Everybody Sells – Not Everybody Sells Well

31 Aug

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

In his 2012 book “To Sell is Human,” author Daniel Pink cites a study (that he commissioned) in which 1 in 9 workers identify their primary jobs as “direct sales” – amounting to over 15 million people. But the interesting part of the study was that the rest of us (8 in 9 workers) are also engaged in selling – not just objects, but ideas and techniques. We are persuading, negotiating and pitching – making a case for a raise, convincing a spouse to go on vacation, persuading children to go to bed. In fact, the study showed that people spend 40 percent of their work time engaged in “non-sales selling.”

While everybody sells, not everyone sells well. Consider the following actual exchange at a recent Federal Procurement Conference in Washington, DC:

Federal Agency Rep: “Good morning, sir. How can I help you?”
Small Business Owner: “Whatcha buying?”
Federal Agency Rep: “We have a decent sized procurement budget and are always looking to work with small business. What do you sell?”
Small Business Owner: “Whatcha need?”

The Federal Agency Rep politely took the “salesman’s” business card, but I can almost guarantee that it is on a “do not respond to” board back in the office. Unfortunately, this type of interaction is not uncommon. Here are 5 Bad Selling Techniques I observe on a regular basis:

1. Lack of Research: I emphasized this point in my last blog. Clearly the small business owner above failed to do even the most basic research on the agency before making a business approach (if that is what you would call that exchange). A little bit of research before a business engagement can go a long way. Most businesses and government agencies post their mission, their staff, and yes, even their procurement needs online. Knowing the background of the person you are meeting can help you find ways to connect – and relationships are key to business.

2. Lack of Relationship Building: Which brings me to my second point – despite the proliferation of online transactions – we still like to conduct business with people we know and trust. Last week, I counted the number of emails I received that were addressed “Dear Sir or Madam” – 123! Most were spam, but there were a few “legitimate” emails of introduction – and I ignored them. In a world where we have too much to do and too little time, the default option is to ignore the noise.

3. Focusing on “Features” over “Value”: Many salespeople want to overwhelm us with their years of experience and all of the features (or talents) they can bring to our business. Dave McClure (500 Startups) said it best, “Customers don’t care about your solution. They care about their problems.”

4. Too Much Talking and Not Enough Listening: Ever dealt with a salesperson who didn’t let you get a word in edgewise – or answered his/her own questions? My favorite is the 50+ slide “canned” PowerPoint sales call.

5. The “Hard Sell”: So salespeople who didn’t do their research, didn’t build a relationship and who don’t really care about providing value to their customers typically resort to the “hard sell.” A hard sell is designed to get a consumer to purchase a good or service in the short-term, rather than evaluate his/her options and potentially decide to wait on the purchase. It is considered a high-pressure technique where they question your intelligence, your authority or even your manhood. I don’t bother trying to engage with these people – they get shown the door.

It is not enough to advise you to stop using these techniques. But it’s a start. You have to do the research. You have to build relationships. You have to focus on value. But in a commoditized world (where many people/businesses are offering similar products/services) we have to do more. I’ll discuss this further in future blog posts. You can start by reading Jonah Berger’s book, “Contagious”.

One Response to “Everybody Sells – Not Everybody Sells Well”


  1. Hustle – Good, Hustled – Bad | postcynical - 02/17/2018

    […] In other words, make a real connection. Yes, it takes time to build relationships (there is no shortcut), but those relationships will help ensure the longevity of your business. See my blog post on selling for more advice on building trusted relationships with your clients: https://postcynical.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/everybody-sells-not-everybody-sells-well/ […]

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