Don't talk yourself out of a successful sale

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 January, 1994, 12:00am

HOW a salesperson handles acceptance or rejection says a lot about his future in sales. You would think that acceptance - a customer saying ''yes, I'll buy your product'' - would be the easiest thing in the world for salespeople to handle, but some people can't resist taking risks with their good fortune.

I've always thought that the riskiest part of a sale was the moment when the customer said ''yes''. In many cases that's the instant when both customer and salesperson are elated that they've done a deal.

But I suspect in an equal number of cases buyer and seller have totally different feelings at that moment. The buyer is nervous about what he's just committed to. The seller is elated that he's closed a sale. That's a dangerous emotional mix.

At that moment, it's imperative that the salesperson handle acceptance with style. In other words, once you've sold, shut up. Don't praise the buyer for having the good judgment to buy from you.

Phrases such as ''you won't regret this'' or ''this is the best deal you've ever made'', will raise suspicions in even the most trusting person. In a nervous customer, such phrases may change his mind.

Once you've made the sale, anything else you say about it can only work against you. So change the subject. Talk about the buyer's children or golf, anything but how brilliant he is for buying your product.

If handling acceptance well means switching from the professional to the personal, then handling rejection well means maintaining your professional poise and avoiding anything personal.

As a general rule, you should never resent your prospects because they say ''no'' to your proposal. In most cases, they are rejecting your proposal, not you.

This is so obvious. Yet how often have you seen salesmen react to rejection by blaming the prospect - for wasting their time or being a jerk or not having the brains to recognise a great deal? They take it personally; they get defensive.

In extreme cases, this defensive attitude can become truly offensive, with salespeople lashing out face to face with prospects, as if trying to insult or intimidate prospects will somehow change their mind.

I approach rejection more calmly, even if I'm not feeling particularly calm. I'll go back to a potential client with another proposal and yet another. I'll do all sorts of things - send them newspaper clips, personal notes, invitations to events - to letthem know that I value them, that there are no hard feelings and that I still think we can do business together.

After spending so much time getting to know a potential customer, I'd be foolish to take his first or second or third ''no'' as a cue to cross him out of my life permanently. The way I see it, as the customer's ''nos'' accumulate, my odds of getting a ''yes'' increase. TALK to enough successful entrepreneurs and you'll learn they have a lot of traits in common. One of the more unusual ones is that nearly all of them see themselves as always coming out on top. They visualise success and they tend to be blind to the concept of failure.

I never appreciated this until an associate pointed out that I tended to think this way myself.

A few years ago, our company was trying to persuade a superstar athlete about the benefits of being represented by us. The recruiting process went very slowly. The superstar was cautious about joining an organisation as big as ours. Likewise, we didn'twant to oversell ourselves, promising more than we could deliver.

It was a leisurely 18-month courtship and I had no idea whether we would succeed. But about midway in the process I began injecting the superstar's name more and more into my conversations. I'd mention the superstar casually in internal meetings. I'd cite the superstar in hypothetical examples of what our company should be doing - not only to work out in my own mind what we could do for him but to convince our people that we were best qualified for the job.

I realise now that, unconsciously, what I was doing is not unlike what many top athletes do to stay on top of their game. They visualise success. Top golfers, for example, train themselves to see the ball falling into the cup and they mentally rehearsethe kind of swing needed to turn that image into reality.

The same thing takes place in business. In effect, I was mentally rehearsing for the day when this superstar became a client. The fact that I could ''see'' success motivated our people and gave them the confidence to turn a ''maybe'' event into an inevitable one. The superstar is now a client. Q: My company is considering an acquisition in a semi-glamorous but unrelated field that doesn't make sense to me. But I can't convince our president that he's wrong. He's a good manager with a very healthy ego. He thinks a good manager can manage any business. How can I persuade him that he's letting his ego get in the way of his judgment? A: There's a difference between having an ego and having an ego problem. A healthy ego gives you the confidence to make bold decisions. An ego problem seduces you into making increasingly bolder decisions - to top your competitors or top yourself. Eventually, your bold decisions become bad ones.

I see this all the time in the sports business, where ego often gets in the way of rational thought.

The most egregious example is the wealthy entrepreneur who decides to buy a sports team. If this otherwise-smart executive treated the purchase of a football or baseball team like any other business decision, he would probably walk away.

Labour costs (players' salaries) are out of control; television audiences, fragmented by cable and satellite television, are declining; broadcast rights from the networks are more likely to shrink than grow. Keeping the money in the bank might be a better investment. Yet successful business people continue to buy teams. Their ego whispers to them that they deserve this expensive toy.

Perhaps you should ask your president whether he is buying a business or a toy.