Just Say It

There are very few things in life that I truly hate. We optimistic entrepreneurs are upbeat and resilient. But there is this one thing. Let me set the scene and see if you share the same disdain as do I. You reach out to a prospective customer and are able to actually snag a meeting. Arriving early, you are well prepared and have done considerable research on this person and his company. No question will go unanswered and every key point will be covered. The meeting seems to go well and you get positive though non-committal feedback from the prospective customer. As you wrap up you hear those 11 dreaded words . . . “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

Naturally you are polite when you are told this, but you leave indicating that you’ll check back in a week – the customer smiles and nods. Of course you send a nice thank you note, and a week later you are in follow-up mode. You call and leave a voicemail message. You e-mail and re-state your interest in working with this individual. There is no response. Another week goes by with another voicemail and e-mail. The third week you actually reach the customer when you call and he tells you how slammed he’s been; asks a question, and says he’s still thinking about it. But there’s hope isn’t there? He asked a question – that seems to be a sign that he’s interested.

You know the rest of the story. After an interminable period of time you somehow learn that he actually committed to buy the product from a competitor – weeks ago. This is a locker-kicking, punching-the-wall moment of frustration. The age-old question spews from your lips, “Why couldn’t he just say NO?!”

Whether or not we’re entrepreneurs, we’re always going to find ourselves in situations where we need someone to say yes or no. It doesn’t seem like these answers should be hard to provide. And yet there apparently is a great deal of indecision in the world today because getting to yes or no is a great struggle for some. Why? What’s the point of the “string-along?” Often it may be that a person is concerned about hurting someone else’s feelings by saying no. It’s true that a person may need to consider his or her options and truly contemplate before providing an answer. But that’s no reason for not responding to phone calls and e-mails.

Having dealt with this issue for many years, I’ve resolved not to treat others in similar fashion. When I’m called for a meeting I will try to quickly determine if I have an interest in what the other person is offering – now or ever. If I’m not interested – ever – I’ll tell the other person and refuse the meeting. It’s a quick “no.” If I’m not interested now but might be in the future, I’ll say this, “I can tell you that I’m not interested right now. However, I’m happy to take the meeting because I want to learn more about you and your product for future reference. It certainly helps to build a relationship.” The other person knows exactly where I stand and can decide herself if she still wants to schedule the meeting. If I go through with the meeting and don’t want what is being offered I will say “no” on the spot. If I truly need time to contemplate, I’ll tell the other person that I need to do so and will provide a firm date for follow-up.

Here’s one more thing about a “no” answer. Many of us learned that when we’re told no, it’s simply a plea to be “sold” some more. I think this is still true but with a twist. If I say no – never, that’s probably what I mean. But if I say no – not right now, that could very well mean that I’m a “yes” in the future. There’s no harm in building relationships and keeping our name in front of someone with whom we want to do business. Being in the right place at the right time is a real art. Through relationships the odds of being in this position are vastly improved.

We’d much rather hear a quick no than be strung along through indecision or sensitivity for our feelings. Giving no as an answer allows the other person to move into a longer term relationship-building mode, and enables him or her to pursue other prospects without wasting time.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Audio Episode 47 – Trained Monkeys.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Buy or Sell?

Question: I see people use essentially the same sales techniques, but some are successful and some are not. How can this be?

Answer: There are so many books about selling that it would be impossible to read all of them in a lifetime. And there are so many different techniques that it makes our heads spin. So what does it all boil down to? I can simplify it fairly easily. A successful salesperson does not sell anything. Nothing at all. Nada. Instead, he or she helps a customer buy something.

The distinction between buying and selling is huge. And it can be the difference between success or failure. Let’s examine what all this means. Old-school salespeople do the schmooze with the customer. They use techniques such as asking questions that get the customer to answer with the word “yes.” They attempt to close at least seven times with different methods. They try and create a sense of urgency – i.e. the price is going to increase tomorrow, or there is only one left. I’m not quarreling with the fact that these methods may have worked in the past. But people are more sophisticated in today’s world and they don’t respond to manipulation as they may have in an earlier era.

Rather than selling to someone, I submit that helping someone buy can be as effective as old-school salesmanship – maybe even more so. This starts from a premise of respect in that we want to help meet the needs of a customer – notice the mindset is accentuated by the words “respect” and “help.” Understanding the needs of a customer means asking a lot of questions; usually many more than a customer is typically asked. In the process, there is an opportunity to build a relationship with the customer. Working with someone on a relationship basis is part of the “help” to which I’ve referred. Think about this for a moment. Are you more or less inclined to buy from someone who has genuinely tried to understand your needs and at the same time you are both able to get to know each other better?

Of course you need to be completely knowledgeable about your product or service in order to answer the questions raised by the customer. And you’ll certainly want to demonstrate the features and how they translate into benefits. But I think the sale is won or lost in the first few seconds of the encounter based upon how well you connect with the customer. Will this happen with manipulation and pressure? Or is the connection made through the process of thoroughly understanding needs and building relationships?

To be successful at sales simply practice the Golden Rule. In all likelihood, helping someone buy is the way you would want it to be when you are the customer.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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