Sales The Old Fashioned Way
Posted by BigDumbDinosaur
Recently, a salesman for a certain software company whose target market is Linux administration contacted me to pitch his wonderful product. I suppose my company is a tempting target for this sort of activity due to our focus on UNIX and Linux systems (we also do Windows, but only when they are dirty or broken). So unsolicited sales pitches (aka cold calls, telemarketing - pick your favorite description)) are nothing new around here.
On average, we get at least 10 to 12 such calls via telephone each week, along with an occasional FAX or two. In the majority of cases, either the product or service is something that would be of little or no value to us - Windows management tools, for example - or the product/service might be somthing of interest, but the caller's tone of voice and method of presentation is either uninspiring or downright obnoxious.
More than almost anything else, obnoxious salespeople turn me off and cause me to completely tune out whatever message they may be trying to send - this particularly applies to telemarketers, many of whom can't comprehend the meaning of words like "No" and phrases such as "We're not interested." I especially loathe the way new car salesmen descend like hungry hawks chasing jackrabbits when I step into a dealer's showroom, and I make sure via body language and general demeanor that all concerned know how I feel (which probably explains why I haven't purchased a new car in some years). My wife, who is more tolerant of sales poeple than I, has jokingly referred to my behavior as "Menard's syndrome," a reference to my dislike of that home improvement center's shrill sales pitches on radio and television.
Syndrome notwithstanding, many would probably agree with me that there is something blatantly impersonal and irritating about a TV shill bellowing at you to "save big money," especially when the supposedly low prices are the same as found at other similar businesses. Many would also probably agree with me that it is annoying when someone out of the clear blue makes contact via phone, FAX or E-mail to, in effect, inform us we'd be fools to not purchase his or her product or service. Yet this sort of behavior seems to be routine nowadays, escalating, actually: almost a defiant flouting of any sort of common sense or understanding of the psychology of sales or principles of good salesmanship. No where is this obnoxious behavior more evident than when sales solicitations arrive via E-mail.
A particularly odious example of this sort of "salesmanship" recently got in my face, causing me to inform the would-be goods hawker that no business would be transacted between his company and mine as long as I was the one making the decisions around here. Now, gentle reader, you may think I'm just a mean, grumpy, broken-down, old dinosaur for responding that way to a poor fellow who was just trying to make a living, and you'd almost be right with that assessment. Yes, I can be grumpy, I am a bit broken down, and "old dinosaur" describes me to a T. Rex (I first learned how to program by pounding in code on a Teletype machine, that's how old I am). However, like an equally old hound dog, I'm really quite docile and only get mean when someone annoys me, as this particular spammer succeeded in doing. His original transgression was soliciting a sale via E-mail.
"So what?" you may reply. "Everyone gets spam."
True enough, my friend, although some of us get more than others. However, what really frosted my fanny was the manner in which he obtained my E-mail address. His actions, in addition to being a case of plain old spam, were a gross misuse of facilities generously provided by a UNIX colleague as an aid to those seeking computer knowledge, and a blatant disregard of the right each of us has to some modicum of privacy.
Despite being a big, broken-down, old dinosaur, in many ways I'm very up to date. I like to work with the latest technology: I'll pit my server against yours any time, I'm always exploring new ways of doing things, I try to enjoy new kinds of music, and I read a lot to stay current on world events and general thinking. Like most computer jocks, I've fully embraced the use of the Internet as a tool to get things done. I find E-mail to be an invaluable resource, as I can stay in contact my clients and suppliers without having to observe the limits of business hours, using verbiage that best articulates what I want to say. There's no question that E-mail helps to grease the wheels of business: indeed, I am often able to serve my clients via E-mail and remote access when traveling to their location isn't possible for one reason or another.
Be that as it may, in a few areas I'm quite old fashioned. I believe that the USA is a land of opportunities, not guarantees; that I should remove my hat indoors; that I should relinquish my seat on the bus to a lady or an old guy if there is nowhere else to sit; and that I should be polite to strangers and respect their right to privacy - a concept that is obviously foreign to spammers and telemarketers. I also believe that the only proper way to conduct a sales call is by meeting with my client at his or her place of business, not by hounding him or her with phone calls, FAXes and spam.
When you visit your client to solicit business, the two of you will be able to observe each other's body language and gestures, which will convey information that could not possibly pass through any other means of communication. Naturally, the result will be a more interactive conversation that will help to establish a mutual feeling of respect and trust, possibly leading to a long-term business relationship. Also, by going to the client's premises, you will have given him or her an opportunity to show you what it is that the business does and how it is done. For you, this is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate interest in your client's needs, as well observe aspects of the business where your professional services can be of value. I should not have to point out to any IT consultant worthy of the name that this sort of interchange, especially in the early stages of pitching products and services to a new client, is invaluable in tailoring your sales presentation.
Key to this discussion is my opinion that an attempt to obtain business via spam, phone call or FAX machine ultimately is counterproductive. Sending a sales proposal via one of these methods is fine after a dialog has been established and the client has asked you to for more information (although you really should send a signed copy via snail-mail to make the process less impersonal). However, solicitating business by spam, FAX or phone call alone will probably result in a subtle message being sent to the would-be client that in effect says, "I'm more important than you, so why should I expend MY time to visit you. If you want my product, you can contact ME." I know I would be put off by such a message, and I'm sure your clients, as well as mine, would feel the same.
On the other hand, if you visit your client to ask for his or her business you are transmitting an unmistakable message that clearly tells your client, "YOU are important and worthy of my time." That, and quality products and professional services, is the best sales tool money can't buy!
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