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    "Sales Without Pain" - Here's a Different Strategy For Increased Sales; Stop 'Selling,' Start Listening."
    From Amtrak Express March/April 1994 - by Janet Fox

    To get and keep customers, forget about selling. Nothing turns today's buyer off more thoroughly than the tactics and strategies that almost every sales representative is taught to use.

    What most sales training teaches is manipulation, says Nicholas E. Ruben, executive vice president of High Probability Inc., a Philadelphia-based training and consulting firm. The whole premise of selling has been to persuade people to do something, even if they don't originally want to. Salespeople learn that they must flatter, feign enthusiasm, make wild promises, stretch the truth and resort to a whole bag of tactics to close deals quickly.

    All of us know when we are being "sold," and we don't like it. The salesperson who "is in the neighborhood and just wants to drop off some materials," the phone solicitor who wants us to answer a few survey questions, the fast-talking representative who asks if we want the gray or the almond color in a product we haven't decided we want - they don't fool us. We've heard these lines before, and they create in us not a desire to buy, but resistance, hostility and distrust.

    The transaction is not comfortable for the salesperson, either.

    "We're talking about an area of great pain," Ruben says. Salespeople who are taught and pressured by their own companies to use techniques that create resistance set themselves up for continual rejection and failure. Repeated rejections, and the perceived need to wheedle, placate and deceive, take an enormous toll on the salesperson's self-esteem and self-respect.

    People who sell - and most jobs involve sales in one way or another - don't need new and better techniques, Ruben believes. They need a different conceptual framework, a changed mind-set, a new paradigm. The model he espouses is engagingly described in a recent book, High Probability Selling (Abba Publishing Company), which he wrote with Jacques Werth, and which grew out of the workshops they teach. It flies in the face of just about all the conventional wisdom about selling.

    For starters, the sales rep's objective, in Ruben's view, is not to get the prospective customer to buy. It is to find out if there is a mutually acceptable basis for doing business. The kind of prospecting calls he recommends are totally free of persuasion, hype or even enthusiasm.

    "Good morning," the call might begin. "This is John Boardman from the Protection Insurance Agency. I sell long-term care insurance, which covers the cost of nursing home care, or comparable at-home care, not covered by Medicare. Is that something you want?"

    Ruben's way of selling wouldn't have a prospecting call beginning with "Have you ever stopped to think about how devastating it would be to your family if you should need to go into a nursing home?" Or "I ran into your friend Tim Walker on the golf course last week and he suggested I give you a call." Just "Is this something you want?"

    If the prospective customer says "No," that's the end of it. There's no attempt to argue or convince him that he really needs the product, or to lure her with promises of a bargain. Salespeople are almost always taught to make as many contacts as possible, and to get appointments with as many people as they can, Ruben says. They waste most of their time and energy on pitches and presentations to people who aren't ready and willing to buy. The High Probability method, however, teaches sales reps to weed out anybody who isn't interested or can't afford the product or service for sale. Instead of trying to get a foot in the door, any door, the salesperson tries to disqualify all prospects who are not highly likely to purchase.

    The reality is that not everybody is a prospect for what you're selling, Ruben says, and that your product or services is not the perfect solution to every need. Furthermore, buyers can be trusted to know if they want something.

    When you're just trying to find out if the prospect wants what you are selling and is a person you would be comfortable doing business with, there is no possibility of rejection or failure. When you just need to get information rather than to get someone to buy something, a "No" leaves you with your integrity and self-respect intact.

    "People in our workshops go crazy because what we teach is counter-intuitive," Ruben says. All their lifelong assumptions about selling are challenged. They learn that they don't have to be ingratiating glad-handers. They don't have to make grandiose claims for their products. They don't have to be aggressive or persistent. They don't have to try to figure out what the customer wants to hear. They don't have to grovel and beg and "dance on their knees."

    Instead, they learn to talk to prospects and customers on an equal basis. They learn that they have rights, too. They don't have to do business with people who waste their time, who are rude, impossibly demanding, devious or difficult to pin down. They learn to ask questions, to listen more than talk, and to put the whole responsibility of deciding to make a purchase squarely on the buyer.

