You’ve heard it before: If you only use one sales technique, use this one. Or: This closes every deal.
And then those techniques didn’t work.
Sales is a learned skill, but because learning sales can be an uncomfortable, myths about “tried and true” or “legendary” tactics spring up. The problem with that? Many of these techniques won’t work for everyone, and a few of them — threatening to throw up on a receptionist, for example (but more on that later) — don’t work at all.
When salespeople listen to these myths instead of engaging in activities that bring in sales, disaster can result.
So, with that in mind, here’s is a list of sales techniques that are complete nonsense.
Trying to sell benefits
The sales technique, which dates from the 1970s, hinges on the belief that you shouldn’t be selling the features of your product; instead you tell your prospect how those features benefit them.
“It’s the old ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak,’” said sales consultant Greta Schulz, CEO of Schulz Business SELLutions. “The reason it doesn't work is because not everybody sees benefits as the same thing.”
While it’s possible to assume that you know what your prospect sees as a benefit, that kind of presumption can be a losing gambit, Schulz said. Salespeople often tell prospects things such as: I work with people like you, and this has been the benefit for those people. The implication is that the benefit will be the same for your prospect. While this might be true, your prospect might not be delighted to hear that he’s just like everybody else.
“Everybody feels their issues are unique and different,” she said. “Benefits have to come from the person you're speaking to.”
Overreliance on social media
While social media is a great tool, salespeople can abuse it, according to author and sales trainer Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter.
“Using social media is great but we can’t think of it as a pure sales tool,” Hunter said in an email. “Social media is an advertising tool that helps to create awareness but to expect it to close a sale is simply asking too much.”
Trying to generate all your leads using social media is a seductive idea; social media is easy, and shields reps from rejection, but salespeople have to be able to take rejection, Hunter said.
“To be successful in sales requires hearing ‘no’ from prospects,” he said. “If you can’t hear ‘no’ and be OK with it, then you need to find a different job. I hate to be blunt but too many salespeople suffer a slow death by not willing to face the music.”
Persistence is one thing. Pushiness is something else.
“A common piece of advice given to salespeople is to ‘keep calling a prospect until you hear a no,’” said Mike Schultz, co-president of RAIN Group, by email. “Well, let’s say you are working hard at selling, and have a big pipeline with dozens or more people in it. There are bound to be some that have stopped responding.”
Reps who keep chasing their prospects until they get a “no” are wasting time and energy on people who aren’t going to buy from them, and they are also setting up a relationship where they can seem subservient to the prospect.
“You’re the chaser,” Schultz said. “They’re the catch.”
A better idea, he said, is to send a frank message to the prospect after it’s clear the sales cycle has stalled, explaining that since the prospect hasn’t responded, the rep assumes there’s no interest and this will be the final contact. That message should also include contact information, in case the prospect would like to get in touch in the future.
“This works a lot better because if they have moved on, you can too,” Schultz said. “And, even better, once some buyers realize you won’t contact them again, they say, ‘No, it’s just been bad timing. Can we talk next week?’”
Not taking no for an answer
The extreme version of this is the idea that a good sales rep shouldn’t take “no” for an answer at all.
If a prospect tells a rep that he or she is happy with what they have, many reps will say “I can make you happier,” author and sales coach Steve Schiffman said. Responses like that are knee-jerk reactions that won’t help you close a deal, and can border on the obnoxious. Schiffman pointed to sales reps who react angrily when a prospect won’t hear their pitch.
“When you talk to somebody on a cold call and they say they're not interested, some reps actually say ‘what do you mean you're not interested, I didn't speak yet,’ and then expect a person to respond to that positively instead of hanging up,” he said.
Not taking no for an answer can branch out into bizarre and antisocial territory. Schiffman recalls one rep who told him that she’d threaten to vomit if a prospect wouldn’t see her.
“She would go to the front desk, and if the person she asked for wouldn't come down, she'd tell the receptionist ‘I'm gonna throw up. If she doesn't come down now, I'm gonna throw up on your desk,’" Schiffman said.
Did it work?
“She’d be escorted out,” he said.
The idea of doing something memorable to land a meeting with a prospect is one that can be brought to ridiculous — and off-putting — extremes.
“I had a guy tell me that what he used to do was send an aquarium with water in it to his prospect. And in it was a bottle, and they fished out the bottle and it said ‘please see me,’
And to this day I've never forgotten that; how ludicrous that was,” Schiffman said.
Keeping your sales team ‘hungry’
The idea that salespeople are more productive when they’re paid less is like not feeding your cat and expecting it to kill more mice — cruel and ineffective.
“The keep your sales reps hungry” philosophy doesn’t produce more sales; it produces desperate reps.
Many of the techniques listed above are likely the result of desperate reps. (Why else would someone try to close a deal by threatening a bodily function? Why send someone an aquarium?)
To quote The 21 Biggest Myths in Sales, an e-book put out by The Brooks Group, “Salespeople need to focus on customers’ and prospects’ concerns, not on their own need to eat.”
Relying on specific techniques instead of attaining mastery
You can focus on tactics all day, but the bottom line is this: sales is a skill that must be practiced.
“I think part of the problem with sales in general is that it's so misunderstood,” said Robert Allen of Pro Sales Systems. “For those that struggle with sales, which are many, they tend to start making up stories about why certain things work or don't work when many of the tactics that are out there really do work, if the individual has caught up to the ability to use it.”
Some of the people who can make any given technique work have practiced a lot and have mastered the ability to sell, Allen said.
“Those are the best salespeople that you come across,” he said, “the ones that have done their 10,000 hours’ mastery.”