Absolutely Avoiding Absolutes

I just spoke with a person to whom someone recommended a book that suggested that the readers should never again prospect. The person who wrote the book worked for a company with billions in revenue. That revenue figure exceeded the revenue of the person I was speaking with’s company by the difference of those billions and around $20 million. But the advice was delivered as if it was an absolute truth.

Fundamental Truths and Iron Laws

Selling is a complex human interaction. Like all human interactions, there are some fundamental truths that seem to be absolute.

For example, being trusted is better than not being trusted. Being perceived as someone who can create value and solve problems is better than being perceived as someone who doesn’t deserve time or attention. Being honest is a surer path to a long-term relationship than lying.

Principles like these tend to be absolute. Tactics aren’t often absolutes.

When people recommend that you never sell to prospective clients who haven’t already discovered the need to change, they leave out a large population of prospective clients who don’t yet know that they should be dissatisfied. These prospective clients need someone with a future-oriented vision to provide them with that vision.

I’ve heard other people say that you should never cold call, and a few that believe you should only cold call. Both groups believe that the one method of prospecting that works best for them is the right approach for anyone and everyone else. There are some situations when cold calling is the best and most effective choice. In other situations, it might be the least effective choice.

How about “always be closing” and “never be closing?” Rackham’s research showed that “always be closing” is spot on in low price, low-risk sales, but it’s awful for the high cost, high-risk deals. But “never be closing” doesn’t make sense when most complex sales are made up of as many as ten customer commitments.

The Problem with Absolutes

The problem with absolutes is that they ignore the complexity of human interactions and the limitless contextual issues surrounding sales scenarios. It creates “always” and “never.”

Hard and fast absolutes like “always” and “never,” eliminate possibilities instead of creating them.

If you must “always” wait until a prospective client recognizes their needs, then you cut yourself off from the possibility that you might help create a vision of what is possible. Maybe even one of which your dream client was unaware. And a vision that may create massive value.

If you can “never” pitch, then you can never share your vision with your dream client. Sometimes you wait to pitch because it’s better to wait, and sometimes you pitch early because that’s what is necessary.

If you can “never” cold call, then you eliminate opening a relationship through a fast and direct channel. If you “always” have to cold call, you cut yourself off from other effective strategies, like referrals and LinkedIn.

Avoiding Absolutes

Because selling is a complex human interaction, it is rather nuanced. There are lots of small distinctions that you need to consider when engaging with your dream clients.

Instead of “always” or “never,” think instead of “What approach is useful in this situation?” Ask yourself, “What choices do I have available to me now, and what trade-offs come with each of them?” Consider the question, “What creates the most value for my dream client in this interaction, and what would the next commitment we’d need to take together look like?”

We talk about the sales process and buyer’s journey as if both were absolutes. But they aren’t. Instead, both processes are maps, and maps are not the territory.

Context matters. All generalizations are lies (even this one). Absolutes are principle-based, and tactics are contextual.

Filed under: Sales 3.0

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