I was talking to a friend of mine whose company had a rough first quarter. As is often the case, both sales and marketing came under scrutiny; several salespeople were let go, and marketing is now under a microscope.
In trying to perform a post-mortem on the problems, we struck upon the issue of salespeople. The sales manager held up a former employee as an example of the kind of people he wanted; this guy was a go-getter, filled with energy and an inability to say no. Two quarters ago, he killed it.
However, last quarter, he was let go. Why? Because he’d do anything to get a sale, including telling prospective customers things about his product that were not true. Then, he’d ask engineering to back him up and build new things into the product simply to cover his tracks.
That may have worked in the 1990s. Today, it won’t — and it’ll create a customer relationship nightmare.
The Customer Really Does Know Best
The selling persona has changed dramatically. The old model was to guide prospects from start to finish without allowing them to veer from the salesperson’s storyline. Beat that drum so loudly and so often that the prospect eventually gives in, and you’ve closed the deal. Energy, assertiveness and a don’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude were hallmarks of the old-school salesperson.
That doesn’t work anymore. Thanks to the Internet, customers don’t need their hands held in order to learn about a product or service — they often come to the salesperson with their research done already. This creates a nightmare scenario in which the customer knows more about the company than the salesperson does.
So, the salesperson’s relationship needs to change. Instead of being a carnival barker, trying to convince the prospect through a forceful message and a position as gatekeeper to product information, the salesperson needs to be a trusted advisor and a partner.
That idea works well on two levels in today’s environment: First, it allows salespeople to connect with prospects not around the salesperson’s spiel but around issues that are important to the prospect. Second, it’s good for the long game.
A prospect who does not find your company the right choice right now may be looking for a replacement down the road or may switch to a new company and be charged with buying the same product in the near future. Establishing yourself as a trusted partner sets you up for future opportunities.
Dishonesty Is Dumb
For a salesperson, failing to become a trusted partner — and, indeed, betraying the prospect’s trust by overpromising and skirting the truth — is both unethical and outdated.
Dishonesty is obviously a bad thing, and when it happens with sales, it leads to unacceptably high levels of churn, followed by unacceptably negative commentary in social media that drives off prospective customers. It results in an opportunity cost far greater that the value of the short-lived sale gain.
It also creates a situation in which there is no second chance with a customer. Fool a prospect once, shame on you — you won’t get a chance to fool that prospect again.
From a bigger CRM standpoint, this behavior creates pain across your organization. Marketing may keep trying to woo a customer, never knowing the reason it can’t get through is that a salesperson abused that person’s trust and the experience was shared through social media.
Support may get calls from angry customers and be put in the position of breaking the news that the salesperson fed them a line of manure — and then support gets to take the heat. That won’t endear you to your fellow employees.
If you run a company, dishonesty among the people who interact with your customers is never acceptable. Understand the changing role of sales, and see the long game you’re playing with prospects — and as the saying goes, you’ll do well by doing good.