Always be closing. Low-hanging fruit. The hard sell. Sell a pencil to a pencil factory. It’s a numbers game. Calling to touch base. The cacophony of bad sales platitudes leave you feeling turned off. All of these sayings can bespeak an oversimplified mindset.
So why are they so widespread?
“A lot of folks are looking for a quick and simple fix,” expert sales speaker and trainer Tim Wackel told Pipedrive. “And somewhere deep inside they’re hoping that cliches like ‘it’s a numbers game’ will help them achieve success.”
The problem is that sales clichés get so much wrong about all of the ways in which sales professionals educate and help their customers. Sales can be learned, and becomes manageable and fun when with the right kind of strategies and organization — and professionals are structured and focus on key sales activities.
But first, we need to retire some outdated bromides.
Always Be Closing
When it comes to sales clichés, almost none are quoted — usually with a wink or an eye roll — more than the mantra that Alec Baldwin delivered with ferocity in 1982’s Glengarry Glen Ross.
Always be closing is the granddaddy of sales clichés, depicting an aggressive way of thinking that isn’t particularly helpful or productive in the real world. It’s so bad it’s almost good. But it still needs to die if you’re serious about succeeding in sales.
Here’s the truth about the famed ABCs of sales — when you are trying to make every deal close like some sort of steely-eyed Gordon Gekko, you are spending too much time on things that are lost causes.
The customers who matter to your business exist in real life, not on film.
And they are your partners, not your prey.
“The notion of ‘always be closing’ is outdated and should be replaced by ‘always be helping,’” says Nick Kane, managing partner at Las Vegas-based Janek Performance Group, a sales performance company that conducts extensive research in the marketplace around various sales-related topics.
“Today, buyers are better informed, have higher expectations of the salespeople they interact with, and have access to a global marketplace at their fingertips,” says Kane.
“Instead of launching full-bore into a scripted sales approach, sales reps should instead use a customer-focused approach and seek to have a full understanding of the customer's needs, because those very needs drive buying and selling opportunities.”
Chasing big deals and forgetting about the key activities in your pipeline is not productive. Instead, you should be OK to mark deals lost and move on.
Bill Fish, founder and president of ReputationManagement.com., says:
“I personally can’t stand the phrase ‘low hanging fruit.’ The phrase is antiquated, and not to mention, farmers actually pick the fruit from the top of the tree first!”
The problem with this image is that it sets the expectation that some sales are just plain easy to get, but that’s not a very useful idea. Instead of searching for easy deals, it’s much better to pursue a strategy that involves key sales activities and repeatable processes tracked through your CRM.
The Hard Sell
“As someone running a start-up B2B2C online company, I have to take issue with anything having to with the so-called hard-sell approach,” says John W. Eaton, general manager of 401K GPS, based in Brighton, Michigan.
“First off, ‘hard’ implies that your prospective customer is resisting, so maybe you don't know them or their needs and concerns as well as you think.”
The sales process should be a dialogue, not a one-way conversation. Also, any kind of forceful approach turns off prospects and put their guards up.
You should be able to sell a pencil to a pencil factory
“Your job as a salesperson should be to inspire the customer about the product or service, explain the value, and solve the customer’s problem,” says Nick Santora, CEO of GetCurricula.com, based in Atlanta.
“If you aren't taking this approach you are doing the organization a disservice by tricking the customer into buying something they don't need or will drop after the quick sale.”
It’s not your job to sell a pencil to a pencil factory. It’s your job to educate, solve problems and best meet the needs of your clients.
Sell high or die
“Clichés were especially damaging early in my career when I was fresh out of college and impressionable,” recalls Jessica Winstead, a sales representative for more than five years.
“I would be told things like ‘easy come, easy go’ and ‘sell high or die,’ which would lead to anxiety because I thought I was doing things wrong by trying to keep my customers from cancelling or signing them up for too little. I found out that focusing on my own way of selling was a better use of my time.”
Winstead, now on the Front End Development Team at SERVIZ, began working more on retaining customers and selling products that she knew would benefit people. It’s the sales professional’s job to analyze a business’ needs and sell them only what they need. Sell high or die! suggests the salesperson really wants customers to pay top dollar regardless of their needs. Of course, there’s a price range to products — but that range should mean they’re getting different add-ons, services or rushed delivery.
This approach creates loyalty, new opportunities and referrals. Pro-tip: do lead qualification right to bring value to customers who really need what you’re selling.
It’s a numbers game
“An old boss of mine used to always say ‘If you ask a girl out on a date every day, you'll go on more dates.’ He was saying that sales is purely a numbers game, and implying the only driver to more deals is more calls, emails, et cetera,” says Ryan Kulp, who works in San Francisco at GrowthX, an early stage VC firm. “In fact, this isn't the case, and other levers like price and relationships can make all the difference, even if they are less quantifiable.”
Minding the entire pipeline is a better way to go. Sales goals should be translated into key activities for each sales stage, and inputs should be thoughtful. It’s all about the quality of your interactions with the customer and moving them along the pipeline, not just about having a massive quantity of contacts.
“Saying ‘sales is a numbers game’ is misleading and is the reason a lot of us get irrelevant solicitations daily, even every hour in some cases, from folks who believe that more leads equals more deals. High volumes of leads is actually neither necessary nor sufficient to winning deals.”
A better approach involves knowing where your customer is in the pipeline, having your next activity plans in place for promising contacts and savvy time management. After a deal closes, do a sale retrospective to find out why they worked, and use data to improve your sales process.
Calling to touch base
Nick Kane from Janek adds that another mistake sales representatives make when they take the numbers game approach is talking too much instead of focusing on the needs of the customer in the pipeline.
“Don't call your customer to ‘touch base. When you reach out, make it meaningful for your customer. Share information that may help them make a decision, such as a new case study or white paper, or perhaps a sales promotion you're running.”
James A. Gardner, director of client development at Connective DX in Boston, agrees this approach is a waste of time. “I'd be thrilled to never again hear or read anything to the effect of ‘I'm just emailing to check in.’ If you want a busy person's attention and respect, you must bring value to the conversation. The offer to check in telegraphs to me laziness and disrespect.”
Sales cliches are tired because they don’t tell you anything useful about how to actually do your job. A more productive mindset frames sales as something that can be learned -- and not only learned, but mastered and enjoyed.
“Forget about cliches and focus on the fundamentals,” concludes Wackel. “Show me a rep that has meaningful story, is not afraid of resistance, knows how to follow up, engages clients in a meaningful, thought-provoking manner, builds relationships that go beneath the surface and is not afraid to ask for a decision … and I’ll show you someone who is doing better than most!”
For more information on how to set useful sales goals, check out our post on creating double-digit growth.