Selling Without Making the Buyer Feel Sold (Part 2 of 2)

(This post was originally published in RainToday.com).

In yesterday’s post, I suggested that most salespeople feel a tension between the felt need to sell, and the desire not to make buyers feel like they were being sold. There is a solution, I suggested, which parallels some characteristics of gifts. They create an obligation to buy, but not in the tight, transactional, market-based way we think of as selling. Instead, they create a friendly, bonding form of loose-obligation. Selling based on that approach–being willing to give freely of sample advice for a period of time to a select group of candidate firms, ends up being highly profitable. Today: Why it’s hard to do, how to do it, and thoughts on the paradox of selling this way.

Why This is So Hard to Practice

The best salespeople practice this technique already: they freely give of their expertise—a tiny bit to everyone, and a lot more to a select group of people.

They don’t expect sales from any particular person at any point—yet they definitely expect an aggregate amount of sales from an aggregate amount of leads. They just don’t know from whom or when. But as long as the return rate remains high, they are quite happy not to be more controlling with any one lead.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking is the opposite of what passes for Received Wisdom in sales these days. Tools like Salesforce.com reinforce the idea of more control, smaller time increments, and more metrics. The dominant theme in improving sales is about efficiency, not effectiveness.

Every transaction is treated not only in isolation from others but is broken down even more finely. Behaviors are sliced and diced, incentives more finely tuned. Qualifying the lead happens more frequently and at shorter time intervals. The net effect on customers is to feel more mechanically processed. They will resent the actions and will push back.

How to Do It

It takes a strong personality to not give in to the general business demand for short-term and impersonal sales techniques. But the rewards of staying the course are great. The way to think about it mainly comes down to two changes: less control in timing and in metrics.

Timing: Take a longer view of the desirability of a particular lead. It’s the ability to show a sustained, genuine interest that offers the chance of a relationship. This doesn’t mean you don’t screen and exclude buyers; it means you do it more definitively and less frequently.

Metrics: In a longer timeframe, decision metrics become far simpler, and selling can focus on relationships, not evaluating transactions. Are you being invited in? Are they returning calls? Is there a real project being discussed? If yes, keep it up. If not, stop it.

The Paradox of Selling

Yes, you still want to sell what you sell. And yes, they still don’t want you to control them.

Don’t choose one or another, and don’t sub-optimize. By lengthening your timeframe and reducing the precision and number of metrics, you open up space for natural human instincts to work. In that context, you can intelligently give the gift of sample selling, and you can reduce the need to control that gift. That way people can feel the natural inclination to reciprocate rather than the resentful guilt or rejection that short-term control induces.

5 replies
  1. S Kleiner
    S Kleiner says:

    Found these posts to be very affirming and in line with my general attitude.  I believe in having faith in the process — with a good "product" and enough contacts (general and specific) good things will happen…  Hopefully!

    What if people keep coming back for samples?  When does one put his/her foot down and stress that it’s time to convert to paying customers?

    S.

    Reply
  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Thanks S. for your comment.

    As to "when to put your foot down," I have a three part answer.

    First, of course you’re not in business to give stuff away.  So there has to be some systemic limit on "free."  No argument there.

    However–second–in a lot of businesses, there is a systemic solution other than"putting your foot down."  Nordstrom’s and L.L. Bean apparently feel their liberal service policies are profitable, since they’ve been doing it for years.  Honor boxes get used by small retailers.  I’ll try and dig it up but a post in this blog a long time ago mentioned a free IT business service whose customers respected it.  And in the ballroom dance business, sometimes you want to "give away" Friday night dance parties because it provides fun people for the paying regular students to mingle with. 

    A lot of this actually has to do with the attitude: if you think of it as "putting your foot down" and limiting the supply to protect yourself from egregious free-loaders, well there’s some kind of karmic reverse attraction thing that tells people ‘hey come on over here, there’s some fool giving away stuff’ and you’ll get hit.  So–don’t think like that.

    Third, and probably most common, you just have the conversation with the customer.  In a consultative services business, you just say, ‘OK Joe, it’s time for us to start charging you on our next visit–can we have that conversation?  I think we’re about there, don’t you?"  And if you’re basically right (which you usually are), and if the client is basically decent (which they usually are), then no problem.  You’re directly but nicely explaining your business model to them, and they respect it.

    And if they don’t respect it?  Either they leave grateful for your free samples, in which case you have a reference, or they leave thinking they got away with something–in which case you should be grateful you have such an easy screening system for bad potential clients.

     

     

    Reply
  3. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Thanks S. for your comment.

    As to "when to put your foot down," I have a three part answer.

    First, of course you’re not in business to give stuff away.  So there has to be some systemic limit on "free."  No argument there.

    However–second–in a lot of businesses, there is a systemic solution other than"putting your foot down."  Nordstrom’s and L.L. Bean apparently feel their liberal service policies are profitable, since they’ve been doing it for years.  Honor boxes get used by small retailers.  I’ll try and dig it up but a post in this blog a long time ago mentioned a free IT business service whose customers respected it.  And in the ballroom dance business, sometimes you want to "give away" Friday night dance parties because it provides fun people for the paying regular students to mingle with. 

    A lot of this actually has to do with the attitude: if you think of it as "putting your foot down" and limiting the supply to protect yourself from egregious free-loaders, well there’s some kind of karmic reverse attraction thing that tells people ‘hey come on over here, there’s some fool giving away stuff’ and you’ll get hit.  So–don’t think like that.

    Third, and probably most common, you just have the conversation with the customer.  In a consultative services business, you just say, ‘OK Joe, it’s time for us to start charging you on our next visit–can we have that conversation?  I think we’re about there, don’t you?"  And if you’re basically right (which you usually are), and if the client is basically decent (which they usually are), then no problem.  You’re directly but nicely explaining your business model to them, and they respect it.

    And if they don’t respect it?  Either they leave grateful for your free samples, in which case you have a reference, or they leave thinking they got away with something–in which case you should be grateful you have such an easy screening system for bad potential clients.

     

     

    Reply
  4. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Charlie, may I nudge you to work your comment here into a proper post some time?

    You hide too much good content in your comments, and especially with the way your blog is set up, too many readers (and email subscribers) will never see it!

    Best wishes,

    The Ministry of Nudge

    Reply

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