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How Many Salesepeople Does It Take To Screw In A Light Bulb?

by David Brock on July 12th, 2011

I’ve given up, we deserve all the jokes people tell about us.  Stupid sales behaviors—the source of endless jokes, the reason people hate sales people, the reason we have such difficulty in meeting with customers.

The tricks and manipulation……

A client sent me a note about one.  A sales person calls, leaves a voicemail, but doesn’t leave his name.  Curious, my client calls back, the sales person is totally unprepared, did not recall the message (left 45 minutes earlier), didn’t ask my client about their business, but starts pitching a meeting.

My friend, Anthony Iannarino, has another similar one:  “Should I leave a message with just my name and number, not why I am calling?”  The subtext to this is—let me trick someone into returning my call.

My own experience, just yesterday.  I get a voicemail, I return the call, the sales person answers—sounds like I woke him up from his afternoon nap.  Doesn’t remember why he called, then wanders through an aimless conversation—after 45 seconds, I didn’t get it, I understood he wanted to sell me something, but didn’t know what, so I thanked him and hung up.

Or the one, “We met at this conference, I wanted to follow up with you….”  When I reply, “I registered for the conference, but ended up not attending, so how did we meet?”

Then there’s the variant of the conference one — “We met at this conference two years ago….”  Wow, I think, they must have had so many leads, they are just now getting to me……

I could go on, I’ll stop here, but ask you to share your own stories in comments on this blog.  But the real reason for writing is:  Do we ever stop to listen to what we are saying?  Do we ever stop to think?  If we called ourselves and used the same approach, what would our response be?

Is thinking about what we are doing so difficult?  Is there some reason we spend lots of time looking for the latest trick, that hook, the way to “get our foot in the door,” rather than focus on “Why would this person want to talk/meet with me?  What could I do that would be meaningful to this individual?”  Both take about the same amount of time, but we seem to opt to sleight of hand, rather than the value we can create.

The goal isn’t about the number of calls–managers setting these goals take note–the goal is, how many value based conversations do we have?

When are we going to realize that buying–and selling has shifted?  It’s not about the pitch, it’s not about broadcasting a meaningless message, it’s about establishing a meaningful dialogue or conversation.  When do we start realizing that we don’t build trust through deception and manipulation?

Why do we continue to choose circuitous, confusing approaches to a prospect or customer, instead of being direct?

Sales is difficult enough, it requires real talent.  It requires real thoughtfulness.  Stop wasting your time on tricks and manipulation.  Stop wasting your time looking for or reading, “The 7 tricky ways to get your customer to say yes,” or “The 11 ways you can get your customer to answer the phone,” or “Master the ambush call.”

Invest your time in thinking–why would the customer want to talk to me?  What could I do that would create value for the customer?  How do I communicate that to the customer?  How do I make sure it’s a good investment of the customer”s time.  Think about what you are doing, research, plan, prepare.  You’d be amazed at how well it works.

Did you hear the one about, “What do you say about 200 sales people at the bottom of the sea….”

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  1. Dave,

    This post really bugs me. Mostly because it’s so true, but also partly because I didn’t write it.

    I have such a passion for the sales profession that it pains me to say this, but there are a lot of idiots in sales. I’ve always wondered why. I think it’s the low barrier to entry in many cases, and in others, the really poor selection process that is so prevailent. Wow, what does this say about organizations and sales leaders? Or the complete lack of performance systemns and accountability that allows these behaviors to foster? I get sick thinking about it.

    Anthony has his examples, you have yours, Mike Weinberg rides with a rep who has no clue about call planning, and I get calls and emails from several clueless morons weekly. When a real pro contacts me, I almost want to buy stuff I don’t need just to reward them! (Prob’ly ought not put that iun writing, but oh well.)

    Great sales trainers exist, there are books galore, I’m friends with a few dozen *incredibly excellent* sales and business performance consultants like yourself – the right message and approach is out there. (Hmm. Just like the truth in the X-Files.)

    When I think about this stuff, I’m always left with the same question: “How do we truly elevate the sales profession?”

    My chosen path has been to focus on the companies in which I work, doing my six-project performance lever research projects and putting sales performance improvement systems in place, one company at a time. Some days, though, as much as I love my work and am enjoying doing it again… in terms of my question, I feel like I’m swinging at an elephant with a fly swatter.

