Matt Handal has posted a thoughtful message as a guest post in Lori Sullivan’s BD BluePrint Blog. He describes an incredibly inept sales call, which he attended. He and his colleague had their pitch well-practiced and rehearsed, and they thought they were going to blow the socks off the potential client.
Instead they were almost shown the door — because the client had no interest in what they were presenting. He had other needs/requirements, and they didn’t even bother to find out what they were before starting the pitch.
It wasn’t until years later that I truly understood what we did wrong. And it’s a mistake that I see people making on a regular basis.
It’s based on a concept that seems easy enough to understand but is extremely difficult to believe.
You can’t create a desire for your service or product.
Let me repeat that in a different way. You can’t sell someone something they don’t already want. You can only align their existing desires with your service or product.
That’s very hard to believe because you probably think people sell us stuff we don’t want all the time, right!? We’ve all heard about people who can sell water to a fish and prescription glasses to a blind man.
Well, it doesn’t work like that. Want to test it? Try to sell me some cat food. I don’t have a cat. I’m not going to eat cat food. Try to sell me cat food.
Looking back at our meeting, the client didn’t desire increased reliability. To make matters worse, we had no idea what he desired. Truth be told, we didn’t care what he desired. We had a bullet in the chamber and we were determined to fire it.
Are You Making This Fatal Sales Mistake?
Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen people make that fatal mistake over and over again. They develop their sales message, load it into the chamber of their gun, and run around trying to shoot clients.
They make no effort to find out or even consider their potential clients’ hopes, fears, and dreams (i.e. their existing desires). And since they aren’t aligning their sales message to those hopes, fears, and dreams…they end up trying to sell the client something they don’t desire.
Sure, if you search long enough, you’ll find some blind man that wants to buy prescription glasses. Maybe he just likes the way wearing prescription glasses makes him feel. But 99.9999% of the blind men you try to sell to simply won’t buy. Some will even get annoyed with you.
When you think about it, this is common sense, and it relates to the overall marketing framework, as well. While marketers and salespeople are masters of persuasion — after all that is what we are doing — you can’t persuade anyone to change fundamentally, and especially you can’t force interest in a highly specific product/service/pitch.
Equally, you can’t just walk in the door and start asking questions to discern “needs” — this type of behaviour would probably irritate a potential client even more than a hard-rock pitch.
The key to its success, however, is that you need to do your research ahead of time, ideally through direct human connections and real-life referrals.
This leads me to a recollection of the most successful cold call of my career (which I’ve told earlier, but is worthy of repeating).
Some years ago, we planned to expand our business to Toronto with the launch of GTA Construction Report. I made an appointment with the Toronto Construction Association (after paying our introductory dues), with the objective of coordinating positive editorial coverage for the association.
I was led into a dark boardroom, with our editor cooling his heels in the hallway. At the opposite side of the table, it was like an inquisition, with the association president, chairperson and one other representative staring at me.
The then-chair said (I’m paraphrasing; this happened some years ago and I didn’t keep hard notes):
We regret that you joined the association. We want nothing to do with you. In fact, we would like you to leave town — just like we would like McGraw Hill to go away (McGraw-Hill then owned Dodge, Sweets and other construction information services; these have since been divested by the successor company, Standard and Poors).
The association chair, it turned out, was then also the publisher of a competing local publication, associated with a direct competitor to McGraw-Hill.
Shocked, I left the meeting room. I told our new editor that even though we would not have co-operation with the association, we would still write a positive story in each issue, based on publicly available material.
I then placed a cold call to McGraw-Hill’s Toronto office. I told the receptionist about my experience. It took all of 15 seconds to be put through to the then-office director and set up a meeting, where we quickly agreed on a strategic alliance. (Our relationship continues today. McGraw-Hill sold its Canadian data services to Merx and we continue to publish the data in our publications.)
Obviously, this is an example of a cold call where mutual needs and circumstances are quite clear. While we were together because of a negative rather than positive reference, the fact that we had both received the same “negative” response from the key industry leader made it easy for us to see that we would benefit from becoming friends.
When it comes to sales, make your connections. Have something specific. And if it is at all possible, have a direct reference or referral to start the process. You’ll then be in a place where the only pitch you need is what the potential client really wants to hear.