Rolls Royce via Flickr,  János Tamás    jns001Have you ever been in a situation where someone showed you how you had made a mistake – for instance in judging adversely someone else’s behavior – and your first sentence in reply began “I assumed…”

It’s human.

Making assumptions and getting the situation wrong happens all the time in sales.

I read a great story once in actor Michael Caine’s autobiography. He walked into a Rolls-Royce dealership on a Saturday morning, dressed, in his own words, “very scruffy”. For a bit of fun, he pulled out a piece of paper – a Saturday morning shopping list basically – on which he had written: “Razor blades, toothpaste, Rolls-Royce, eggs…”

 And I said ‘Oh yeah, Rolls-Royce. How much is that one?” He said “How many do you want?” (laughs) I said ‘I only want one. Are you usually this rude to people who come to buy Rolls-Royces?’ He said “Get out!” So I said ‘I’ll tell you what, I’m going to call you next week, and I’m going to drive by here in a Rolls-Royce I’ve bought somewhere else and I’m going to give you a wave, okay?’ He said “Get out!” (laughs) And that’s what I did. I drove by and I gave him a very particular wave.” (as recounted by Caine in this interview)

The wave was what was known in my youth as a “two finger salute”  and was not friendly.

That story came back to me when I was studying the Sandler selling system and learning in that context about the necessity of testing my assumptions.

Especially in terms of who makes the buying decision.

In studying the Sandler system I became aware of how so many buying decisions are not made by the person you are pitching to, or at least by that person alone.

More specifically, I learnt then and from subsequent testing in real-life sales situations that the statement “I make all the decisions myself, no one else involved” is usually a lie or self-delusionary.

So now, even (or especially) when I am pretty sure the person I’m in front of  has the power to make a purchase, I seek to have a conversation to discover who else is involved.

Because I know now from experience that in many or most cases they are going to check with someone else and often be swayed by a person or persons not present at the pitch. And in some cases it’s not just checking: they may have to do what is really our job and pitch the sale or deal themselves, maybe without fully understanding it and without us being present to tell it our way.

The person or persons to be consulted can be a business partner, a board of directors, a chief finance officer, a spouse, a relative or sometimes a friend or colleague who is perceived by the prospect as having knowledge or experience relevant to the proposed purchase. Depending on circumstances, we may need to try and find a way to put the story our way to the other person or persons, or at least to ready our contact to deal with possible obstacles to a positive decision.

In the Sandler system, finding out more about these others involves a bit of a “dance”, as does working on ways to turn that part of the decision process in my favor.

That’s another thing I learnt from Sandler, sales can involve a bit of intellectual and verbal “dancing”, as illustrated by David Sandler’s  colorful description of selling as “a Broadway show put on by a psychiatrist”.

But there are simpler things to be done than entering into what I came to regard – in terms of my own selling – as a too convoluted process (no doubt works for some, but not for me).

To illustrate, we can ask one or two simple questions, such as “So is this something you can decide on now? Is there anyone you need to check with?” I realize some sales people might see this as an own goal, delivering the prospect a lifeline out of the sales process, but that would be from a more aggressive school of sales than I would feel comfortable with.

If the answer is that no one else is involved, another assumption we need to test is that people generally answer questions truthfully.

But if we can establish that someone else is going to be involved, then we have scope for a bit more general chat and it could be triggered by a remark such as “Oh, ok – I usually ask that because in my business I run every prospective purchase past my business associates/ spouse / brother who is an expert in …”  That can make it easy for someone to say, “Well, now that you mention it…” and then you are off and running with another discussion to see how you can benefit, not lose, from that process of consultation with the hidden other, a process which was always going to happen anyway, just that until now you didn’t know.

In effect, we insert ourselves into their otherwise opaque consultative process.

That might seem like  a complex process, but it can happen very quickly, and in some circumstance it may be entirely unnecessary, such as when the prospect is indeed the sole decision-maker and indeed does not need or wish to consult anyone else.  And of course if there is an apparent need to explore the situation, the process can happen too quickly and not to our advantage if we come across as badgering or trying to trap or trick someone.

I believe the secret is in respect – respect for the person to whom we are pitching and respect for the fact that he or she is very likely needing to check with someone else.

And back to the Michael Caine Roller purchase story, it’s probably a good idea to check whether our view of a prospective customer is being colored by some assumptions about the way people look or dress!

Do you have an experience to share, your experience or someone else’s, of missing a sale because of some assumption that seemed reasonable at the time?

Image: Rolls Royce, by János Tamás, via Flickr – Creative Commons

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