    I don’t have any answers at the moment. Just that nagging question, gnawing at me.

    Stay the course, Dave.


    P.S. Paws up! 😉

    • Paws Up Monster—I mean Mike. Too often I think about the Bill Murray movie, Ground Hog Day. It seems we are condemned to relive the same things over an over again. In this case, it’s about stupid selling tricks.

      It’s interesting and disturbing, we are willing to spend whatever time it takes to do something wrong–then tix it and fix it and fix it, but we won’t spend the time to think critically, strategize, plan, commit and execute right in the first place. The latter always is a faster time to result than the former. We have numerous stories to illustrate the fact, but they never stick.

      Personally, it’s disappointing. Sometimes you feel like you are tilting at windmills. Sometimes you wonder if people get it—-then I get a comment like yours–it re-energizes me. Thanks so much.

      In reality, we are making progress, in little steps–not in the giant steps that are possible, but we are making progress. Each of us in our different ways make a contribution, your presentation and work on performance levers will make a difference, some of mine has impact.

      I understand the gnawing and impatience. Thanks for the comment, Paws Up!

  2. Adam permalink

    David another great post. I hope the “sales professionals” out there start to take notice.

    “The goal isn’t about the number of calls–managers setting these goals take note–the goal is, how many value based conversations do we have?”

    — This point really hits home with me. I firmly believe we can’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Otherwise we are giving up long term value for short term gains. That to me is a strategy for failure.

    • Adam, thanks for the comment — not so fast though. We should always be seeking quality and should never sacrifice quality for quantity. That being said, sometimes it makes sense to do both, sometimes it makes sense to focus on quantity then quality. I’ll post on this in the next few days. Thanks for provoking the idea.

      • Adam permalink

        David I have a feeling I am going to agree with your insight, I can’t wait to here what you have to say.

        Along the same lines I like to say I’d rather work smart than work hard. Keeping this in mind it makes a heck of a lot more sense to do both!

        I’m glad to have inspired a post, too bad I hadn’t got my Blog rolling or I’d have asked to guest post on my site as well.

        Your are doing an excellent job here, keep up the great work!

  3. Martin Lampard permalink

    In defence of the “lame reasons for calling” brigade: Sometimes the real reason they are calling a particular individual is that they got the name/number from someone who wasn’t supposed to have it/give it.

    Sometimes the anti-salesman web thrown up by company telephone operators and websites almost forces you to trick your way in, to avoid going into the spam bucket: “Please send an email to You can be sure that someone will call you back if it’s interesting. Have a nice day.”

    Sometimes you feel like asking “Do you think I would be wasting my time trying to get hold of your technical director if I didn’t believe there’s a good chance what I am selling was of some value to him? Do you realise you could be preventing your company from becoming the next Apple?”

    Maybe you can tell I’m doing a fair amount of cold-calling myself at the moment and beyond some basic qualification that can be done – thank goodness – on the web it’s really tough to do a lot of meaningful research in the time available if you’re trying to address a fairly broad market. By basic qualification I mean: “could this company _ever_ use what I am selling?”.

    If you don’t do even that level of qualification you’re asking for trouble. I guess the point to remember is that it isn’t only the customer’s time that’s wasted by inappropriate calls. I would hope that within 45 seconds I can establish whether there is any possibility of establshing value for a particular company/individual and, if not, _I_ would be the one wanting to hang up.

    Of course, all of this points to the value of existing relationships with relevant customers, and the difficulty of a sales organization penetrating markets that are new to them (and vice versa).

    Lots of disjointed thoughts above, but there’s, as always, a balance to be struck. I suppose I would put it in 3 levels (assuming no pre-existing relationships):
    Qualification (without calling);
    Quantity-first calling to estabish interest and establish a funnel;
    Quality-led engagement to develop the opportunity.

    Here’s the best cold-call I have had recently:
    “Good afternoon Mr Lampud (Oh,well. Close enough) – I was just calling to see if O2 had sent you your free handset yet? No? Well perhaps I can ask a few questions so that I can fix that….”

    Obviously a trick, but at least he was polite and got to the point. I never got my free handset.

