[photo] Mark Jeftovic

easyDNS CEO, Career Contrarian & AntiGuru

How to Kill a Sale

Free advice for salespeople and marketers: once upon a time, the following tactics may have actually worked.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that they didn’t always completely alienate your prospects to your company and its message. In any case, today, that’s exactly what it does.

#1) I don’t care who you are, but I expect you to buy from me.

That’s the core meaning conveyed by any message addressed to “occupant”. Even worse, in a case like our example above, when the message is targeted at “Our (former) customer or whoever the hell gets this”, it gets even worse.

It means that the relationship we had with you – our (former) customer, is so meaningless to us, that you are seamlessly interchangeable with a literal “nobody” (and in this case, you are not even worth the trouble of getting your name right).

In essence All that matters is what we’re selling. Who we are selling to doesn’t matter.

This letter will be discarded without a second thought.

Moving right along….

#2) “Our quarter ends tomorrow, so I really need you to buy from me today”

Some poor schmuck just screwed himself out of a sale to my business, not because he pulled this one on me, but because he pulled this one on me twice.

We had been talking to his company about a software plugin we were interested in, and after I tasked one of my systems guys to evaluate it (read “please continue this process with my systems guy”) he called me last quarter saying in effect “Our quarter is ending and we could really use a purchase decision from you this week”.

Traditional salesmanship school says that this is a “tactic” (otherwise known as a “trick”) to dangle the prospect of desperate salespeople and associated “deep discounts” into the mind of the buyer. “If I buy today….I can drive a hard bargain and get a deep discount”.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, especially out here in the IT world, but we don’t give a fuck. We’re more interested in whether the product does the job and if the company that puts it out can be relied upon to support it. Instead of motivating the prospect at the prospect of saving a few bucks, what happens instead is that a seed of doubt is planted in the mind of the “target”. That seed of doubt asks “Does this company give a rat’s ass about me beyond this call, this sale, today?”.

So when you don’t bite and you never hear from the company again until next quarter, when the same sales guy runs the same play on you, this doubt is now confirmed.

So to make a “final purchase decision” like the guy wanted, takes a quick huddle with the systems group to evaluate. Instead of a “go ahead’ coming out of the meeting, something else happens….

“This is annoying the hell out of me. Do we really need to go with this?”

“We could knock something off that accomplishes the same thing at about a quarter of the cost.”


It’s a conversation that would have never taken place if the sales drone hadn’t kept pressuring and pushing. Had he just eased off and let things take it’s course, I would have eventually gotten an email from the systems group along the lines of….

We took a look at it and it satisfies all the requirements. We can slot in implementation sometime after ________ It costs X. If you’re ok with this let us know and we’ll pull the trigger”.

And that would have been the end of it, and the guy would have gotten his sale. (However it may not have happened until, god forbid, next quarter).

The entire point of outsourcing this component and paying 4X the cost for achieving a goal was so that we didn’t really have to think about it and devote very many cycles to it. But since these conventional sales tactics had him pestering us to think about it and thus devote cycles to it…fine, we’ll do that. But the outcome isn’t what he had in mind.

The lesson behind this one is the following:

Companies (especially the more informal agile outfits, like the ones that operate most of the internet) have their own internal rhythm and culture. The way you sell to these companies is you find out what this rhythm and culture is, and ingratiate yourself with it. It means you enter into a conversation and a working relationship with these companies: you identify what they are attempting to achieve and then you do whatever you can to help them achieve that. And you let it progress at their pace not yours.

If you have enough of these irons in the fire, you will get a natural progression of sales closing at a predictable rate so don’t worry, you’ll make your numbers.

#3) “What would it take to close a sale today?”

This is a variation of above, again. It’s the B2B equivalent of “sure baby, I’ll respect you in the morning”. Come to think of it it’s even less than that. There isn’t even a promise of the future. I want you to buy from me today, what’ll it take?

Better questions to ask a prospect are these:

  • Is there anything else about our product that we can show you?
  • Does this solve your problem?
  • Are there any requirements you have that we haven’t addressed?

These aren’t what you call “closing tactics” but where I’m going with this is: closing tactics are killing your sales.

I would much rather do business with a company that sets out to help me solve a problem or move on an opportunity. I will buy from somebody as long as I feel like they are truly in it to help me accomplish my goals. If I am confident in that, I don’t care about what it costs. It costs what costs. Who cares? It’s a side effect, not the focus.

Because when “the sale” is the focus, I know I’m not. (This also pretty well sums up why we do not employ salespeople at easyDNS.)

If you’re interested in learning more about How Not To Kill a Sale, I highly recommend Michael Port’s “The Contrarian Effect: Why It Pays (Big) To Take Typical Sales Advice – and Do the Opposite”, I’m listening to the audiobook version in my car these days and find myself nodding more vigourously than when I’m listening to my Iron Maiden CD’s.




2 Comments to How to Kill a Sale

  1. April 21, 2011 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    At least a bit of Dilbert’s PHB is exists in far too many in business and those are the ones these sales tactics are aimed at. I guess like ‘minds’ trying to find each other.
    The sad thing is that there are many who don’t want to (or have difficulty to) actually think. A nice book that looks into this that I just finished is Laurence Gonzales’ Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things, and I think you will enjoy it.

  2. April 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post Mark. Thank you for writing it.


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