    It's hard for salespeople to believe that it's good to ask "Are you sure you want to buy this?" instead of setting up a list of questions designed to elicit a series of "yeses." It's hard for them to believe that it's perfectly all right to ask personal questions and really try to get to know the customer rather than babbling about the weather or the score of last week's game. It's hard for them to accept the idea that they can be perfectly straightforward about not being able to meet all the customer's demands, not being free to call next Tuesday, not being willing to prepare a detailed proposal without a strong commitment, and not being able to install the product in two weeks.

    But when they start operating this way, salespeople discover that honesty really is a better policy, Ruben says. It's disarming to prospective buyers, who can ask for the information they need and think about what they want to do instead of putting their energy into resisting glib pitches and pressure tactics.

    Another expert who believes that selling is superfluous is John R. Graham, founder and president of Graham Communications, a Quincy, Massachusetts-based marketing services and sales consulting firm.

    Graham has an unusually shaped desk, and every sales rep who comes into his office comments on the desk. It's part of what they're taught to do to establish "rapport," he says, "and it makes me want to throw up." Then they say, "Would you like this delivered Tuesday or Wednesday?" Give me a break! They all know 423 clever closes and it's all garbage-nonsense-stupidity. You get the impression that their only task is to get you to part with your money and their only interest is in closing a deal, and you're turned off. That's what's wrong with selling.

    Graham looks at things from the perspective of a buyer, which he often is. When he was planning to buy a plain-paper fax machine, he looked at some displays at the trade show and asked one of the companies there to mail him some detailed information. Within half an hour of his return to his office, a salesperson was on the phone, wanting to bring a machine over. Graham again asked to have information sent to him. None came, but the salesperson was persistent in calling back and wanting to bring a machine over.

    "Guess who bought a plain-paper fax, and guess which company is out of business now?" Graham says.

    Similarly, Graham recently decided to buy a new phone system for his company, a major purchase that he wanted to consider carefully. Again, he started by requesting information, but was bullied and pressured by salespeople to make a quick decision. After a few attempts to close the deal, they all faded away.

    This sales-driven, have-to-get-the-order-today attitude is a leftover from the post-World War II era when Americans believed that there was an endless supply of everything, including customers. Graham says, The feeling was, "If not this one, I'll get the next one."

    Today, he says, "Willie Loman is dead. You have to cultivate each and every customer. And you have to understand that people are taking longer to make buying decisions. There are more people and committees involved, and the buying cycle has been extended. But if people say they are going to buy, they will. Ninety-nine percent will buy in a 12-month period."

    The salespeople and companies succeeding now are those that take the longer view, Graham says. They're less interested in making sales and moving boxes than in creating customers. Certain companies understand this very well, as evidenced by, for example, people who have been driving only Toyotas since 1972 or people who never look beyond Braun when they're in the market for a small appliance.

    Graham understands full well that many salespeople are pressured by their managers to go for the quick deal, and that many companies are only concerned with this fiscal quarter's results. But it won't wash today, he says.

    "The person who spends time with me, who educates me, who shares his insight and becomes a resource for me is the person I'm going to do business with," he says.

    One rep Graham deals with learned how to create a loyal customer. The rep sells printing equipment. Pretty soon Graham stopped taking his calls. Then the salesman came over and took a look at Graham's printing operation, asked a lot of questions, learned about the business and began offering suggestions about better and less costly ways of getting the job done.

    "He has become a valuable resource to us," Graham says. "We can apply his expertise to our situation. Now when he calls, I want to talk to him, and when he talks about new equipment, I understand that he is interested in helping our business."

    Like Ruben, Graham thinks it's a waste of time to try to get people to want to buy things. People know when they want and need and can afford something. It's just a question of who they're going to buy it from, and that decision will be based on established trust and respect.

    "I got a call this afternoon from a major shopping center," Graham says. "They told me that our newsletter came last week - they've been getting it for 10 years - and now they want to put out a newsletter of their own. Theirs will be a million copies a quarter and they want me to do it, because of my newsletter. My newsletter spoke to them.

    "You've go to cultivate customers over time," he says. "When they get ready to buy, you'll be there for them: If it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years."

    "Selling causes resistance," Ruben says succinctly. "When there's no selling, there's no resistance. You make more sales when you eliminate selling."

    Janet Fox, a free-lance writer based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and former award-winning newspaper reporter, contributes to USA Today and a variety of state and regional business publications.

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