The One Minute Salesperson

Sales is an interesting career as it is one that is commonly learned not taught. Every salesperson needs to find their own approach rather than utilizing a cooker cutter method of selling. I recently read The One Minute Salesperson, authored by Spencer Johnson and Larry Wilson who give a perspective that far too many salespeople forgot. Their lessons are told through a parable about a young salesperson who took on the traditional way of selling, but, over time he found out this was not working and it was becoming stressful. He received several helpful tips from a well-known salesperson who focussed less energy but closed more sales. Below are my three main take aways from the reading.

1. Focus on helping people

It’s important to take a minute to make sure you’re helping your customers get what they want rather than selling them something you want. Johnson and Wilson added, “I just invest a minute when I am selling to ask myself: Am I more concerned with trying to get what I want? Or am I really helping other people get what they want” (p. 29). Sometimes it’s easy to forget what you are selling to your customer. Taking a minute to make sure you’re helping out the customer for the right reasons will only benefit both parties.

2. Have the right intentions

The successful salesperson told the younger man that once you stop caring so much at trying to get what you want and start helping the customer get what they want, it is a more enjoyable experience for all involved. Sometimes people try so hard to get something they want, such as a sale, that they create more of a hassle for themselves. Salespeople can get too caught up in making a sale that they forget their sole purpose; selling the customer a product or service that they want. Success comes when you help people get what they want and most likely you will get what you want in return.

3. Remember that you’re selling to a person so you need to be respectful

In treating people with respect can help build a level of trust between the customer and the salesperson and may even help sell the product better. Johnson and Wilson stated, “The other person, the one so many people call a customer or a prospect-is in fact, a person. If you treat him or her as a commodity, or as anything but a person, you reduce yourself to a peddler” (p. 18). People can tell when they are not being respected or are seen as anything but a price tag and they are likely to walk away.

Throughout our whole lives we try to sell people ideas such as trying to get a colleague to go to happy hour with us or asking our parents if we can have a sleepover. Whether it has to deal with money or not, we are trying to make a deal with someone. Being a successful salesperson doesn’t exactly mean that you were born one but rather that you used all of the people skills that you learned throughout your life and applied them to sell your product or service. Johnson and Wilson explained, “When I want to remember how to sell, I simply recall how I – and other people – like to buy” (p. 44). By doing this, you are using skills that you already have such as knowing how you would react if someone was selling something to you. This can then be replicated when you try to sell something to someone else. “People don’t buy services, products, or ideas. They buy how they imagine using them will make them feel” (Johnson & Wilson, 1984, p. 49). If you were selling somebody a car, you don’t need to come up with a well thought-out robotic pitch, however, you should find out what the person is looking for in the car. After that you can find how the car you are selling can provide that. By simply using skills that we were born with, anybody can be a great salesperson. It is about getting to know the customer and what they truly want rather than learning pitches and following a script.

The first person who speaks, loses

This may sound like a very aggressive and perhaps even arrogant statement but the truth of the matter is that it is true. I have found myself in countless negotiations, some as simple as buying a car and some with international corporations. The bottom line is, most of the time less is more. We have written a number of posts on this very subject and it always comes down to the old adage that we have 2 ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much.

There’s also the point when you simply need to shut up and let your latest comment distill and sink in. Far too many times as sales people or negotiators, we tend to throw out a conditional or assumptive close and talk past that close. It’s at that point that you need to stop talking and allow what you just said to resonate a little and perhaps even create a certain amount of discomfort. That discomfort is what progresses the sale closer to a close and agreement.

When you drop a statement in a negotiation that is designed to move them closer to a sale, it requires the other person to pause and think. That thinking process is critical to the progress of the negotiation. If you drop the statement and keep discussing the deal then you have thwarted any opportunity for the prospect to bring things closer.

Something to consider when dropping that statement and stopping is that if the person you are negotiating with is a seasoned negotiator, they will know this tactic and will not want to be the first person to speak. This is where your preparation is so important. At the point that the silence becomes a bit uncomfortable, change the subject. This is critical because it takes the pressure off them and allows them to redirect their thinking. Continue with some small talk and after a short period of time you should begin to steer the conversation back to the decision at hand and eventually drop a new assumptive close and stop talking. If this continues after several attempts then the best thing to do is call him out in a polite way and compliment him. Tell him that he is very good at what he does and try to put everything on the table and simply ask him straight up “what’s it going to take to make this happen right now”. He will respect you and probably give you the deal.

