Scare, stall and sell: is that your style?

Scare, stall and sell: is that your style?

This article, directed at the end-user, provides many interesting insights for resellers themselves. Forget The Monster Under the Bed. A new evil strikes terror into the hearts of innocent end-users. Try The Monster In The Aisle as a concept in horror, as we explore the ways in which many customers perceive salespeople Imagine what it must be like to be one of your customers. Indulge me for a few minutes and become an average IT manager. Pretend I'm talking to you as an end-user. Now read on.

You manage 1,000 nodes in three locations within one city. You have a budget of $1 million a year for PCs, $50,000 a year for file servers, $150,000 a year for routers and so forth, and another $40,000 a year for your WAN. That's a lot of money to be spending.

Naturally, your bosses selected you on the strength of your skills in product selection and negotiation and contract management. What? Nobody ever trained you in these skills? You can bet your adversaries, professional salespeople, have had a lot of training. In fact, they have well-defined tactics for dealing with you. People in sales do what it takes to make the cash register ring.

So, look out for your own best interests. That can mean neutralising the more unscrupulous tactics many sales professionals use. You don't believe they play hard? Here are some steps taken from the marketing strategy of a major manufacturer in our industry. The strategy assumes that when the customer chooses a competitor's product, it's not because that product has superior technical features or a lower cost but because the sales team made "marketing errors".

To remedy these "errors", the sales representative and his or her manager will pay a call on the decision maker, asking for specific detail on why the decision went against them. Then, within a few days, they will call on the decision maker and his or her manager to refute the decision. If cost is one of the reasons, the salesperson might say something like, "Don't expect to get something for nothing."

The next call goes to the manager without the decision maker present, with the sales manager trying to discredit the decision maker as having made errors, losing track of the business purpose, and becoming emotionally involved in the decision.

According to the document, "An important part of this strategy is to occupy management's time, to worry the recommender and evoke displays of emotion from him, thereby giving proof positive of his loss of objectivity." This same marketing document describes the "Three 'S' tactics:" scare, stall, and sell. Included under scare is "May jeopardise your job," "May try to get you fired," and "Go over your head to your boss."

When their management explains to your management that you're just an overgrown tech-weenie who doesn't understand the business issues, do you think you'll win by hauling out your Request for Purchase and walking your management through it? Nope. You'll win if, when you announce your decision, you remind your management of the facts of life: that you'll have one winner and four losers, and that at least one of them will try to go over your head to discredit you, your process, and your decision.

Nobody subordinates his or her own best interests to mine when our goals don't match perfectly. Not my employer, not my wife, not my kids. Maybe our dog, Mrfe, an Airedale with a nice temperament and the IQ of burnt toast. But I digress.

Some sales professionals do stretch an ethical point past its reasonable limits. But many get tarred with that brush unfairly. Whenever someone pushes every button available trying to make a sale, the button-owner may feel put-upon. Don't make the mistake of confusing conflicting goals with a breach of ethics. People in sales don't have your best interests at heart. That's not their responsibility. They get paid to make the cash register ring. Helping their customers succeed should be an excellent way to make that happen, but it's a tactic - a means to an end - not the end itself.

When achieving your goals doesn't also benefit the vendor - when it's not a win-win situation - guess whose fault it is? Hint: It isn't the salesperson's.

That leads us to the First Rule of Vendor Relations: the responsibility for creating a win-win situation belongs to the customer. You thought that was the vendor's responsibility? Maybe according to some notion of idealised, non-capitalist ethics. Not in any realistic business sense.

The psychologist B F Skinner described the reality in his theory of behaviourism. Translated to sales, it goes like this: sales professionals try a bunch of stuff. When something works, they do it again. When something doesn't work, they stop doing it and try something different. Over time, it's the stuff that works that covers the landscape like behavioural lantana.

Who's responsible for deciding what works? You are. If you want salespeople to only sell you what actually helps move your business forward, then you have to buy only from the ones who exhibit that behaviour, proudly showing the others the outside of your door.

You have the power

In interacting with salespeople, you have all the advantages. You define what you're looking for; they have to find out. You define what you're willing to spend to get it; they have to guess. You create the rules of interaction (and, if you're smart, you'll enforce them); they have to persuade you within those rules. Salespeople have to be polite to you. Your good manners are a matter of choice (and, believe me, many customers see little need for exhibiting good manners to salespeople). Salespeople have to return every phone call and run down information as you ask for it. Most prospective customers put salespeople at the end of their return-phone-messages list. Most importantly, you write the cheque and they want it, probably more than you want their merchandise.

When salespeople are selling, their goal is to sell. When you're buying, your goal is to obtain maximum value. These goals may conflict. Don't take it personally. Recognise the situation and turn it to your advantage.

As a business tactic, sellers routinely create the appearance of a win-win situation. The vendor's goal is to describe its products and services so as to create the perception of value in your mind and to then deliver the specified products and services. Do those products and services create real - as opposed to perceived - value? That's up to you.

Robert Lewis, of Perot Systems Corp., can be reached at

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