In a 2007 study in Psychological Science, Paul Eastwick and his colleagues reported research that showed people can easily detect desperation in others. The context of their study was a “speed dating” exercise, where people met and talked to each other for 4 minutes. Afterward, surveys and interviews showed that the people who were the most desperate to get a date were exactly those who were least likely to get one.
I think this is true in Sales, too. Customers can sense desperation from our body language, our behavior, our voice, the words we use, our low expectations, and our general lack of discernment. As the fiscal year draws to an end, we may start to feel desperate if we’re not close to hitting our quota. If we’re self-employed and the money just isn’t coming in, we may be seized by desperation. If we encounter a string of rejections from our prospects, we may get desperate.
Here are seven traits of desperation selling:
1) A tendency to chase after deals that aren’t going anywhere.
2) A willingness to pursue low quality and low probability opportunities.
3) Early price discounting in the hope that cutting the price will be a faster route to closing business than establishing value.
4) A quick move to high-pressure tactics.
5) Fear of contradicting or challenging the customer, even if the buyer is misinformed or is making unrealistic demands.
6) A propensity to try to close too early, before you have established the components of trust -- rapport, credibility, and sincerity -- and before you have uncovered the prospect’s actual needs.
7) Violation of the maxims of good communication -- exaggerating or distorting the truth, providing far too little or way too much detail about our products, not showing why our message has broad relevance, and lapsing into jargon and fluff.
Anything look familiar there? Did you find yourself feeling desperate in December as the year crawled to a close? More importantly, how do we avoid going there?
First, recognize that desperation stems from a feeling of hopelessness. The best way to avoid lapsing into these behaviors is to work hard to maintain an optimistic attitude. But attitude alone isn’t enough. There are concrete steps that will also help:
Get off the roller coaster. If you’re self-employed, you may find that when you’re busy, you don’t have time to sell. And when you’re not busy, you end up getting desperate. A better approach is to make sure you engage in marketing and sales activities every week, no matter how much project work you have.
Keep the pipeline full. If you’re a professional salesperson working for a corporation, take responsibility for generating quality leads yourself. Your employer will (let’s hope) provide you with a lot of them, but by building your own channel of contacts and leads and staying in contact with them through emails, clippings, articles you forward, and other reminders, you are more likely to have the top-of-mind awareness that will cause them to call you first.
Talk to the customer. When you’re trying to move a deal forward, emphasize personal contacts over email and voicemail. Try to meet with the prospect in person. Try to have real conversations. Human contact is a much faster road to rapport, the first essential element in a trusting business relationship, than impersonal email will ever be.
Slow down the sales process. Desperation makes us want to speed it up, so consciously step back and try to look objectives at what you’re doing and how the customer is reacting. If you were a sales coach, what advice would you give on this opportunity?
Get creative. Look for ways to add meaningful value without slashing margin. Can you break up the billing cycle so that it has less impact on the customer’s cash? Can you provide free shipping? Can you extend the warranty?
Revisit success. Talk to customers who have been helped by the products and services you sell. Review sales efforts that went well. Remind yourself that what you have to offer is worth buying and that your sales skills are solid. Revisiting success will help you maintain that positive attitude, which will stave off hopelessness and desperation.
To learn more about this and other sales topics, read my books Persuasive Business Proposals, The Giants of Sales, or The Language of Success.