Why Modern Sales is so Anti Trust

The Sandler Sales Institute offers one of many approaches to selling available to corporate sales organizations.

I don’t know their work personally, but they have a good reputation, as far as I know. And just two weeks ago, I heard a very solid testimonial about some of their work from a very savvy, and satisfied, client.

I say that as preamble because I have no reason to think they are worse than any other sales training approach in the market; in fact, my only first-hand data says they are better. Still. Nonetheless. Try this quote(pdf) on for size:

Sandler Rule: The professional never does anything by accident. You should never ask a question, make a statement, or behave in any way unless it is in your best selling interest.

The advice that follows is pretty good—listen more, let the customer talk—but it’s hard to get past that opening statement. Basically, it says, never do anything that won’t help close the sale for you.

That would rule out mentioning solutions that don’t rhyme with what you’re selling. It would rule out referring customers elsewhere. Or suggesting a customer can’t afford what you’re selling. Or that your product might be wrong for a particular customer.

Simply put—if your customer’s needs don’t match what you’re selling—don’t mention it. Sell it anyway. Don’t do, say, or think anything that might keep you from closing that transaction.

Think about the mindset implicit in this view. It says the seller’s interests are deeply, inextricably opposite those of the buyer. That buyer and seller are in competition, in a zero-sum game. That there can only be one winner in the customer-seller struggle—and we all know who that is supposed to be.

This is not an isolated quotation. Here’s another, from the website of a Sandler licensee.

Prospects are inherently motivated to get as much information about your company, your competitors, and the competitive alternatives (like doing nothing, or buying something that is completely different from your product/service). They want to see your complete proposal first…

Prospects LOVE proposals…Sales is the only profession where people are expected to give away valuable information prior to payment. The more technical the sale, the more information is expected prior to signing a deal.

Again, the assumed context is us against them. In this view, the customer’s job is to squeeze as much competitive information, and to gain as much competitive leverage from the seller as possible. The seller’s job is to withhold as much information, and to extract as high a price, as possible.

This is the ideology of the past. The world is moving toward more interdependence, not less. Suspicion is expensive—and there are greater and greater opportunities for suspicion in a connected world.

Trust is the counter-intuitive solution to suspicion. You can build trust in commercial relationships; contracts can either be defenses against evil perpetrators, or the occasion for in-depth discussions about expectations and transparency. One is expensive. One lowers costs.

In sales, the era of competing against your customer is over. We need something like Trust-based Selling™, based on a simple principle: if you consistently do what is good for your customers, you will end up creating more value than those who are solely motivated by self-aggrandizement.

And you will end up getting your fair share of that added value.

5 replies
  1. Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan
    Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan says:

    Sadly, when salespeople don’t close the deal, the sales profession regards them as failures and losers.  The sad part is that what prospects want is irrelevant. Just buy my stuff because I need the money right now and want to win the sales contest.

    And the more competition sales managers create internally (oh , they are good at this), the further away the interests of buyers and sellers get positioned.

    I believe that sales is about establishing whether or not there is a mutually beneficial basis for working together, and a no decision is a respectable decision not the salesperson’s failure.

    In traditional selling both buyers and sellers know that the other party is less than honest, so they start manipulating each other. One piece of sales manipulation is the careful leading  questioning process and the other piece is overcoming objections.

    And the buyer’s manipulation is the less than complete answers. They know the truth: Everything you say can and will be used against you in the sales presentation in order to grab as much of your money as humanly possible.

    But there are no objections here. Only choices buyers make. And all we can do is respect those choices instead of challenging them.

  2. Mark Federman
    Mark Federman says:

    About 20 years ago, I sold mainframe computers and peripherals, primarily competing against IBM (at a time when "nobody every lost their job for buying IBM"). My systems engineer on a large account had just done a disk traffic analysis and found that the best alternative for the customer would be a cached disk controller. However, he was very troubled by the result. "What’s the problem?" I asked. He told me that we didn’t have a cached disk controller (at the time), and that if he presented the results to the customer, they would buy the next controller and disks from IBM, a sale worth about $500,000 in total. "And what’s the problem with that?" I asked. He looked at me dumbfounded – a salesman actually telling the systems engineer to recommend the competitor’s alternative.

    I explained that the only value he has to me in the account is his credibility. If he reports the findings honestly, especially if I’m in the room during the presentation (which I was – and when he recommended the IBM approach all eyes shot back to me, and I smiled and nodded), the customer will know that they can trust our analysis. I was confident that there would be enough future business based on other requirements. This apparent loss would turn into major wins down the road based on establishing and maintaining credibility and trust.

    IBM won that competition and the $500K worth of business. Over the next three years, I completely replaced almost all the IBM equipment in that datacentre, totalling about $10 million in sales. The only IBM equipment that remained was that cached disk controller, and the disks that attached to it.

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

    Brilliant, perfect little gem of a story.  Thank you Mark.

    Selling a product that’s wrong for the customer is never right–despite what your incentive plan, sales manager or CRM system says.  Because it absolutely destroys trust.

    It means you have given in to self-orientation, which undercuts trust.  It means you have sacrificed long term value for short term gain.  It means you have–implicitly if not explicitly–lied to the customer.  And if you have lied, then one has to ask why–and there are no good answers.

    The Trust Principles–client focus, collaboration, transparency and long-term perspective–are not soft attributes for being "nice."  That’s true, but it’s also an economic model; it simply pays off to serve your customers rightly. 

    Mark’s example is the perfect antidote to people who think trust is anti-profit.  Quite the opposite.

    In my book Trust-based Selling, I argue that the acid test of trust is whether or not you’re willing to recommend a competitor if appropriate.  If you’re never willing to do so, then in principle, you have demonstrated your your un-trustworthiness. 

    If you don’t know Mark Federman, check out his blog link above.  He’s got many more great things to say in addition to this little gem.

    Thanks Mark!


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