Comfortably Uncomfortable

Listen up everybody, if you want to be in sales people have to like you. People buy from people they like and respect. Typically, a great salesman has the ability to captivate an audience with a story and garner the status “life of the party” wherever they go. This is because a good salesman has become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. They understand that in that brief moment of uncomfort that prosperity will soon come (prosperity does not alway mean money). Being comfortably uncomfortably is a trait that people are drawn to it demonstrates a level of confidence that very few people have. Nobody likes a pushy salesman but everybody loves a good listener with a relatable story.

Sales is one of the most difficult professions to be successful and one of the very few where your performance is tied into your pay on a daily basis. However, according to CNBC sales is one of the top 20 best paying jobs with average mean salary of $140,320 right behind that of a lawyer. One of the reasons it is such a tough profession is because you have to prove yourself and your product. You have about 30 seconds or less at the beginning of a meeting to build a rapport with someone then if that is successful you have about 5 minutes to demonstrate how you can make them more money or you are out.

We do this by making small talk, if it is an in person meeting be sure to comment on something in their office, find common ground. This does not mean that if your buyer likes to hunt in their free time that you have to be the worlds greatest hunter, you just need enough to get the buyer talking. When the buyer is talking you are doing something right… within reason.

For example, if I walk into my buyers office and he has six taxidermies on the wall, I may say something like “Some nice animals you have on the wall there, I myself have a 30/30 in the gun rack at home”. Just find common ground. If you can get the buyer talking about something they are passionate about, they will like you. Everybody is 99% interested in what they have to say and 1% interested in what you have to say. You just have to make sure that you capitalize on the 1% that you get to say, make it worth while. Read Johnny, your 8 year old buyer for more information on the 1%.

If you are unable to meet with the buyer in person and are tasked with a phone meeting, there are a couple avenues that I recommend. The first one is to do as much research as you possibly can. I was recently in a meeting, admittedly that I was unprepared for, luckily my business partner had done his homework. As we got to the ending questions, the dreaded trial close, the buyer began to backtrack and showed signs of hesitation. He expressed that he had recently been furloughed by his biggest contract due to Covid – 19 and wanted to wait to hire us until the contract was active again. My partner quickly was able to reference, based on his research, what he thought would be our buyers biggest contract (based on his website). Once the company named was mentioned the whole demeanor of the ending remarks changed as he respected where we were coming from. We ended up signing the deal. It is all about relationships and trust, the customer has to like you or they will not do business with you. You will be surprised how big a customers wallet opens when they like and trust you.

The second recommendation for an over the phone meeting is to bring up something that affects everybody; sports, weather, holiday, Corona, etc. This allows for instant common ground, not nearly as affective as personal common ground but effective nonetheless. Often times generic small talk can lead to personal common ground if you can ask the right questions.

All of these aspects are important for every meeting that you go into whether in person or over the phone. Just remember that the product is less important than the relationship, find common ground and be likable. If the buyer does not like you then you’re not going to be able to sell them anything. People buy from people they like and remember nobody likes to be sold but everybody likes to buy something.

The Intimate Negotiation

It does not matter what you do for work or what position you hold in the company, there will be a time where you have to have one of these “intimate negotiations.” There are a couple of times when these conversations occur, of course dependent upon your position within the company:

  • Salary negotiation upon hiring (both employee and employer) 
  • Conflict resolution among coworkers 
  • Dealing with a disgruntled employee
  • Dealing with a demanding boss
  • Asking for a raise 

The list could go on for a while but those are the general basics of when a tough discussion would occur during your working years. These conversations are bound to happen so no sense in trying to avoid them. If you have never had one of these conversations, then you probably fall into one of the following categories: underpaid, overworked, running a failing company, being extremely inefficient, or altogether working or running the wrong company. 

Like every good relationship you need solid communication. Without communication, you are not able to achieve win-win negotiations (See post on Negotiating a Win Win). That is all these tough conversations really are, intimate negotiations. I think often times we are comfortable with performing negotiations with our customers or when it comes to purchasing something, such as a car or house, but when it comes to people that we work with every day whether employee or employer, it is more intimate and that is where the innate problem lies. 

