc 4, and I said no offense at all, I just think I’ll look for someone with a little more experience.”

I asked, “Sam, you told me you didn’t trust the guy; why didn’t you tell his boss?”

“Well,” Sam said, “I don’t want to be ruining some kid’s medical career, so I just made a plausible excuse.”

And there you have it.  Sam—a highly experienced and successful salesman, basically says people buy on trust, including him.  And yet, when asked by the seller (Doctor #4) why he didn’t buy, he lied—he said it was lack of experience.  He didn’t tell the truth–which is that he didn’t trust the young doctor.

How Buyers Really Buy–From Trust

So it always is.  Sellers think buyers buy on expertise; they don’t.  They buy on trust.  And when they ask buyers why they didn’t buy, the buyers claim it was on expertise.  And since that’s the answer sellers want to hear, they believe it. 

The truth is otherwise.  As Jeffrey Gitomer puts it, people buy with the heart, and rationalize it with their brain.  We overrate the importance of processes–and underrate the importance of connection. 

The irony is that young doc was right.  Sam underwent arthroscopic knee surgery with a high-reputation doctor in South Florida, and the result was nothing but more pain. 

A year later, Sam visited a hip specialist in NY who diagnosed hip troubles just by watching Sam walk.  He got a hip replacement two months later, and shot a 47 on the front nine a few weeks ago–pain free.

The young doc was right.  Unfortunately–So What.  He treated the patient like a case study, not a human being.

Sam would be the first to tell you: being right is vastly overrated.  Earning the right to have people believe you’re right—that’s where the trust comes in. 

That’s trust.  That’s how people buy.  That’s good selling.  

1 reply
  1. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    On target, once again Charlie!

    This is a classic situation w/ many consultants (especially technically-oriented ones). They get so focused on the technical solution, it turns into a mental exercise for the SME and they forget that the client is a real person/business, and not just another case study. Yes, as consultants we may have seen this situation before and know the appropriate solution but this client hasn’t been there before and wants us to show them that we "get" their circumstance & "care" about their need & results. Instead of empathizing w/ the situation & then focusing  on how the solution will help the client get where they want to go, the SME gets totally absorbed w/ the elegance of the mechanics. Hopefully, they’ll learn as they grow into the role. Unfortunately, many don’t and these are the same folks that don’t "get" why they can’t sell their elegant solutions!!!


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