The Shortest Route to Sales is Not the Direct Route

I’m told that the old tale of the frog in boiling water is false.  Supposedly, a frog placed in a pot of cold water will stay put, even when the water is gradually heated—all the way up to the point that the frog itself boils along with the water.

Even if it isn’t true, it ought to be.  Because it’s a wonderful metaphor for the biggest single thing wrong with sales.

The Single Biggest Mistake Made in Selling

Business in general, but particularly sales, has fallen into the trip of “more is more.”  More detail is better.  Greater frequency is better.  More measurement is better.  But gradually, like the mythical frog, the system can produce the opposite of what was intended.

The implicit assumption—increasingly explicit in large systems, projects and sales management tools like—is that if you can break things down into constituent parts, then you can manage the whole just by micro-managing all the parts. 

This is not a dumb idea.  It’s the concept of division of labor; it’s what makes massive projects possible.  There’s a lot to like about it.

But there’s one huge thing wrong with it—the belief that the goal of the process is the sale itself.

Suppose you’re a customer.  Suppose the person selling to you is entirely driven by a system, process, and mindset that their goal is to get you to buy.  Now, if that is their over-riding goal, then by definition, your goals must take second place if there is ever a conflict. 

And oh, yes, there will be conflicts.  With sellers managing zillions of bytes, items, events, meetings, decisions, calls, qualifications, they frequently have to decide–shall we do what the customer wants?  Or what we want?  It’s a no-brainer for the system; make the decision that objectively maximizes the chance of us getting the sale.

By this view—the dominant view of selling—you the customer are an object, a poker chip in a competitive game.  No matter how good sellers are at interpersonal skills or consultative selling, the inescapable point of this approach is that the customer is a means to the seller’s ends. 

You may be thinking, ‘well, duh, that’s the nature of selling!”  Well, no, it isn’t.  It isn’t even the most effective approach to selling. Breaking down the process into innumerable smaller pieces doesn’t fool the customer–but, froglike, it allows the seller to believe he is effectively selling.

The Goal of Great Sellers is Not to Get the Sale

The whole problem arises from the beginning assumption that the goal of sales is to sell.   The really successful salespeople—whether in professional services or jet engines or new cars—realize the paradox at the heart of sales:

The true goal of sales is to help the customer.  The sale is a byproduct of helping the customer—not the goal itself.

The distinction is not trivial; it makes all the difference in the world.  If I as a customer learn that you are willing to put my needs ahead of your own, then—paradoxically—I trust you. 

And if I trust you, I will buy from you. 

That simple logic–you put my needs before yours, I trust you, I buy from you–turns out to yield more powerful sales results than the most elaborate of methodologies all aimed at achieving my needs first. 

The best sales systems/processes in the world are based on breaking down the process of getting a sale.  But in so doing, they break down the one critical element—trust—that drives the most, and the biggest, and the most profitable sales. 

It’s truly a paradox.  The best sales come from consciously not trying to get the sale, but in being willing to subordinate your interests to the customer’s. 

You get the most by trying not to get the most.  The best sales come from not trying to sell. 

Buddhism?   A Beatle song?  Maybe, but also a powerful business model.  And every great salesman knows the truth of it.

The problem is, all those pretty good salespeople are slowly boiling–and not noticing.