How to De-Sleaze Sales Skills
“That was an awesome way to handle his objection, it wasn’t sleazy at all. How did you do that?”. One of my new sales reps and I are sitting outside of a car dealership after a sales call. A large dealer was not purchasing the equipment manufacturer approved oil (i.e. our oil…) for his customer’s oil change services. A common misguided belief we often face in the lubricant industry is that there’s little differentiation between motor oils. I’m certain this misconception of ‘all products/services are the same' is one that all sales reps face regardless of industry. The non-jargon equivalent would be purchasing generic acetaminophen instead of Tylenol. While the products might work similarly, you know with Tylenol there’s a big brand behind it with a reputation to uphold.
I started by asking the dealer some questions about his views on warranty. My sales rep jumped in and asked about the differences the dealer had experienced using equipment manufacturer vs aftermarket parts. I asked about the impact it had on his business when his customers saw no difference between his dealership and Jim’s aftermarket auto-service down the street. Finally, after many questions and a great deal of good discussion I made my point. I asked “If aftermarket parts and service are so detrimental to your customer retention rates, then why doesn’t that apply to motor oil as well?”. “Huh” he paused, “I’ve never thought about oil that way before."
Honestly, this is a question that I wouldn’t have been able to pose when I started in sales. Not due to a lack of knowledge or confidence, but because I would have worried about upsetting the prospect. I equated upsetting the prospect with being sleazy or inauthentic which was anathema to me as a millennial in sales. Early on in my career, I’d use the ‘sleaziness’ factor to rationalize not following-up or ‘bugging’ someone or not asking the tough or uncomfortable questions. In reality, I was using what I thought was authenticity as an excuse to avoid the tasks I deemed uncomfortable. The worst part was, in many of these situations we didn’t even have the business, I had nothing to lose!
In sales you very quickly realize that if you don’t step outside your comfort zone you aren’t going to grow your business or personally. You have to challenge conventional thinking, you have to reach out multiple times to connect and you have to take some risks to win customers. Eventually I came to realize that the ‘sleaziness’ was not in the activity itself but in how different sales reps approach that selling activity. If you can separate what you need to get gone (the activity) from how you get it done (the approach) you’ll find there are many alternatives that feel genuine.
Case and point, with the example above, I could have just jumped to a statement about how the prospect was incorrect about all oil being the same, but that would have likely put him on the defensive and shut down the conversation. I could have started spouting off my products features and benefits, but that would have likely put him to sleep. Instead my approach was to use questions about other areas of his business and his long-held beliefs to paint a parallel with my product. Ultimately, we progressed the sale by getting the customer to think a little differently. And I was able to model behaviour for my rep that demonstrated a way to handle objections that felt authentic to me.