There are really two situations for which the intimate negotiation occurs as an employee. The first is with superiors and the second is with peers. As an employee, remember that you are a valuable commodity — you would not be sitting wherever you are sitting if you were not. You were hired because they wanted you there, now it is time to start acting like it. I am not saying to walk into your bosses office and demand a 200% raise because that probably will not work but you most definitely need to stand up for yourself. The only thing that is being hurt as a result of lack of communication is you. Eventually, of course, it will affect your work and the employer might be the one having the conversation. The phrase I like best when approaching these situations goes something like this, “If you want me to be able to perform my job to the best of my abilities I need not be worrying about money. This means that I need X, Y, and Z.” When dealing with a conflict with another employee the conversation does not go all that differently. Explain why the negative relationship is affecting your work and how, if not resolved, you will be forced to take it to a higher power. The easiest thing to remember is just be confident, direct, and calm. 

As an employer, remember that your people are your most valuable asset and you must take care of them. However, often times as an employer we think that all of our employees are altogether happy and often times that is not the case. This is why an open door policy, where you can really connect with your subordinates, is so critically important. This allows employees to be willing to discuss the uncomfortable topics with you. Without them, your organization will suffer and duties will be performed far less efficiently. As an employer, the most important conversation, as it pertains to employees, is when you notice a disgruntled employee . This employee may even be one who has simply checked out — a time card puncher, if you will. I just read an interesting book called The Energy Bus and it talks about how everyone who works for you needs to get on your bus, share your vision. When they are not on your bus you need to figure out why and if they are capable of getting on. If not, then it is time to cut ties. It has become a doing problem not a fixable knowing problem (Post Coming Soon on Knowing Doing Problem). 

Ultimately, the point is you need to have these conversations otherwise, your happiness or business could altogether diminish. Be direct and to the point by using “I” statements and always refer back to the company. Remember, this is ultimately an intimate negotiation. 

Dress to Impress

The famous Zig Zigler once said “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.” In short this means that you have to “look the part”, in business “looking the part” is an underrated principle that if mastered goes a long way. It does not matter which company you work for or which department you are involved with because you still have to look the part. Would you be a successful/respected janitor if you wore a tuxedo? How about a successful clown if you wore gym shorts a tank top and no makeup? Of course not, these are very elementary examples about what I am speaking towards. 

This principle works for more traditional business departments as well, here are a few: 

Management or Executive Positions: Must command yourself in a manner that demands respect and illustrates why you are the leader. This starts with your clothes, body language, attitude, and overall demeanor. People are looking for a leader, this does not mean that you have to wear a $5,000 suit, it simply means that your outfit has to be a non issue. (People don’t look at it and think wow thats a tough work outfit, he is my boss?)

Sales: You must fit in with the crowd that you are selling to. If you are selling Ferraris at the Los Angelas Ferrari dealership you should probably be dressed in business formal clothing as that is likely the clientele you will be dealing with and more so what your clientele will be expecting. However, if you are selling Ford’s in a small town in Maine then a polo and jeans will suffice and ultimately make your customer more comfortable with the buying experience. 

Marketing: Whatever business or industry you are in your website, signage, etc has to match your overall culture and brand. The marketing efforts must be impressive to YOUR customer base. If you are trying to attract a right wing conservative group, you had better have an American flag on your promo material. 

The main take away from this is to identify where you fit in a market, regardless of your department or industry, and make sure that you “look the part”.

Why so many people can’t close the deal

I have cold called 100 companies, 99 turned me down, I secured a meeting with one company, designed a presentation/pitch custom tailored for the prospect, and I delivered the pitch perfectly. Great, all the hard work is done right? Wrong. After a successful prospecting journey culminating with the solid pitch of your value add comes the dreaded question. Asking for the business.

The CEO of a large organization once said to me (In my second ever sales pitch) “Son, nice presentation but if you don’t ask for the business I am not going to give it to you.” From that point on I understood the importance of the final few statements in a pitch meeting. 

There are a few different approaches for this: Trial Close, Assumptive Close, or simply asking for the business. All of these options lead to just 3 possible outcomes: Yes, No, Not Now. Once you have dangled the final statement/close out there in front of your prospect it is time to sit back, for he/she who talks first loses. 

Trial Close: The trial close is a culmination of your entire relationship to date, putting the buyer in a position to make a decision on the spot. It would go something like this: “Mr./Ms. Buyer now that we have illustrated the value that we believe we can add, can you see this working in your organization?” Be sure to pull in anything specific from the presentation that got the buyer excited. If you did your job and are selling a good product, it will be tough for the buyer to say no to this question. Remember they met with you for a reason.

