Sometimes the hard sell isn’t the most effective approach. Sales guru Tom Searcy explains why simply giving good advice may be the best way to make a sale.

A CEO recently told me a story of the best sales call she ever received. As she explains, a sales rep for a payroll-processing firm reached her by phone and said:

“I heard you talking about your company on the radio recently and I was really interested. I’ve been doing some research on the company and your industry and I think you are going to be hit with some real challenges on compliance costs and healthcare issues. We’ve been working on this for a while at our company and I have some research on where things are going that you might find interesting. Would you be interested in looking at it together?”

They met and the sales rep presented the research and the implications as to what the challenges were going to mean specifically to employers like the CEO and her industry in general. He made a number of observations and recommendations for the CEO. He did not talk about his products, services, or even much about his company.

He then asked, “What are you going to do about these challenges?”

She told him that she really did not know and was going to have to think about them. He explained that the CEO could take a few different approaches and he outlined the choices–still not talking about his company or their services. He gave the honest pros and cons of each and then said, “Thanks for the chance to come talk to you about your business, I really enjoyed it.”

You probably know the rest…he’s going to get the sale, and the CEO also expressed interest in hiring him to come sell for her. The lesson to be learned here is:

If you want to land sales, don’t get caught selling.

Great sales people know this, yet the natural motivation to close deals pushes us to make bad mistakes or to “Always Be Closing.” Sorry, but that quote and approach comes from the archives of things that don’t work any more.

Let’s break down what the sales rep did well:

  1. Focused on issues relevant to the buyer’s business–Having done his homework, his approach was to discuss the buyer’s business first. This included the upcoming challenges and what competitors would be doing to deal with these challenges.
  2. Provided insights about the buyer’s problems–He offered valuable information about the challenges the CEO would face in the context of her business rather than in the context of what he had to sell.
  3. Remained curious about the buyer’s options–He asked what the buyer was considering as solutions to her problem before offering his solution.
  4. Discussed the buyer’s options–He provided an adviser’s perspective as to the options without pushing his company. It is more than possible he presented disproportionately the benefits of outsourcing, but he was still not pushing his company.
  5. Waited to be invited to solve a problem–By focusing on the prospect and her problems, he was invited to help solve those problems instead of having to push his company’s offering.

I have watched some of the best of the best follow this format in their approach to customers. More often than not, they become trusted advisers on the way to the sale, rather than after the sale.

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