#1 Sales Blunder of All Time


John Madden?

Rick sells printing services, and he’s probably not as good as he is persistent. It took six months of phone calls and mailed literature to finally get into the president’s office of a company that the rep wanted to sell very badly. It took less than thirty seconds to undo half a year of time and effort.

Rick had finally nailed this guy down to an appointment and wanted to make a very good first impression. He figured that this president would look at him as either a strong, persistent salesman or a pest. He would dispose of a pest as quickly as he could, so as Rick walked into the executive’s office, he looked for something on the wall or on his desk to use for a little opening small talk.

There it was! “John Madden!” he cried, pointing at an 8 ×10 photograph on the prospect’s credenza. Every sports fan knows the 300-plus-pound commentator. He’s probably the best announcer around, in spite of a face that could stop a bus. “That’s a fantastic photo! How did you get a picture of yourself with your arm around John Madden?”

Rick’s rapport-building efforts crashed in flames as the shocked company president slowly answered, “That’s not John Madden, that’s… my… wife.”

POSTMORTEM Our poor salesman, Rick, used an approach that was popular early in the evolution of selling. Are you like this at the initial contact with a prospect? Do you look for that fish on the wall, the trophy on the shelf, the picture on the desk? We’re often taught to comment on these items to “break the ice.” Can you distinguish yourself by being so ordinary? Don’t sound like everyone else who sells. This small talk is wasteful and disrespectful of a buyer’s time. Here’s a suggestion for that initial contact that many top-performing sales pros use today: Recognize that your prospects don’t have the time to chat like they used to. Simply respect the prospect’s time, and review what you agreed upon when you got the appointment. Rick should have said, “Mr. Prospect, I want to respect your commitment to the time we have. When we talked on the phone you said we’d have forty-five minutes to talk. Is that right? Good. What is the most serious reason you felt it was important to invite me in today?” As a sales pro, you’ve now honored someone’s busy schedule and gotten right to business. Best of all, the prospect is about to do most of the talking.

© 2006 Sales Autopsy by Dan Seidman, Kaplan Publishing, coming in October 2006.

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