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What Do Prospects Owe Sales People?

by David Brock on November 8th, 2015

I had a fascinating exchange of emails with a very good sales person.  He described a particularly difficult sales situation.  It started well, then all of a sudden things fell apart.  As he tried to recover or at least understand, there was a series of miscommunications, ending in the customer/prospect saying, “Don’t ever contact me or anyone in my company again.”

The sales person had learned a lot in the process.  He recognized that he had made some errors–all unintentional–but he could have handled the situation better.  But I was struck by something at the end of the note, it was a simple statement on what the buyer owed the sales person.  In this case he felt the buyer was being unreasonable in letting a miscommunication get in the way, and that sales was owed the opportunity to correct it.

The thought struck me, “What do prospects, or possibly even customers, owe sales people?”

In the case of this sales person, to some degree he was looking for a “reasonable response.”  Or perhaps a second chance, or perhaps overlooking some small mis-phrasing the sales person had made in the conversations.

In reality sales people are owed nothing, we have to earn everything we get from a customer or prospect.

We have to be interesting, compelling, insightful, relevant enough in our prospecting to earn the right to interrupt the customer, getting them to listen to us.  If we aren’t we aren’t even owed a response–polite or not.

We have to engage the customer in discussions important, relevant, and timely to them to earn their attention interest and investment in time.  And we have to do this in every conversation.

We have to create value in each step, making sure that each meeting is the best investment in that customer’s time they can make at the moment.

We have to earn the right to recover from missteps we might make along the way.  None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, but we aren’t automatically owed the customers time to recover from those mistakes.

Ultimately, we have to earn the customer’s business.  It is never gifted.

Often, I get sales people upset as the prospect me.  They think that I’m not giving them a chance.  But if they haven’t prepared, if what they have to say isn’t relevant, timely, or important, I don’t owe them anything.  I’m not interested in learning about someone’s products unless I ask them.  I’m not interested in explaining that just because I download a white paper, it doesn’t indicate that I’m a prospect for their products—if they did their analysis, it would be obvious.

If they persist, use manipulation or deception, I don’t even owe them civility.

One friend and client has been showing me a stream of, frankly offensive, emails from two sales people who are upset that they get no response.  I keep telling my friend he should Spam them, because at least one sales person has said, “I intend to keep emailing until you respond.”  Neither of the sales people have explained why my friend should respond, they just want to talk to him because his title is EVP of Global Sales and Marketing.

Hank Barnes publishes his #FridayFails on LinkedIn.  It focuses on examples of bad prospecting.  Each time it features a sales person who feels entitled to take the customer/prospect’s time and is offended when it isn’t granted.

We seem to live in an entitlement world–not just limited to millennials.

But, as sales people, we aren’t owed anything from a customer.  At the inception of our relationship, we are interrupting.  If we use that time well, if we create value in that initial interaction with the customer, we earn the right to go the next step.

We earn the right to go the next step in each part of the engagement process.  We may earn the right to do business with the customer, but we have to continue to earn their business and loyalty through the relationship.

At the same time, each step of the way, we choose to take those steps, we choose to continue to engage the customer, earning our way to their continued business.

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