We all know the idiom “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. Although many professionals will disagree with this style, as their point of view on life and interpersonal communication is different, I believe in this whole-heartedly. That said, this is clearly mapped to the person’s personality, intentions, and character. There are plenty of top sales people that catch many flies with vinegar; however I don’t believe it fosters real connections and ends up being more transactional and fake.
I recently sat down and thought about what it was that meant a lot to me when selling and here are some pieces that I identified. Hope they inspire and help you. Now, it’s important to understand that most of my thoughts below are most applicable to B2B enterprise sales of saas or web-based software.
1. Give without Expectations
I really enjoy sending cards, gifts, flowers, etc to prospects and clients. Now, here is the deal. When you give the intention is to simply thank the prospect for being open to exploring doing business with you. Although some people might think this is tacky or “too much”, I completely disagree. I believe that if there are real/good reasons to thank the prospect, its perfectly fine. I also like to send these gifts to middle managers and influencers who have been helpful. These people don’t typically get the attention that top executives and decision makers do, so I find them more appreciative of these gestures.
Real/good reasons in my mind include, but are not limited to:
- Taking the time to meet with you. These people are busy and you should absolutely thank them for allocating time to spend with you.
- Providing introductions to other teams, RFPs, and other internal documents or materials. Keep in mind that your prospects are at work, and everything they share, any introductions they make, they are responsible for. These actions can hurt them, if things go wrong somehow. So again, thank them for taking a risk with you and your company.
Bad things to say when sending gifts:
- “I hope we do business together”
- “I look forward to you choosing us”
- “We are the best solution”
I hope you get the point around bad things to say, which are indeed tacky. Gifts, flowers, etc are not going to close a deal. In fact, you should have zero expectations for reciprocation other than perhaps a thank you email, maybe a call. They are kind gestures that help strengthen relationships.
When sending these gifts, I like to attach a message like:
“Hi Jane, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to explore us as a possible partner. Regardless of which way you choose, we appreciate the opportunity to compete.
I highly recommend, closing your eyes and truly detaching yourself from the outcome of the giving gesture. If you do it, do it to make that person’s day brighter, not because you expect that to seal the deal. If you are able to develop a solid relationship, solve your prospect’s needs, and they can afford it, your chances of winning the business should be high.
2. Understand the Human Dynamic
Everyone who knows me will absolutely say that I am an emotional guy, who enjoys personal connections, and probably focuses on the “connection” more than most. And I clearly admit it. However, outside of me being an extrovert, there is some logic behind it.
Look, at the end of the day, we are human beings, who are trying to be happy in life, make good decisions, love, laugh, and be successful. I personally find it very hard to put on the “business-face”. I do believe that you should absolutely act appropriately according to your “audience”, and even mirror your audience’s demeanor especially early in the relationship. However I personally try to bring, what my business partner Jason Vargas calls your “authentic self”, to work, meetings, etc. Now, I will also admit that I walk a thin line sometimes. I test the boundaries of how close or “loose” I can get with a prospect. That I’m aware of, I’m generally well received; however because I am being authentic about how I am, people tend to appreciate it.
Things I look at. It’s not rocket science that I am going to speak to a younger prospect a bit different than speaking to an older, senior executive. That said, do not stereotype. Feel the prospect out to sense of how far you can go or how close you can get. You’d be surprised how many CEOs or top-level executives are the most laid-back, casual, funny people in the room. I usually wait for signals, to gauge how quickly I open up.
This all said, some people will never open up to you, this is just who they are. It doesn’t mean that they are mean, jerks, or rude; it’s just that their level of comfort opening up to others, especially strangers, is a bit different than yours. On top of the fact that you being a stranger, you’re a “sales person”, which needless to say carries around a not so flattering stereotype.
So next time you are in a sales meeting, remember the human dynamic. Remember that we are only human and deserve to be treated with authenticity.
3. Be Service Minded
This is something that I learned some from days selling books door-to-door with The Southwestern Company. This concept also ties into everything that I have been talking about above. Being service minded is all about keeping the prospects best interest in mind. It’s about truly detaching yourself from the outcome and focusing on serving the prospect’s needs, which hopefully align with what you have to offer.
Now, I am not suggesting that you spend a lot of time helping a prospect that is clearly not going to buy based on a number of disqualifications.