    • Martin, thanks for taking the time for such an interesting and valuable comment. So much of what you say is really important, let me step through a few reactions:

      1. There is no doubt that companies are putting in place anti salesman webs making it difficult to contact them. It’s important to think, why are they doing this. Reasons are because we make such crappy, deceptive, manipulative calls and they want to protect themselves from this, so they build the wall. So we resort to even slimier tactics and techniques to get around this, and they react by building the wall higher, and the cycle goes on. This is absolutely insane, and it’s critical to break this cycle–and the onus is on the sales person.
      2. Customers will respond to calls that are meaningful and valuable. The moment they detect some sort of trickery and manipulation, they will turn off.
      3. The research you mention—even though minimal, is critical. Unfortunately, 98 percent of sales people don’t do that, they just blindly dial a number. If they focus on narrowing with some of the research you suggest, they will actually have to dial fewer numbers to get the same number of responses. The research doesn’t take a lot of time, but has a profound impact on results.
      4. Related to the previous point is really knowing what your “sweet spot(s)” is, why it’s your sweet spot, how to talk to them, and focusing on that. It’s not completely the sales person’s responsibility for this. This is really a strategy and positioning issue, unfortunately, too many companies don’t know or do this. Marketing needs to work very closely with sales to define these areas (Take a look at a lot of the segmentation/buyer persona work). The results sales people will get from focusing in on the sweet spot and establishing meaningful conversations will skyrocket.
      5. There are some that say–this is too difficult and takes too much time. It is “difficult,” because it requires people to think–which people seem to have an aversion to. They also forget all the time they spend in getting no results, versus spending a little bit of time up front to magnify the result they could get.

      You are saying much of the same thing in your comments.

      Regarding the cold call you got, I’d be very impatient with it. I’d hold the guy and his company accountable for the free handset–otherwise they are lying an manipulating you. If it were me, I wouldn’t feel very good about it, I would never answer another call from that company, and I would tend to tell my friends about it. So, the question is, “Is it effective?” Also, “Is this really the kind of behavior we want of sales people and how we want them to represent our companies?”

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, as you can tell it really stirred me up.

  4. Selling for 20 years into the German speaking market has thought me Relevancy, ROI and as I saw in an earlier comment, Stay the Course.

    A little story, at one time I was in the area close (within 50kms) to one of my best tier 1 automotive customers. I had never been to the company in the 5 years or so and offered to visit. The buyer politely declined saying “Herr Culloo if we need a visit we will request one and you can save the petrol expense and take it off the price of the part” Sobering, never got to visit them in all the years I managed the account.

    Dave, excellent insights….

  5. I’m always surprised in this day and age with so much information available at your finger tips that sales people don’t do the research to ask intelligent questions or to quickly demonstrate some level of expertise in what the company does or needs. We used to call these smart statements since they quickly demonstrate knowledge and establish credibility. No reason to use tricks when you sound like oyu know thier pain points or are calling becuse of some major change in their industry.

    The sales process has certainly changed because customers are better informed, can reach out to similar businesses for advice, read reviews on your company and products, and can do some research on your specific products and services before the sales person even walks in the door. If the customers are doing this then why not sales?

    One story of a recent sales trick I thought had gone by the wayside — I had a gutter sales person come to my home at my request (bad idea!). The sales person used scare tactics about falling off the roof and being incapacitated and uable to work and the value of the construction process they use. He did not even get to my real issue was would they last, would they keep out leaves and did they offer a guarantee. After 90 minutes of droning on and on (no joke) we came to the estimate which was outrageous compared ot hte three other estimates I had. When pressed he went to an old sales trick – let me call my manager. They did have a new twist, they were on a speaker phone so I could hear the manager say they would make a special execption and offer an undisclosed discount which was still 25% above the others. When pressed again we went back to the manager on the speaker phone who suddenly had extra stock on hand ot cut the price even more. At that point I threw the sales person out for using such a petty sale trick.

    Be honest, be informed, and work in the custmers best interest. A simple formula and a winning combination.

    • Michael:; Wow! What a story, people think I make some of my stuff up–I wish I was, but the state of practice is so bad, that these stories abound–and they aren’t exagerations. If sales people understood that none of this is necessary, in fact they connect more effectively by being more straightforward with prospects and customers, things would be so much better. Thanks for the great contribution!

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