I’ve been teaching sales training for years and know exactly how to avoid the biggest sin in our business.
But, I committed the sin anyway. Big time.
The prospect was a referral from a salesperson I have known for years. Dennis was trying to do the right thing by his company and do a favor for me.
The idea was to have me keynote his employer’s annual sales meeting.
The close should have been fast– almost automatic, but things went terribly wrong.
And it’s all my fault. I committed the cardinal sin of selling.
The biggest sin of selling
After receiving the lead from my friend, Dennis, I called the decision maker, a sales manager named Keith.
We entered into some general dialog about what I offered in terms of sales training. Keith, a savvy guy, almost immediately asked about my fee.
It was kind of fun at first. Two veteran salespeople negotiating to cut the best deal for their respective companies.
Keith was wise to ask about my fee early on. But, I know how to defend against that tactic.
I always teach salespeople to talk about price last. The reason is that when you talk price last, you can talk about everything else first. Tweet This
Once you cover value, features, and benefits, the price– even a high price– becomes a sort of fait accompli.
Saving price for the last negotiation point also allows the seller to learn all the prospect’s challenges. This is a key part of selling because knowing the exact problem allows you to sell the exact solution. And people pay more for the exact solution.
So when Keith inquired about my fee, I demurred and instead gave him a price range. The idea was to get him to agree to the price range so that neither of us would spend a lot of time on a deal that was not a good fit for both parties.
Keith agreed to the price range. The trial close had worked perfectly.
And then he got me to spend lots of time with him.
I teach my sales coaching clients to not spend a lot of time with a prospect unless it looks like a deal is pending. But all of a sudden, I had spent two hours with Keith on the phone and another two hours crafting a proposal.
I found myself in a very unusual predicament. I had spent four hours with a prospect and we had not even agreed on how much he was to pay me. Not good.
Once a seller has invested time, energy and resources in a sales opportunity, it can be very difficult to walk away from a deal.
I was being played
I guess I wanted to please my friend Dennis, who had referred me. At this point, I had invested much more time than usual in the negotiation. But I continued to commit the biggest selling sin.
Even now, I can hardly believe that I sent a “hypothetical” agreement to Keith at his request. It contained all the salient terms of an agreement including a voluntary 20% discount as a favor to my pal that had connected me to the deal.
Keith showed his stripes soon enough. After receiving the agreement, he called to make me a counter offer.
Oh, he never called it a “counter offer.” Keith just said that all he had left in his budget was “X.”
And X, coincidentally, was about 50% of the requested fee.
What? I felt the blood rush into my head. Angry at having been played, I stalled for time and tried to rethink my scenario.
But I still couldn’t walk away
Still trying to please my friend, Dennis, I actually went to work trying to find ways I could justify working for half-price.
I sent Keith a counter proposal, but by now I was in far too deep. I was playing his game now, negotiating a deal that wasn’t even mine.
I informed Keith that it wouldn’t be fair to my other clients to speak at his event for 50% of my normal fee, but that I would do so if he paid my fee and all travel expenses in advance.
This was an easy “yes,” for almost anyone getting a 50% discount, but surprisingly, Keith declined.
I had finally had enough and said I would have to bow out of the deal.
I said, “I don’t understand, Keith. You’ve offered to pay me half-price and now you won’t accept terms in exchange for the discount.”
Here’s the worst part
Keith didn’t want me to walk away. His event was less than thirty days.
His voice became louder on our final phone call. “Michael, I thought we had a deal.”
I said nothing.
He was nearly shouting now, “I can’t believe you’re willing to lose this. I’m certainly not happy having wasted all this time talking!”
“Keith, you want to hire me to teach sales training. Do you want me to teach your team to sell your product at half-price? Do you want me to teach them how not to protect the terms of the deal?”
Finally, he said the words that I could not.
“Michael, I don’t think we’re a good fit.”
So I lost. Keith lost, too.
In the process, the aggressive sales manager had betrayed his own company. Keith wanted it both ways. He was trying to hire a person to educate his salespeople, but he only wanted to hire someone who was not very good at selling.
This hadn’t happened to me in 15 years. I had actually started thinking that I was too sharp to ever have it happen again.
It was a nice review of these selling basics:
- Always pre-qualify the prospect
- Don’t spend a lot of time with the prospect unless you’re sure you’ve got a deal
- Walk away anytime the deal is not a good fit
We salespeople are all in this together. We must continue to improve our trade-craft and become the best communicators we can be.
One of our primary goals should be to only spend time on deals that are beneficial for everyone involved. To stay in a deal that is not good for both parties, is the biggest sin of selling.
Ah, a lesson re-learned for me, I guess. In the immortal words of The Who, “We [I] won’t get fooled again.” At least for another 15 years.
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