Trust-Destroying Selling

I had dinner tonight with Phil. Phil is CEO of a specialty printing company; he learned the business through Xerox, the class act of sales back in the day. Way back.

His company had to buy several pieces of moderately expensive printing equipment. They got pitches from three organizations. The salesmen from Brands A and B, the well-known brands, had known Phil and his company for some time. Brand C, a lesser-known quantity, was represented by a young woman.

Brands A and B offered prices around $140,000. The young lady at Brand C offered Phil re-manufactured equipment at a price of about $80,000.

“How do we know this is going to work and stay working?” asked one of Phil’s manufacturing people.

“Well,” she replied, some of the biggest players in your game are using it and will be happy to tell you how much they like it. Let me give you their phone numbers.”

“We’re going to want this in soon, and have it hit the ground running with no problems,” said Phil.

Replied the saleslady, “Phil, the sooner it’s in and working, the sooner my commission stream starts paying. You and I are on the same side of the table. The sooner you get happy, the better for both of us.”

Phil told me, “I’d pretty much resolved to go with Ms. C, but I wanted to give the other guys a chance to respond gracefully. I called each of them up.”

Brand A, when I told him we were going with Brand C’s remanufactured product line, said, in a huff, “Well—if I’d known we were going to be dealing in used stuff—”

“He didn’t need to say another word,” said Phil. “Not only did he lose this deal, he probably lost the next five I’ll have. I can’t count all the things he did wrong, starting with pissing me off. Let’s see: bad-mouthing the competition, not focusing on me, giving me attitude, implying I’d misled him—any one of those was enough to lose my business.”

Then Phil called salesman B, with the same news. “Aw, gee, Phil, you and I go way back, I thought we had a good relationship, shouldn’t that count for something…our people have spent an inordinate amount of time on this…”

“And by then,” said Phil, “I had blocked him out too. How many penalty flags on that play? Let’s see, we saw the ever popular ‘it’s about the salesman not the customer’ routine; he was telling me the relationship never meant anything but money anyway; he was begging worse than a dog at a picnic with his eyes on a sirloin; and he’s trying to guilt trip me. ‘Inordinate,’ indeed. Nope, he’s outta here.”

Phil explains it this way:”I’ll supply my own guilt, thank you very much. The guy I feel obligated to is the guy who answers all my questions, smiles and asks if I have any more. The minute someone says I owe them, I no longer do.”

That’s the paradox. If you want to sell, stop selling. That’s my little way of saying it.

What are your words for what Phil’s talking about?

0 replies
  1. Greg Krauska
    Greg Krauska says:

    Charles, by this account, Choice C is definitely the way to go.  A clearly was not interested in customer needs and did not take time to explore the options they would consider.  Commission was A’s #1 interest – just get the order.  B saw the potential business as an entitlement.  That’s a one and done in my book.

    I like C’s win-win thinking, though I believe most customers don’t care about the salesperson’s commission stream.  

    She might set herself apart even further had she resonded to Phil’s comment with a question, like "Why is that so important?" or engaged in a discussion that made it clear she was interested in current and future business impact, not just a transaction.

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    C said, "The sooner you get happy, the better for both of us.”"

    It’s almost as if the energy of the relationship drives the response…if the energy is positive, in a humane, not phony or mechanistic way, if the energy points to a true win-win outcome or commitment, then there’s a positive synergy that points deeper than (or over and above) dollars and product.

    Using veiled guilt or victimization tactics doesn’t work in the long term and often leads to a running "buyer’s remorse" type low-grade-fever…wondering if I’ve made the right decision. (not unlike rich folks wondering if their hangers-on are interested in them or their money)

    Seeing the other as an "order" or as "a way to keep a relationship going" i.e,  objectifying the other, usually ends up in a self-sabotaging, self-destructive, "using" relationship, i.e., dysfunctional in some way…that often won’t last, or if it does, it’s superficial and lacking of mutual trust. Uncomfortable.

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

    One of the things I find fascinating about sales is that it is presented, these days, as being such a rational, analytical, process-based thing.  Yet what Peter points out is exactly on point. 

    Part of the reason you hardly ever see "selling" offered in an MBA program (and even then, only "sales management")—and not much more at college level—is that the subject resists academicization.  It just doesn’t submit to analytics and process.

    The guts of it, at root, is utterly human, on our emotional level.  It works, or doesn’t work, for the same reasons it works, or doesn’t work, at dating services, or in politics, or in high school.

    Effective selling has damn little to do with rational reasoning, and everything to do with root human issues like respect and reciprocity.   As Jeffrey Gitomer puts it, people buy with their heart, then rationalize it with their brain.  And, I would argue, that’s not a bad thing.

  4. Greg Krauska
    Greg Krauska says:

    Charlie, Peter,

    I think this is a "Yes, and" situation.  You cannot make up for lack of business value or relevance with passion and energy.  On the other hand, you cannot help people through change if you do not address emotion in the conversation and the relationship.

    I think your observations are exactly why improv and street performance skills are finding their way into business.  To paraphrase Peter Block, we need more artists in business.  Boardrooms are getting way too stuffy!

  5. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    Must be a sign of age, I’m losing my sense of humor with this pervasive entitlement mentality!  One doesn’t deserve anything unless one earns it – somehow. "Time in grade" or just showing up is not a good enough reason or option. The sooner people "get it" that business  needs to be "earned", each and everyday… the better off they (and we) will be.

  6. Chris Denny
    Chris Denny says:


    Great example of a poor response.  I am sending this article to my sales team.  I have heard people use a less offensive response to the price question that starts, "Well, you get what you pay for…." and I even find that to be questionably offensive to my decision and to the other guy’s product.

    Too often, salespeople lose themselves in the moment and slam doors instead of thanking a customer for opening them in the first place.


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