What I am saying is that if you have a qualified prospect, focus on how you can help them, not what you can “squeeze out of them”. This is not the way to build long-term relationships and is the wrong focus. This is how “slimy”, “dishonest” sales people conduct themselves, and they might close a deal using these tactics, however the dishonesty will always catch up to them somehow. And even, if you are an honest person just trying to close a deal because you feel “the pressure”, once your client/prospect learns the truth, you have lost credibility. Do the right thing from day one.
There is a difference between being biased towards your offering or focusing on the good parts, versus flat out lying. If you can’t handle the pressure that sales exposes you to, you should find a new career path; especially within a startup environment.
Lies I have seen sales people tell:
- Promise features or capabilities that don’t exist
- Claim to have clients that don’t exist or aren’t formally customers yet
- Unrealistic timeline for product delivery (this is most pertinent to services)
Now, how can a salesperson address these with honesty and not immediately lose a deal:
- Do your research. Go to your product team directly or if you have to speak with your manager, do so. Ask if these features are on the product road map. If they are, simply ask for a best-case timeline on when they expect to roll them out. If they are not on the roadmap, ask if it is possible to custom build these features. And lastly, if the features are not on the roadmap and can’t be built, research if there are 3rd party solutions that can be used with your product to complete the solution. Oftentimes, a partnership with another company can be very powerful and “deals” or discounts are considered to make the overall offering to the prospect as attractive as possible.
- I understand this is a thin line to walk. Reason being that often times when selling B2B products, there are contract negotiations that take time to complete. Many times there are lawyers involved and this always delays the process. At times salespeople will consider the deal done and claim the prospect as a current client. Although many of these are very likely to become clients in the very short term, it is not unknown for these deals to fall apart during these stages, and the fact is that they are technically not clients. If you claim them to be clients before these contracts are signed and these fall apart, you will lose credibility with you prospects and cant risk hurting the relationship with the prospect for future business opportunities. This is something that I am adamantly against. I have worked with colleagues in the past that have flat out lied about these things and there is no bigger turn off in my mind. So, how do you deal with situations and be honest? I like to say things like “we are currently in final contract review with “Exciting Company A”, and are excited to work together. They are using “Your Company” to do “What they are using your offering for” and are really excited”. First of all, you should absolutely understand how your client is experiencing value from your offering and be able to speak to it as an expert. Second of all, you should be able to articulate a clear and concise story around it. This is a great way to be honest and still be able to leverage a client that still hasn’t formally become a customer yet. This format can be used at many of the stages you are at with a prospect. In my mind, the rule of thumb is once the prospect expresses meaningful interest in doing business with you and you have identified what value you bring to their business and can tell the story, I believe its completely ok to express this to another prospect. The only time this becomes a real problem, is if you are under NDA. In that case, you can say things like “I am working on a deal with a Fortune 100 retailer or CPG brand” and not mention the name. Even though its unlikely that anyone would ever know, keep it honest. Not only are you legally required to maintain confidentiality, the prospect that you are speaking to will respect the fact that you are person and company of integrity. It’s not worth the deal, if you have to lie to get it.
- Under promise, over deliver. When dealing with a timeline to deliver a product, often times this is out of the salesperson’s hands, however delivering an exaggerated or fictional timeline just to close a deal, is the easiest way to have an angry, disruptive client who will not do business with you again, is susceptible to attacking legally, and/or can destroy your company’s reputation; remember these are the days of social media. Try your best to come up with realistic timelines and then even add padding to them. Imagine the excitement you will feel if you are able to over deliver.
4. Be Empathetic and Compassionate about the Prospects Point-of-View
I think the best way to think about this is to ask yourself, if you were in their shoes, based on what you know about them, their company, etc, how would you feel? What are the decisions that you would have a tough time making? Could your job be on the line if you made the wrong decision? Could this decision improve you standing in the company? What are the possible things that could go wrong? What does the ideal vendor look like? What possible concerns could the prospect have that would make them hesitant to buy?
I believe it’s important to discover the answers to all of these questions and come up with more. Your ability to discover and solve any issues that the prospect might is struggling with, can make the difference in any selling engagement. If you are able to cover these concerns or issues, and align your offering with their best interest, you will close a lot of business.