My sales approach

I hate pushy sales tactics. Late night commercials, people yelling at me on the street, and people who pretend to be my friend so they can corner me and tell me how awesome their product is. I expect people to try to sell me on what they do or what they love. Some people are extremely in-your-face-you-might-die-if-you-don’t-buy evangelical about the crap they are selling, whether it is actually as awesome as they say or not. Guess what, everyone’s going to die. We can’t avoid it. So, stop shoving your products in my face like it’s going to give me an extra 100 years. It’s not.

Ok, rant mostly over. 😉

The sales approach that I like is a less in-your-face approach. It is a bit of “givers gain” + “take it or leave it” + confidence in what I am selling. After some life lessons, I realized I need to be a person who won’t sell something unless I believe in it, understand it, and use it myself or I risk feeling dirty and gross. How the hell can you sell something reliably and expect people to believe you when you are lying to their faces!

As you may or may not know, I sold steaks door to door out of high school. It was horrible. Partly because of the people, a group of the most scandalous people I have ever met or been associated with, and partly because I didn’t know the product very well and hadn’t used it myself. Once I did use it, I was able to see why people hesitated to buy steaks out of a pickup truck from some kid who may or may not be completely blazed because his co-worked insisted that he had to smoke in order to ride in his truck.

I also worked at Blockbuster for a while, which is actually where I found my sales approach. We were selling the Blockbuster Rewards program to anyone and everyone who would buy it. You know the one, $9.99 and you get a free movie just for being in the club plus free movies when you rent so many times. This should be an easy sell for anyone who brought 3+ movies to the counter. The thing that I noticed was that the cashiers all got that high pitched horribly cheerful voice that the hostess or waitress at your favorite restaurant gets. I call this the “customer voice”. The thing about this voice is that it seems like all the customers how hear it from their cashier seemed to just shut off their brains, pay, and leave as quickly as possible. It is so impersonal, because it feels like this voice is intended to keep people at a distance. For an example, think of the receptionist from Office Space.

In the middle to end of a long Friday night of people looking for that last copy of whatever-the-hell and trying desperately to make sure not to let their family down is when I would find myself falling into this voice. It’s the point when you go from human behind the register to automaton. So I made a mental note to just stop it and to talk to people like a normal human, like someone who could be their friend. We’re both in this super uncomfortable position, so why not be a little realistically friendly? I would get people to chat with me and some of them would even come and wait for me next time they came into the store. It made a huge difference when people realized I wasn’t just spitting out the normal banter.

Back to the Rewards program, we needed to sell these cards and keyfobs because the bosses said so. I quickly jumped to the top of the district in sales doing nothing but being realistic with people and taking the 20 seconds to say in a regular voice, “If you get Rewards, these two movies are free and the next time you come in you get another free movie which pays for this card tonight. If you rent on any normal frequency, the card will pay for itself many times over.” instead of saying “Hey do you want Rewards, its super fantastic”.

Now, I am 50% owner of a web development company I started with my best friend who I have known since Middle School. We have always taken the approach with our customers of putting everything on the table, talking about who we are, what we’ll do for them, and how it all works up front. We like to give all the information and make sure our customers know what they are getting themselves into when they work with us.

When I started networking I realized that I was back to my old salesy ways. I gotta tell you that I hate selling things, especially myself. Not sure why, but when I realize that what I am doing is sales it makes me feel dirty. Instead of trying to sell our services, I spend my time talking and listening to people (not business owners, people). I don’t try to push what we do in any way. Sometimes, I barely mention what we do.

Most of these networking events have the formula of open networking, a 30-60 second commercial, a 5-10 minute lesson from the organizers, and then open networking again. I give my 30 second commercial that puts it out there about what we do and why it is beneficial to a business owner. No tag line, no “you must have a website” or “your website sucks because we didn’t build it for you”, just straight forward and honest information. Then when we get into the open networking time I look for people I already know and can chat with or people near to my industry who could be power partners or people who were eyeballing me during my commercial. Then, I spend my time asking them about what they do. I don’t try to push a website on them at all, if they want a website they will bring it up and we can chat about that too.

I am not trying to toot my own horn, trust me if I could I would. Hahaha. Ok, sorry. I am talking about this because so many people do the pushy sales thing. This immediately tells me that they are not confident in what they do or that they are sheep who can’t think for themselves. The big thing I have learned through all of this is that people want to be listened to and met where their pain points are. More often than not, their pain point is that the last idiot wouldn’t listen to their needs.

Instead of trying to get the customer to listen to your sales pitch; stop, ask them about their business or themselves, and listen to what they say. They will probably tell you more than what they intended, allowing you to find out exactly what they need in such a way that is beneficial for both of you. The next step is that you have to execute, knock it out of the park, and then this customer who you stopped to listen to will tell everyone they know about you – turning themselves into the sales person and evangelist for you and your company.

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  • Cgeorge

    Hi Matt,
    Great article and advice about networking for entrepreneurs. Often I also find that by listening to people helps you build a relationship with the person. And then staying in touch with them drives more sales than any pushy sales person. Learn more about improving your lifestyle as an entrepreneur