Assumptive Close: You have to tread carefully with this option as it can come across as aggressive and pushy to the wrong buyer. Following the presentation, assuming it went well, you would very simply assume that the buyer is going to enter into a business relationship with you. It would go something like this: “All we have to do now is to sign the paperwork Mr./Ms. Buyer, here you go.” Or “Okay well all we need is half up front to get started”. 

Asking for the business: This one is the softest of the approaches and takes the most skill to truly achieve as you want to be guiding them the entire presentation so that they assume the close for you. This is done through guiding the conversation while letting the buyer think  that they are leading the charge. The statement at the end is typically less important as you have already gotten intellectual commitment. But an example might be something like this: “We would love an opportunity to work with you Mr./Ms. Buyer. “

Whatever your approach is just remember that you have to ask for the business in one way or another. The easiest way to get good at this is just swallow your pride and ask the tough question. 

Sell me your pen

There is an age old question that seems to be asked in nearly every sales type interview. The question is “Sell me this pen”. The interviewer is looking for your ability to think on your feet and how quickly to can add value. If you are able to provide a succinct sales pitch adding value to such a seemingly meaningless item then you probably are on your way to a successful career in sales.

Most people struggle with this question even if they are tremendous sales people. The reason being is that the whole situation is forced, it is like role playing at a sales convention, typically not your best work. You are also trying to sell something that has very few attributes for which you can add value to. 

The best way to focus on this question is to focus on the emotional aspect. Yes, it is true that the pen is not that special but make me feel like I need to own it. Create a storyline that makes it impossible for me to not buy this pen. If you can do this you will be picking up the employers jaw off the table. 

Here is an example: 

Employer: Sell me this pen. 

Candidate: Mr./Ms. Employer, thank you for meeting with me today to discuss your need for a new pen. This is a top of the line Bic pen that is in limited production due to the fact that they are handmade. Our pens are used by only the best and brightest of todays minds, as a matter of fact 4 U.S. President are currently using this pen. Now, let me ask you something Mr./Ms. Employer? Do you sign important documents? 

Employer: Well yes I am the President of the company. 

Candidate: And what pen do you use to sign those documents?

Employer: I dont know whatever is on my desk. 

Candidate: As important a person as you are and as important as the documents you are signing don’t you deserve a pen that is memorable?

Employer: Well yes I suppose. 

Candidate: Here is what I am going to do for you, because we are at limited production for this specific pen I will get you a single case at a 10% discount. Unfortunately, this offer is only available today. 

If you can come up with something very similar to that on the spot in front of an employer I guarantee you will get the job. I have interviewed enough people for sales positions to know that most answers do not even come close to that. This situation provides the buyer/employer with a sense of urgency, true value proposition, emotional add, and demonstrates that you are a “Special Customer”. Focus on the emotional value when you are selling something, make the buyer feel what you are selling. Sounds cheesy but remember nobody wants to be sold something but everybody wants to buy something.  

Is there really such a thing as WIN WIN?

I have been negotiating projects and contracts for many years now. I have the ability to win and get what I want. Well, most of the time. However, I always know that when the negotiation is complete and I walk away victorious, there is someone, somewhere who lost. Although the agreement or contract went my way, I never feel good about being the superior negotiator in that fashion.

I have learned that negotiating a win-win is far more satisfying and honestly far more humbling to my Creator. I know that my desire is to control and steer the negotiation in a way that all parties walk away from the table happy that they got what they wanted and nobody lost. Distinction; this is not a compromise, this is a win-win.

I can remember negotiating with one of the areas larger general contractors about the amount of value engineering was needed to reduce the total construction cost and how the savings would be distributed once the costs were calculated if there was a surplus. Essentially the construction company was already awarded with the 27 million dollar project and we communicated that we were willing to walk away if we could not reach an agreement that was equitable for BOTH parties. We were able to achieve a win-win and all parties involved walked away happy.

There are many tips, strategies, steps or disciplines for negotiating and you can simply Google those things. My two basic tenants for negotiating are being willing to walk away and just as important, shut up and listen. When you listen, you hear things and when you hear things you can glean hidden needs or desires that will, if you allow, steer the negotiation. Don’t be in a hurry, just be patient until the end. In most cases, you will achieve a win-win which helps the relationship down the road – just be sure to listen.

If one party in the relationship loses and loses bad, do you think they will ever want to do business with you again? It really is all about relationships and building trust. Knowing that there isn’t a unilateral self serving motive really helps set the tone. Don’t get me wrong, I have been involved in some very aggressive battles where the gloves came off and those can certainly be fun, especially if you come out on top.