OK I’ll be honest, in reality it probably isn’t. But there are a number of points I hope can be taken from this, one of which is the importance of honesty in business.
I’ve been in a variety of sales roles throughout my professional background. For the large part however, I’ve acted in the position of the buyer, researching and sourcing different products and business services. This means I’ve been the point of contact for sales reps and B2B vendors.
I’ve always welcomed this as an easy way to network, keep up to date with industry and product developments, and utilise the knowledge of sector specialists. However, there are times when acting in such a capacity becomes an issue, and that is when the time spent dealing with vendors outweighs the benefits in doing so. Long ago I implemented a blacklist to identify individuals, and in some instances entire businesses, that I never wish to deal with again. Here's why...
If we consider some of the methods by which sale reps (regardless of level of seniority) approach prospective customers.
The Exhibition – exhibitions and networking events can be a great way to identify and establish possible business and partnership opportunities, meet prospective clients and generally keep a handle on what’s happening within your industry. Most events are sponsored by a number of organisations, usually operating within the same field, and all competing for your attention. If you’re anything like me, exhibitions tend to fall quite low on the list of priorities. Usually they provide a publication or webinar summarising what you’ve missed. However, when there is an exhibition of particular interest, I make the most of the experience. My time and attention is dedicated to taking something away of value, usually something new I’ve learned or contact details to follow up with a potential business opportunity. So in this instance, I have taken the decision that it was the right time to express my interest in a particular product or service.
The DM - Most people can accommodate a direct message, whether an email, through LinkedIn, or some other form of professional messaging platform. However, the time that I receive the message is rarely the time I’m dealing with that aspect of my work to which it is relevant. No problem, if it’s of interest, I’ll quite happily stop what I’m doing and reply. If it’s something to consider, I’ll flag or add a note to respond in due course. Problem is where I consider the DM completely irrelevant – my response will be based on the etiquette which accompanied the offer. A polite enquiry will elicit a proportionate response. On the other hand, a poorly thought-out offer, which lacks both target and focus will trigger a less-favourable response, if one at all. Further unsolicited follow ups, although often encourage in sales processes, will rarely have the desired outcome. This is my experience with B2B transactions, although I’m sure there are statistics somewhere which may evidence the contrary.
The Cold Call - For me, the easiest way to sift through the time wasters who can’t be trusted (a little harsh I know), is by taking the dreaded ‘introductory phone call’. The crux of the issue here is that someone (by this I mean a sales rep) must genuinely believe whatever they have to offer is the perfect solution, and what I’m working on, however important, should be dropped to hear them out. More commonly referred to as ‘cold calling’ is what I refer to as ‘edging into the darkness’. The moment I’ve opened my blacklist, ready to shut the door on any chance of a business relationship. More often than not, my good side prevails. Whether this call is a fact finding mission, commissioned by the powers that be, or a genuine call following an enquiry I’ve made, my response is usually the same – please send me an email.
How does this help?
Well partly it’s payback for interrupting me – commissioning additional work and having them go outside their comfort zone (their sales process). More importantly, their subsequent actions will define whether they make blacklist status. Any breach of my blacklist rule book (I like to keep organised), will land them in darkness. Some more serious contraventions resulting in their contact details being permanently blocked.
Below are extracts from my blacklist rule book which relate specifically to individuals who are edging into darkness:
Rule 1 – never call me again without sending me the email first.
This demonstrates an inability to follow simple instructions.
Rule 4 – always be truthful about how you obtained my contact details.
I always find out if a backstory is fabricated.
Rule 11 – never have more than one person contact me within your organisation unless I’ve been informed of their intention to do so.
This displays a real lack of communication within your team which I will scrutinise until breaking point.
Rule 14 – never ask me for information that is clearly private, confidential or you can easily find for yourself.
An inability to carry out basic research to ensure a productive call, or respect an organisation’s privacy is an absolute no go.
You get the idea so I’ll stop there.
There are many reasons why I value my blacklist. At the core is the ability to maintain long-term relationships with those I trust, and ensure effective management of my professional network. You may note that I use the term ‘partnership opportunity’. I use this term almost synonymously with any prospective B2B transaction, as one of my key drivers for any business relationship should be a long-term partnership of mutual trust and benefit.
Good products should be sold; great products sell themselves. If there is a great product out there – I’ll find it. If you have a good product - I’ll buy it. But in any instance, I’m always in control of the decision. What distinguishes a great sales rep from a good one is their ability to make you feel in control, when in reality, they have you trust them enough to let them be in control.
It is the job of the sales rep to ensure they have my trust. Focusing on a sale may get you part way there, establishing yourself as a trusted member of my network is far more valuable. Pick your sales channels and team very carefully, as aggressive tactics that are devoid of any target are rarely enough to get your foot in the door. Remember, the aim is not to close the deal, but to open the relationship.