Print This Post Print This Post

Death by Selling

By Paul Johnson

1,188 words. Abstract: Learn how to prevent prospects from "going dark" and becoming unresponsive to your calls and emails. Take a lesson from your favorite action-adventure movie and avoid selling failures.

It has almost become a movie cliché. The bad guys capture our hero, and they want information. Our hero (think "Indiana Jones") knows that if he gives them the information they demand, they'll kill him. Instead, he concocts a plan to lead his captors along a roundabout route to what they want. Along the way, Jones is executing another secret plan to ensure that he gets what he wants, which includes his own life and often much more. Each step of the way, Indiana convinces the bad guys that they're getting closer and closer to the payoff. But Indiana must be careful; if he gives up too much information, his captors will believe they don't need him anymore. And he dies.

Collateral Damage
I see salespeople routinely do this: they put together a folder with every piece of literature they have and give it to the prospect at the first meeting. Then they wonder why they never hear from the prospect again.

Perhaps you've experienced death by selling in much the same way. I suppose it's fortunate that only the deal, and not you, dies. When a hot lead captures our attention and demands our information, we don't want to chance antagonizing the buyer so we give them everything they ask for to keep them happy. Then when we contact the buyer to gauge their level of interest, they are unresponsive. Emails are ignored. Voicemails are unreturned. Our deal is dead, or is it? No, we'll probably spend time and energy trying to track down and follow up with these people, not knowing if they have delayed the decision, lost interest in our offer, or bought from a competitor. We'll continue to waste resources chasing this prospect. The prospect never actually kills us, but we die of starvation trying to chase their ghost.

Time to Sell
Information is the ONLY thing that makes you, the salesperson, of value to prospects. To avoid death by selling, don't give it away too easily. All sales require time to be cultivated, whether that's hours, weeks or months. The proper flow of information is necessary to nurture the business relationship and harvest the sale. Solving this information flow problem will help you avoid wasted efforts, lost revenues, and worthless forecasts.

Like Indiana Jones, selling (s)heroes need to create a plan to give buyers (not really "bad guys") what they want while sellers get what they deserve. The plan begins with taking inventory of all the information you have that your buyers may need or want to help them make a positive decision. This might include specifications, case studies, articles, white papers, pricing, brochures, demonstrations… you get the idea. Decide what you're willing to give away readily, which items you'll hold back for later, and which items you'll make your prospects beg for. Consider when in the buying cycle each inventory item best fits; some may be needed early, and some fit better at the end.

Access the Mystery
The best information to give away early is that which is enticing and creates intrigue. How would Indiana Jones do this? He would produce half a map written in some ancient language that only he understood. Now Indiana's captors have "proof" that the treasure exists, and Indiana is their best chance for finding it since, now more than ever, they don't believe they can get to it on their own. Entice your prospects into believing you have access to the answers while not telling them the answers too soon.

Every time you want to contact the prospect, you now have a reserve of information that will make your calls and inquiries valuable to the prospect. Instead of being the pest who keeps calling and asking, "Have you made a decision yet?" you can be the stand-out salesperson who continually offers helpful suggestions. For instance, you might offer, "If you're having trouble getting everybody on board with this decision, perhaps you'd like to show your folks the research document our company prepared in tandem with State University. Would that help you?" If you routinely have something new to share with every phone call or e-mail, your prospects will look forward to hearing from you, and you'll be the one they get back to first. You'll stay alive to sell another day.

Show and Sell
Your most valuable information is that which is better shown than sent. You want opportunities for one-on-one interactions with your prospect. The best interactions are face-to-face, followed by webinars, and then telephone. When you ship a document to a prospect or send a link to a video to them, you have no way of getting real-time feedback. You don't know if your contribution has helped you or not. When you have something of value, insist on showing it to your prospect; don't succumb to their insistence that you just send it. If you do, you're about to step into that pit full of snakes. You do have a choice; remember, most death by selling is self-inflicted.

When Marketing Hurts
While managing prospects can be challenging, your biggest fights may come from inside your organization. If the marketing department is killing you, you need to defend yourself.

The evolution of the Internet has fostered a self-service mentality. Many of us go online daily to find information and make purchases. E-commerce is a proven model that works well in many markets. However, your company has salespeople for a reason. Some aspect of the purchasing process requires human intervention. If that wasn't the case, believe me, your company would mirror and do away with the sales department and your job in a heartbeat. But apparently that's not the case where you work.

Often the marketing department creates issues for the sales organization by taking every piece of sales-related information and putting it on the company website. Everything is now conveniently accessible to your prospects. Right or wrong, prospects BELIEVE that if they have ALL the information, they can make a good decision on their own without the "interference" of a salesperson.

If your website has become marketing's Swiss Army knife, death by selling will come sooner for you.

Together on a Selling Path
This is a great opportunity for sales and marketing to come together for a common goal: to acquire and serve customers. We routinely see this happen when we work together with clients to map the selling paths that support their prospects' buying process and yet enable acceleration of the sales process.

At the core, escaping death by selling is about having a plan for how information will be disseminated to prospects, and when. We wouldn't have much of a movie if Indiana Jones said too much and was killed in the first scene. If it's not crystal clear to you what you should hold back and what you can give up early, you've got more planning to do. Sellers and prospects both have a better chance of getting what they want when control of information isn't handed over to the prospect prematurely. When prospects believe you always have more to give, you're assured of a long and healthy selling career.

© 2008 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is Founder of Consultative Selling. He works with organizations like ADP, Nortel Networks and AutoNation. Discover the application and definition of Consultative Selling at Learn about public sales training courses at http://PublicSalesTrainin

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What sales aids do you find are most powerful to SHOW your prospect?

Posted: under Gaining Commitment (Sales).

1 Comment

  1. Wendy L. Kinney Says:

    Paul, I have been the recipient of collateral damage. I ask for someone’s opinion – I want them to educate me, to steer me in the right direction – and they respond by FedExing 30 pounds of catalogs FOR ME TO LOOK THROUGH.

    “We can do anything you want” is what I, as a consumer of business products and services, do not want!

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment