Working in sales is not for everyone. Some people have trouble picking up the phone to make a cold call, others fear getting rejected, and yet many more just feel plain old uncomfortable trying to convince other people to buy things from them. But those that who do go into sales know that it can be incredibly rewarding, not just financially but also emotionally. That is because the best salespeople care about their customers’ success. They say it is better to give than it is to receive; indeed, there is something about the human psyche that takes great joy in giving joy to others. Whether it is a gift for a loved one, a donation to charity, or a successful partnership with a customer – we all enjoy knowing that we could help.
A problem for many salespeople is that they believe they are working towards closing a deal, and not building a trusting relationship. The short-sighted salesperson thinks only about what they need to say or do to reach the finish line, and less about what the customer is telling them. This is ironic: the entire sale should be about the customer. Therefore, it is really important to listen to what the customer is saying. So without further ado, I want to present what I believe are some of the best and worst things that I can hear as a salesperson, and will use some real examples in doing so.
- “Like I said before…”
If I hear a customer say, “As I said…” or “Like I said before,” it means they are reminding me that they told me something already. They may not be consciously trying to remind me and they may not even be consciously annoyed, but this phrase only comes out if the customer has been made to repeat themselves. This is very bad.
This happened to me recently. Ironically, I was really proud of the conversation I had been having with the customer up until that point. I felt like I had engaged in active listening, with a real keen interest in solving the customer’s problem, and that we had mutually come to an agreement that my company had a viable solution. Moreover, I actually already knew the question to the answer I was asking, but had forgotten. Why? Because I was working too quickly and not thinking. So what did I do? I apologized to the customer and acknowledged that we had already discussed that point, and mentioned that I had gotten my thoughts disorganized for a moment (which was true). Accountability and ownership is key to restoring trust, even in small moments like these.
- “You’ve been nothing but upfront and honest from the beginning.”
This is one of the highest compliments you can pay a salesperson. There is a stigma associated to many salespeople that they are anything but upfront and honest. For many of us, when we think of salespeople, we think of the classic used car salesperson who must be hiding something terrible about one of the cars he or she is selling. The reason that an acknowledgement of honesty is so important is because it is, by extension, an acknowledgement of trust. And trust is fundamental to any important sale.
A prospective customer told me this exact phrase this past week. The prospect had been engaging with a competitor who had set lofty but faulty expectations that could not be met. He felt betrayed by that, and one of the reasons that he prefers working with my company is that I have been honest since day 1 about the proverbial warts on the frog. During the selling process, I had even reached out to advise about possible solutions that did not involve my product. What this means is that honesty is not just honesty about what your product or service does, but also about what the honest answers are for your customer and how they should be evaluated.
- “I will reach out to you when I am ready to engage.”
Ask any salesperson and they will tell you that one of their most feared objections to hear from a prospective client is one about timing. “It’s not the right time,” is a very difficult sentence to hear, because it feels like there is little you can do to tell someone – for them – when is the right time. Most salespeople would say they always think the right time is right now.
But this is a bad sentence to hear for a different reason. This is a bad sentence to hear because the customer is clearly saying that the salesperson has no value to add to the engagement in between present time and the proverbial right time to engage. A good salesperson treats the prospective customer like a friend, and if your friend is not ready to do something with you right this second, there are still other things you can do to kill time or enjoy each other’s company until the timing is better. What I am saying is that a salesperson’s job is to be an expert about their industry, and a great salesperson can still help to educate a prospect on what is going on in the industry even if the customer is not in the buying phase.
A customer recently said this to me, and I know why. All of my follow up offered little value. “Just checking in…” or “anything new” does not really go so far. On the other hand, there has been a lot of news in my industry (phone fraud/authentication) about AT&T and other carriers shutting off data access to data aggregators. I have become knowledgeable about this topic (because it’s my job to understand it) and have acted as a resource to clients who want to learn more about it from an expert. Those are the clients who want to remain engaged with me even if they are not going to be buying from me right away.
- “You’ve been really patient.”
Last week, a prospective client told me that we had won a head-to-head comparison against a competitor and that they were going to start the process to work with my company. It had been over two years since we first started talking to one another, and there were different points along the way where it felt like they were more serious about their timeline and other moments where it was unclear if they would ever invest in a solution.
Throughout that process, I never wavered in trying to be a consultative partner. I often answered questions about our industry that had nothing to do with my product as a means towards helping them understand the big picture. That was acknowledged in a different way in our conversation, when he said point blanc, “I always felt that you were more interested in helping us, and not just closing a sale.”
Praise for patience is good for a couple reasons. First and foremost, nobody likes being bullied or pressured. When we are bullied or pressured, we feel like we are working with someone who does not really have our best interests at heart, and someone who just wants to close a sale. Maybe this is why my soon-to-be-customer felt like I was really interested in helping him (and rightfully so). When a customer tells you that you were patient, they are essentially telling you they feel that you were not being pushy and that you were sincere. Secondly, an acknowledgement of one’s patience is also an acknowledgement that one’s time is valuable. Let’s face it – we all hate getting cold calls and many of us may not start to value someone else’s time until we grow to trust them. Concern for someone else’s time comes about when that person has built a significant amount of trust.
- “Why you?”
At surface level, it may seem like a good thing when a prospective buyer is trying to understand differences between you and your competitors. But the reality is, if you are being asked this question – even in the first conversation – it means that you failed at some point along the way to articulate your “why.”
What do I mean by that? I think the “why” Is the essence of everything. Why does the company exist? Why am I passionate about working there? Why is our methodology and approach the best option for the customer? These are the most important elements of the conversation. People resonate with others emotionally, and that happens with a “why” and not a “what.”
I used to spend a lot of time talking about the “what” – the functionality and the features of what I am providing. People don’t get excited about “what.” I was recently asked in a meeting what set us apart. My “why” was simple – “you matter more to us than to anyone else.” The customer knew that based on the way we were treating them, so my “why” was believable and helped us to establish trust.
- “You’re responsive.”
One of my largest customers jokes to me about how quickly I always get back to her. The running joke is about whether or not I can set a new record for how quickly I respond to her email, call, or text whenever she has a question. And while some may write that off as some extreme paranoia or anxiety on my part, I take pride in being responsive to people who count on me. I am the type of person who is always early, never late, and who hates to let other people down.
A customer does not need to go out of their way to tell you how responsive you are. After all, they do not want you to get a big head, to ensure that you will always be responsive. If anything, they might just complain about when you are unresponsive. But when a customer goes out of their way to tell you that you are responsive, it is because they want you to know that they appreciate how seriously you take their partnership with you.
This customer in particular has done reference calls for me, and she tells other customers how responsive we are. This goes a long way because everyone who speaks to her knows that I am not going to sell them something and walk away. The opposite is true: I will sell them something and then I will stay with them every step of the way, even when they text me during my vacation when something goes wrong.