During the sales cycle, a lot of salespeople will do just about anything the buyer asks them to do, because they don’t want to take a chance on upsetting them. After all, as salespeople, we’ve been brought up to believe that the customer is always right. Although that’s usually a pretty good guide, it can actually hurt your sales effectiveness to give potential buyers everything they want.
First, astute buyers will recognize this and will lead you on a merry chase for the privilege of continuing to talk to them, even when they have no intention of buying from you. They will ask for more and more collateral material (which they will never read). They will get you to do one more demonstration for yet another group of people who have no influence at all in the buying process. Their favorite tactic is to get a demo unit to try out for an indefinite time—at the end of which they will (maybe) return it with some vague descriptions of why it didn’t work for them.
Second, it’s an excellent signal to them of how desperate you are to win the sale. Buyers can smell anxiety and desperation from a mile away. Either it will turn them off or they will use it to extract a ton of concessions from you.
Third, as we will see a little further in this post, it will make it much harder for you to walk away from a bad deal.
The key to qualifying the deal, and to increase your odds of success, is to get something back from your customer I return for complying with their request; in other words, sometimes you have to play hard to get.
If they want a demo unit, agree up front how it will be used, what the criteria for success will be, and what they will do if you pass the test.
If they ask for collateral material to read, get a commitment to take your call within a few days of sending it to discuss what they’ve read.
If they want you to fly in from out of town for a meeting, make sure they invite others to the meeting as well. This will make it less likely they’ll cancel at the last minute. I learned this the hard way after paying my own way to fly to Atlanta for a meeting. When I got there, the guy’s assistant told me he had left for the day, and she didn’t even have the decency to at least pretend to feel bad about it.
Like all expensive lessons, that one stuck with me; a few months later when a prospect (whom I had chased for months) asked me to come to Detroit to present to him, I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. He was incredulous: “You’ve been trying to get through to me for months and now you’re not sure you want to come?”
I said, “I’m not convinced you’re serious. I don’t want to waste my time or yours unless you’re serious about this. Who else will you bring to the meeting?” In answer to my question, he agreed to give me time at his monthly meeting with all of his direct reports, and when I pressed further, allowed me to contact them before the meeting to make sure I could address their individual issues.
Did I take a risk in that situation? Of course; but I’d rather get a fast no than a long maybe. I pushed my luck a little in that situation, but here’s what it did for me:
Let’s take a look at the psychology of why this works. While it seems logical that our attitudes determine our actions, the formula often works in reverse: our actions determine our attitudes. We observe our behavior and appraise ourselves accordingly. For example, if we do something for someone, it must mean that we like that person. It’s counterintuitive, but sometimes getting the buyer to do something for you makes them like you better than you doing something for them.
In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini says commitment and consistency are extremely powerful factors influencing our behavior. Simply put, we want to be and appear consistent in our actions. In one fascinating experiment, researchers found that bettors at a race track, who might have been uncertain before placing a bet, were far more confident it was the right bet after they had put their money down. Consistency is also one of the main explanations for the fierce loyalty among members of elite and exclusive groups; the difficulty they undergo and sacrifices they make to join strengthens their commitment. In fact, we all feel the power of commitment when we get are placed on telephone hold; it’s a big step to hang up after you’ve invested a few minutes of your life! Commitment is one of the main reasons that companies keep dumping dollars into lost causes when the writing is on the wall.
When you get your prospects to do something for you, instead of only doing things for them, you draw them closer into a web of commitment. When your prospects ask you for something, get something in return. Although you don’t want to push too hard, the tendency is to err on the side of not pushing hard enough.
Don’t forget to look at the power of commitment from the reverse angle. The more the buyer gets you to do for them, the more committed you will be and hence the more eager to deal when final price and terms are negotiated. The best approach is a balanced one in which both parties signal and strengthen their commitment to a deal by putting skin in the game.