Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Sale

Written by:  Terry Morris, November 2005


Many sales people these days actually talk themselves out of a sale without knowing it. I was reminded of this recently when I called to place an order for some new products for one of my retail web sites (not sublimation). I had done research on the items and had seen them myself at a trade show a few weeks earlier.

I called the company and said I would like to place an order for the product. I was told that while they had them in stock they were already promised to another customer and I could not have them, they then told me I would have to place an order then wait for them to come in, but I was then told that they could not tell me when they would be in. I did not place the order.

A few days later I got to thinking about it and I have ordered many products that were not in stock in the past. I understood that new products shown at trade shows often take a while to hit the distributors, so why did I not place the order?

I started to realize the sales person talked me out of ordering the product. Had she simply told me that I would have to place the item on backorder and left out the fact that they had stock but that “I” could not have it or mentioned that “we can’t tell you” when it would arrive I probably would have placed the order anyway.

These may seem like small details but it cost them an order of about $500. And it’s not the first time that it has happened to me.

The first time I was going to buy a laser printer (early 80’s) I had to drive 30 miles to the only place that had them. I drove there, not as a looky-loo but fully expecting to bring a new printer home. It was a small independent shop that I had been to many times in the past. When I arrived the owner showed me the printer I had planned on taking out the door.

About an hour later I found myself driving home without a printer and kind of bewildered. I tried to figure out why I did not have a printer, the shop had them in stock, I wanted one and the owner wanted me to buy one, so what happened. I really don’t remember why but I started getting a bad feeling about buying as the owner went on and on about printers.

A few days later I had talked myself back into buying that printer, so off I headed again back to the same store. But again I left without the printer and to this day I cannot tell you for sure why. Somehow the storeowner talked me out of it, oh, not on purpose I assure you. A week later I went to the towns new mega computer mart and picked up the same printer. On the drive home with my new toy I thought, boy that was easy, why didn’t I just buy it the first time? To this day I am not sure what he said to change my mind but I am sure that if he had said nothing I would have bought it the first day. And by the way I still own that printer and it still runs great all these years later.

So how do we avoid talking ourselves out of a sale?

Well, first off we need to avoid negatives like the plague (more on that later), and we need to understand our customer and not talk over their heads. When I use to teach sales to computer sales staff I had to explain to them that even though a few people want to know all the specs, most don’t. A friend of mine was working at a store that I was consulting for, I was hanging around waiting for him to get off of work when a customer walked in and asked about computers. My friend started spitting out specs at the guy like nobody’s business. I could see the poor guy's eyes glaze over from across the room. I motioned to my friend to stop. I pulled him aside a minute and told him he was making this poor guy feel like an idiot.

I told him to remember what training I had just given him a few days prior. He went back to the customer and started asking questions instead, the customer admitted he had never touched a computer and thought it might help him in his business but was not sure why. My friend started to find out more about the man’s business and started mentioning invoicing, databases and such in a way that he could understand. End of story, the man walked out with a computer and my friend got a job tutoring him on how to set it up and use it.

Don’t say anything negative. You have probably heard this many times before, but do you follow it? Think so? Think again.

Many of us talk negatively to customers and never even realize it. While we can’t avoid every negative thing we have to tell the customers we can limit them and try to spin them a more positive way. Have you ever told a customer something like “I’m sorry but we don’t carry those”? A better way to word this would be something like “that is not currently part of our product line” This is still a negative but has a less negative sound to it.

Other examples. Instead of “we can’t do that”, use “we are not set up to do that”. Some of the words with the most negative impact are can’t, don’t and won’t. Avoid these words whenever possible in dealing with customers.

This one is a big no-no, do not speak negatively about your competition, or any other vendor for that matter, to your customer, even if the customer starts it. This can set the tone of how the customer sees you and can even cost you a job. Besides the negative light in which this kind of comment places you, you never know if your customer might be connected in some roundabout way to the person or business that you're bad mouthing. Remember, it is a small world.

Let’s say for a minute that your customer comes in because the guy down the road botched up a job bad, the customer is mad and tells you all about it. You should not reply by saying something like “yea they do that all the time” or even worse “you think that’s bad, you should see what they did for another one of our customers” this will settle in their mind as a sort of blowing your own horn, or poor sportsmanship type of feeling. Instead you could just say something like “ I am so sorry to hear that”, and believe it or not it makes you look very honest and kind if you say something like “ I am sorry to hear that, they usually do good work”.

Don’t speak down to your customers. While there are some people out there that want to know the nuts and bolts of how you are going to go about producing their product, most don’t. Unless asked for the information, don’t try and explain the process to the customer. Give them only the information needed to do the job. For example, if your customer says they want a dark blue but don’t give you specifics don’t spit out Pantone color numbers. You run the risk of making them feel ill prepared and ashamed. Also, if you are not asked about your process don’t volunteer the information, they likely won’t understand it anyway and again you make them feel stupid.

Know when to shut up. Like some of my examples above show, too much information can confuse and stifle your customers thought process. We tend to keep talking and explaining until the customer places an order but you are much better off making your sales pitch short, sweet and to the point. Give the customer the information they need but cut short any extraneous information.

Information overload can make your customer feel overwhelmed or unprepared. This In turn may make them question the information. When a person placing an order feels unsure they tend to hold off on ordering.

Giving your customer many choices would seem to be a good thing but too much of a good thing can be bad. I use to sell products at a local flea market. I sold many electronic closeout items I purchased from store closings or items that were being discontinued. At one time I had bought about 500 little portable electric shavers that worked off 2 “C” batteries. I was selling them for $5 each, the retail was a whopping $24.99 so I expected them to go quick. There were 7 colors and I always had a large section for them and they were prominently displayed. People would stop and look at them and comment that they were very neat and a good product but sales were very slow. One day I was a little upset at their sales and I had only put out a fraction of the display and only 3 of the 7 colors. Within a few hours I sold more units than the previous month. I figured out that I offered too many choices and after that I only put out 3 to 4 colors at a time and sold the rest of my stock in less than a month.

I was doing a promotion for a local TV station a few years back, I have dealt with them for years and they always purchased a few premiums for select TV guests and staff. This time they wanted to give out items at a local event and they wanted some key chains. I broke my own rules and showed them about 20 possible choices, it was a disaster, they kept looking them over and could not figure out what to do.

Finally a month later I took the station manager into a room and held out my hands with one key chain in each hand and said rather firmly (he is a good friend) choose one of these NOW! He did and the event went perfect. I realized that he felt overwhelmed with the choices and started soliciting employee opinions and of course everybody liked a different one. He wanted or needed someone to push him in the right direction, he needed fewer choices. After all, if you take a multiple choice test you want there to be less choices, right?

If a customer appears to be having a hard time deciding between a few choices don’t hesitate to say something like “Personally I like this one” or “ This one is our most popular”.

Finally, I have been talking mostly about what not to say but don’t forget the most important few things that need to be said. “Would you like to go ahead and order these today?”. This simple question or one similar to it can mean the difference in closing the sale or not. And the final thing, always say "Thank You", order or not.

Now get out there and sell some product!


Copyright © 2005 Terry Morris. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author.

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