It was Tuesday afternoon and my friend who happens to own a local tech business called me. The first thing he said was, “I hate sales people.” Of course he knows that sales is my profession, so I’m not sure why he likes telling me this – it wasn’t the first time – but I’m glad he did (I didn’t take it personally).
His latest run in with this hideous breed of professional was in his office that morning. After a brief and completely off-guard cold call the previous week, the sales person was able to schedule a meeting with my friend after the slightest need was uncovered. My friend had expressed interest in a very specific offering that this sales person peddled. However, everything went south when the sales person showed up for their meeting with three colleagues in tow. A little taken about aback by this full frontal assault, my friend still took the meeting even if he had to scramble to find enough chairs.
Why the sales person chose to bring an army (four and five-star generals no less) on a simple scouting mission we don’t know. But our speculation about this led me to this post. My friend believes it was because the sales person apparently knew very little about their own solution and clearly needed backup, but I offered a different opinion…
At one time, I was part of a struggling Silicon Valley company where I was told by a Board member, “It’s all about team selling now, Darren (referring to the “Silicon Valley Way”). You’re older so you may not be familiar with this new team and social approach to selling.” Yes, even though in my forties, I am apparently out of it. All this time I thought I always practiced team selling, that is, collaboratively leveraging internal resources to close multi-million, multi-year commitments. Hmmmm….
I immediately thought of my own experience when my friend told me his experience that morning. In my case, the Board member went on to spearhead a company-wide “team-based selling strategy.” His interpretation of this strategy is best illustrated by a specific customer situation from our now defunct team selling strategy (that led to a defunct company). One time a colleague had a first-call exploratory “meet-and-greet” with a reasonably high-leveled Director at a major retailer. It was a great opportunity to open a dialog and potentially establish a long-term relationship. Per our newly installed ‘team-selling strategy,” my colleague was instructed to bring three others – his sales manager, the VP of Services and our CEO. While this was far from my colleague’s best judgment, he could only watch the ensuing train wreck…
Much like my friend, this Director was surprised but cordial as he scrambled to cram everyone into his office (I think my colleague described it as “sardines”). The prospect was grilled for over an hour, pushed for something – some morsel – the “team” could come back with. Interestingly, they declared victory and announced internally that this new team approach had uncovered a huge opportunity. While the team’s perception was triumphal success, the Director never spoke with us again. New dialog squashed; new relationship over before it began.
Never mind the five-figure expense report for this one meeting for a yet-to-be-qualified opportunity, my guess is that the Director at this large retailer felt similarly to my friend after his Tuesday morning meeting. My friend was entirely put off by the meeting. To him it looked desperate, unorganized and very inefficient. If that’s the way they managed their sales process, he couldn’t imagine how it would be as a customer.
Now in my friend’s case, maybe the sales person was new and needed the backup — in that case bring your manager (one additional person; two additional ears is rarely a bad thing). The manager can even run the meeting and disclose the situation. No big deal! I’ve been both the sales person and the manager in those situations. It’s better than an ignorant rep trying to put on airs; it doesn’t work!
The point is that sometimes sloppy sales techniques are not the fault of the sales person. As I explained to my friend, you can’t pin this on the rep and bang your “I hate sales people” drum. I know in my experience and I expect in my friend’s situation it is the fault of senior management. Whether it’s a trust issue or a legitimate belief that it’s actually an effective sales technique I can’t say. In the former, I’m not sure why you would have sales if you can’t trust them to make a first call. In the latter, I’m here to tell them it isn’t effective in the least!
Very interested in getting some community reaction to this…
Granted, some of you reading this may not know what a “rolodex” is or what it was used for… So that everyone is on the same page let’s define it simply as your contact database. This is about the names, numbers and emails of prospects and customers that you have interacted with in a sales capacity over your career.
I have a real beef with companies that stipulate this as part of a new sales candidate’s contribution. In a list of job qualifications it might say something like, “Candidate must have rolodex replete with industry contacts” or “Extensive customer network”.
Specifically, here are my top three reasons why this is a turnoff:
Overall, this kind of new rep qualification and expectation is just unflattering for the company. And it’s not because I don’t have my own so-called “rolodex” of people. Quite the contrary, I have a trusted network of professionals that I would absolutely leverage if and when appropriate. However, it would never come before I knew there was an appropriate fit and that the company (and product) were worthy of an introduction. Neither of these qualifiers would exist for any salesperson walking in the door; in my experience, it takes three to four months to assess and target any network potential that may exist.
It usually takes that long to understand the solution nuances and know if a network contact has a need. It also takes about that long to know if there is a “philosophical fit.” In other words, is the company’s approach to business (and even their long-term viability) going to be a match and something that won’t tarnish a solid, trusting, often personal relationship? Actually, this might be a fourth reason to add to the list – It’s risky (for the sales rep). Why turn over my network only to find out that the fit’s not there or the company is a long-term risk?
If you have an opinion, I would value your feedback. Do I have this all wrong?
If this provoked some thought, please like and share.