5 tips for non-evil sales

Yesterday, I wrote about why sales are important to a company, and, more than that, are a good thing.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad ways of doing sales. And some of the worst techniques can actually work.

Kurt Russell as a devious used car salesman in 1980’s Used Cars. (Still from movie trailer.)

Does that mean that you have to become evil in order to be good at sales? No.

In fact, many of the effective-but-bad sales tactics, while they can bring in quick cash, can also doom your company in the long term.

Meanwhile, practicing good sales not only helps your company be more successful in the long term, but lets you sleep and night and keeps you from burning out quickly.

1. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver

If you ever want to destroy a company, simply get yourself hired as its chief salesperson, and make outrageous promises to customers. You’ll rack up great sales numbers! Then quit and go on to the next company — while your old employer is left dealing with the repercussions of dissatisfied customers.

The trick is to leave while you can still get a great recommendation from your old employer, but before the chickens come home to roost.

Small companies are particularly vulnerable, especially when the owner is new to sales and doesn’t know yet how to distinguish a good salesperson from a flash-in-the-pan one.

The same holds true when the business owners are, themselves, the chief salespeople. Those with bad prior experience with salespeople might think that they have to lie to their customers to get sales. That might work at first, but they’ll have no repeat customers, and bad word-of-mouth.

Instead, manage your customer expectations, so that the longer they do business with you, the happier they are. That’s the way to repeat business, to expanding business, and to great referrals.

2. Listen to your customer

Yes, you’re an expert in virtual technology. Chances are, you know a lot more about it than your customer does. After all, you do this full-time, and the customer has other things to worry about.

You might be tempted to talk down to your customers. The way, say, car repairmen used to talk down to women car owners. I say “used to” because my auto repair shop never talks down to me, and I’ve been bringing my car to them for 15 years, and recommending them to all my friends and acquaintances.

People hate condescension, and if they have the choice, they’ll walk.

People who think they’re smarter than their customers also have the tendency to tell customers what they want. “You don’t want that cheap tire, it’ll only last a year. You want the expensive tire, which will last a decade.”

Give the customer the information they need, and then let them decide. Maybe they’re only planning to keep the car a year, or just don’t have the money for an expensive tire.

Sometimes, hosting vendors complain to me about idiot customers who ask them for cheap regions, even though the premium regions they offer have higher avatar capacity and can handle more prims. Yes, they cost more, but they get better quality.

Let the customers decide for themselves. Some need high-capacity, high-availability regions. Others just want a region to play around with, and don’t expect to get many visitors, and don’t need guaranteed up-time.

You might be an expert on the technology, but the customer is the expert on what they want to do, and how much time and money they have.

3. Be willing to make referrals

Sometimes, the customer wants one thing, and you want to sell something different. Maybe the customer wants a cheap region to use a couple of hours a month, and you want to sell them a dedicated server, because that’s what you do. Or maybe the customer wants a dedicated server for a private grid, and all you have to offer them are low-cost regions on shared servers.

Be willing to refer customers, even to your competitors. Then, when the customer is in a market for a dedicated server or a low-cost region or whatever it is you’re selling, they’ll remember you and come back.

In addition, the other vendors might start referring business to you. No, really, it’s been known to happen. It happens most often, of course, if the other vendor isn’t your direct competitor, but serves a different niche or audience.

Meanwhile, referring customers to other types of vendors, to designers and developers, for example, if you’re a hosting company, should be a no-brainer. You lose nothing, the other guy owes you a favor, and the customer is grateful.

4. Make it easy for the customer to buy

You might not think it’s evil to make the customer jump through hoops before they can buy anything from you. But I do.

I hate it when a website forces me to register before I can see product pricing. I’ll go somewhere else, instead.

I hate filling out unnecessary forms. I have having to navigate multiple webpages. I hate having to choose between options that don’t make any sense to me. How should I know how many cores my region needs? Or whether Ubuntu, CentOS, or Windows 2008 should be the operating system?

Put that stuff under an “advanced” tab, and make a sensible default package for the typical user.

For journalists, the rule of thumb is, “Can you read this to your mother?”

OpenSim vendors would do well to follow the same advice — would their mother be able to buy their products? Not counting those whose mothers are network engineers, of course.

5. Don’t take your customers for granted

Does it ever seem that every company you’ve done business with for a long time starts treating you like dirt? If it happens to you, it stick in your mind. You remember bad treatment, and tell people about it. It’s like being married for a long time — at some point, the slights and petty annoyances start adding up, and hit the breaking point.

Businesses need to remember that every customer has options. Even those who seem to be fully invested in your technology, and locked into your platform and ecosystem, may get fed up and walk away.

Just because someone gave you money and signed up for your products or services doesn’t mean that you own them.

A good company will keep an eye on customer morale, and on the competitive landscape, and try to keep up with the market.

It doesn’t mean you have to match every competitor’s discount and new feature the day it comes out. But it’s nice if you offer your customers something comparable within a reasonable amount of time.

Customers are willing to wait a little bit, to avoid the pain of switching to a different vendor.

And don’t make the mistake of only extending your special offers to new customers. It makes your old customers feel like smelly old socks. And they hold grudges. And they’ll tell everyone that you’re only nice at the beginning, when you’re trying to get their business.

Make an effort to include your existing customers, instead. For example, if you’re giving out sign-up discounts to new customers, allow existing customers to get them too if they make the referral.

For more advice about sales, I strongly recommend The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer.

Maria Korolov
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