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An Innovative Approach To Sales Training?

by David Brock on February 15th, 2010

The web provides endless amusement in understanding new approaches to selling.  I recently found the following post in a sales training discussion blog I participate in.  It was posted as “Huge Favor:”

Hi! My name is Melanie and I need a huge favor. I just started a new sales job providing (Some product from a big company). As part of my requirements for graduating from training I need 10 referrals to let me call them to present the offer. You do not have to buy anything at all. (Of course, you can if you want to and I can get you a system for free). If you would be willing to let me call you, send me your name and number to (Melanie’s email address)  with the best time to call you. After I call you I will put you on the “do not call list” so you won’t get any further calls. I know this is asking a lot since you don’t know me. But if you wouldn’t mind, I would be so grateful!!

I’m fascinated by this new approach to selling:

  • “I want to pitch my product, but you don’t have to buy anything.”  Stated otherwise, please help me go through the motions of making a sales call.  Please invest your valuable time in a meaningless exercise.
  • “If you do want to buy, I’ll get you the product for free.”  This is really a cool offer, if you convince me to buy your product, you’re already talking to me about not paying for it.  Cool idea, tell me, how do you and your company make money?  If I want to buy stock in your company, do you pay me the purchase price and guarantee me a growth rate?
  • “After I call you, I promise I will never call you again.”  Well, if I give you my name, I am probably giving you permission to call me.  I might ask you not to, but why make that decision for me.  Would you consider letting me make the decision myself?
  • “I need to call 10 referrals to present the offer.”  I get it, we’re after making the calls, not producing result.  Neat, I can do that.  What’ s the commission plan?

I’ve been curious about innovation in sales training.  Melanie’s approach, based on her sales training is very different than anything I have ever encountered.  I had always thought a sales person’s job was to create revenue for their companies.  I thought we wanted to establish ongoing relationships with customers.  Apparently, I have been under a misconception that sales training is to help us prepare for this, and the best practice is to go out and do it.  The best test of how well we do it is if the customer pulls out their checkbook to pay, or if the customer says, please keep me informed of your offerings.

I guess I don’t understand the new workl of selling?  Can someone help me, I’d really like to understand where I am going off base.

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5 Comments
  1. Dave,
    I think we are seeing a symptom of scorecard and KPI disease here.
    I suspect Melanie is just doing what she is asked to do. To make ten calls to get a “tick in the box” regardless of the outcome of these calls.

    So I would not blame her, but the managers who bought such a training and the trainer for initiating such nonsense behavior.

    There is a saying: “Do not expect what you do not inspect”. From your example it seems that the inverse is true too: “Expect what you inspect” which then leads to the old IT wisdom: “Garbage in, garbage out”

  2. Fascinating, absolutely fascinating.

    I think Christian is right, what we’re seeing is the inevitable reductio ad absurdum of an emphasis on “what gets measured gets managed,” combined with a uniquely American twist on ‘friends’ and ‘relationships.’

    Here’s this breathless bright young thing (if indeed ‘Melanie’ is her real name), all a-flutter, calling to ask an utter stranger for a favor. The favor should be granted, because–“I would be so grateful!”

    I guess one of two things are possible: one is that ‘Melanie’ is exactly who she says she is, and has rather entirely missed the point of the whole sales exercise, as both you and Christian point out. Although, watch out, Melanie’s don’t come out of a vacuum. I would not bet against her getting a large return rate out of ‘sympathy’ for young innocent Melanie, from people wanting to help her out.

    The other possibility is that “Melanie” is a coldly-calculated nom de plume designed precisely to appeal to a purely emotional buy–no risk, no harm, because she’s already said no one will ever call you again. Of course, if indeed plenty of people do respond to it, good luck with that ‘we won’t call you again’ ploy, of course they will. (I suspect not a few of the potential respondees, by the way, are single young men who figure they might enjoy hearing a pitch from ‘Melanie’).

    I honestly don’t know which it is. Either way sounds blecchhy to me. Either she is a dimwit who doesn’t get the idea of sales, or she is a truly cynical salesperson.

    But either way, I wouldn’t bet against ‘her.’ Which, if I’m right, says something about the naivete of the people who respond to the email. I hope I’m wrong and there are very few of those.

    • Charlie and Christian: Great comments! I never took the time to respond to Melanie to determine if she is simply clueless or coldly calculating. However, both approaches are likely to work—buyer beware. We think there are not many naive customers out there, then we read today’s (11/28/2010) New York Times business section and get more reinforcement–this time success coming from a negative and threatening approach.

      There must be something in these bad approaches. They wouldn’t continue to be used unless they worked.

  3. Fascinating – no harm, no foul? Maybe someone bought this because it sounded so good even though they forget the other half “it probably isn’t.” Such sales training either provides additional opportunities for those engaged in authentic development or will just another obstacle to our abilities to increase our own sales.

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