Friday, June 11, 2010

The Danger of Cynical Assumptions

Many sales professionals today operate under the belief that customers hate them. No matter what their titles, industries, or products are, sales representatives often automatically assume the worst about their prospects. Often refered to as 'call reluctance,' many commentators insist that the fear of cold calling rises from some sort of inferiority complex within the sales rep. The salesman thinks little of him or herself and therefore is hesitant to make the call. While this is probably true to some extent, I propose that the salesman's idea about himself is not the core problem. The essential reason sales professionals have difficulty calling on customers is a faulty idea about the customers, not themselves. Sales reps harbor pre-conceived cynical assumptions about prospects that prevent them from effectively turning those prospects into customers. They assume, before the pitch is even given, that the answer is going to be a resoundingly spiteful, "No!"

"Wait a minute," you may be saying, "my customers DO say, 'no' 90% of the time." But that's not the point. Of course, sales is about volume. Only a small percentage of your prospects will end up buying. That fact, however, is irrelevant to the individual sales call you are making. I am not interested in the 90% who will say, 'no' but rather in the 10% who will say, 'yes.' I stay focused on my leads and not on my losses. When making a sales call, great sales professionals will treat every prospect as if he or she is a buyer. Why? Because, regardless of how accurate they may be on a cumulative basis, cynical assumptions about prospects can generate surefire negative responses on an individual basis. Focusing on the majority who will turn you down may lead to losing the minority that would have otherwise been buyers. Here are some reasons:

  1. They won't buy if you won't sell. Rationalizing that the customer will probably not want to buy can lead to the most detrimental of attitudes in a salesman--laziness. If you see the situation as too hopeless to even pick up the phone, you've lost the battle before you've even started to fight. Consider this statistic: 100% of the people who don't know about what you have to offer will not buy it. If you cannot set aside your pessimistic preconceptions enough to even make an effort, what are you even in business for? On the other hand, if you can genuinely believe that each call you make has a good potential of ending as a success, you'll probably make a lot more calls--and, cumulatively, a lot more sales.
  2. They won't believe in your offering if you don't. It should never seem as if the prospect is doing a better job selling the product than the salesman is. That, however, is exactly what I've seen from time to time. The salesman relies on a positive response to create a positive pitch. This idea is backwards. Stephan Schiffman says, "You have to be utterly, completely convinced in your own heart that you can offer your prospect the best possible solution to his or her problem." I couldn't agree more. Dwelling on the idea that your prospect will say no indicates a lack of faith in the persuasiveness of what you are selling. If you really stand behind your product, your response should be downright shock every time a prospect says, 'no.' You should be thinking to yourself as you pick up the phone, 'how can they possibly turn this offer down?' Before you can sell something to someone else, you've got to sell it to yourself. Cynical assumptions about your customers are really cynical assumptions about yourself.
  3. They won't commit if you don't expect them to. It is no secret in the industry that the hardest thing for a salesman to do is ask for a sale. Though 90% of your prospects will ultimately say no, a large fraction of that 90% are probably simply unsure. They just need to be convinced. For many people, 'no' is their default and, if the salesman doesn't ask for the sale, the prospect's natural reaction is to not buy. Cynical assumptions about prospects lead to non-commital customers. They're interested, but they just need a push in your direction. They'll never volunteer to buy, but they just might cave if you ask them to.

Remember, it isn't important how many people will say, 'no.' All that really matters is that you think the next person will say, 'yes.' Cynicism may be rational, but it is not relevant. Stay focused on successes and not failures. Success is what you are interested in.