Dealing with a Bad Salesperson

Dealing with sales-people can often be an intimidating experience, especially if you haven’t dealt with one for a while. The following article chronicles my experiences with quite possibly the worst sales-person I have ever come across. In it I offer advice from the point of view of someone who has worked in sales in some capacity for the past few years.

The Story
The Wife and I went into a local gym for information about their services. I’ve been working out for a while using the small gym our apartment complex offers for residents to use and although I’ve been fine with it until now, I find myself in need of a wider variety of equipment. (Not to mention the fact that every so often the the gym’s equipment, especially the cardiovascular equipment, is in short supply. I guess two treadmills, a elliptical glide and a stationary bike just don’t cut it during the 6:30am rush.)

We started out by asking for an information packet at the front desk. With apparently none available, we were instead sent to see Josh. (I later found out that this gym just didn’t have any information packets, just sales presentations.) When we met, we explained to Josh that all we wanted was information: we weren’t looking to make any decisions that day. This was followed up by a basic sales question: “If you felt you found just the right thing, would you be willing to make a decision?” Well of course if I found “just the right thing”, I’d make a decision in a second, so I said “yes.”

NOTE: Bad move on my part. As a buyer, if you say you’re not looking to make a decision, stick with that answer. You can always change your mind. However, I was made to feel that if I didn’t answer “Yes”, then my information would have been very limited.

Now, the right thing for me at this time would have been a plan where I’d pay about $30/month for usage at least 5 days a week starting at 5:30am. I already have a trainer (Mr. Renato), already take a great multivitamin/phytonutrient supplement, and didn’t have much time to indulge extra luxuries such as classes. This never came up, however, since he never once listened to what it was that I wanted, presuming instead that the one of the packages he tried to cram down my throat was “just the right thing” for me. I hinted at this often enough, even to the point of telling him directly “this is what I’m looking for,” but he never got the message. More on this as the article goes on.

Salesperson Mistake: Not listening to what the customer is telling you. When asked, people will always tell you what they want. You just have to be able to listen, not just shut up while you wait your next turn to talk. Sometimes what they say isn’t as important as what type of questions they ask, since that’s usually a better indicator of what they’re looking at and for: it tells you what they’re observing, hence what’s important to them. Also notice their body language, notice when they’re interested and engaged, and when they’re not really paying attention. Adjust your presentation accordingly. Finally, remember: SILENT and LISTEN are made up of the same letters.

As Josh took us through the gym, we thought it was great: pools, steam rooms, saunas, about 100 different classes, and — of course — personal training. It was like being in a spa. It had everything anyone could ever want! But was was overkill for our needs at this time. (Key in on those last 3 words, “at this time.” They’ll be important through this story.)

By the time we got into his office we were convinced that this was a great gym, and that we would seriously think about it. That we would think about it never really came up, since Josh was insisting that the sale take place right there and then, again making us feel like if we weren’t definitely making a decision, we wouldn’t get any information. Nevertheless, since we wanted more information, and since I offered the possibility of a sale at that date, which Josh gladly gave it us. They had diet plans, vitamins, and adhered to the most rigorous physical fitness standards in the country. It was pretty impressive until he mentioned that those “physical standards” meant that we would be locked into at months of physical training sessions at least twice a week at about $65 per session. (Did I mention I already had a trainer? I told him this various times.)

By this time it was obvious that this guy was displaying one of the top flaws found in too many a rookie sales person (and some veterans, too). This is the flaw they’re most often associated with, whether rightfully so or not: the attitude of “you have my money in your pocket.” This type of attitude sees the closing of a sale as an end and not as a beginning. This is a fatal flaw in the sales profession, since a sale can always be the beginning of a relationship which can lead to the holy grail in sales: referrals.)

By this point, I decided to call a complete stop to the matter. I wanted as much information as I could get — that’s what I was there for. The final straw was when we talked about pricing. He quoted me some prices — all of which were ridiculously high — focusing on only two of their packages: the very best (and most expensive) and the most limited (the least expensive). This made me feel like I could only choose one of the two, that any of the other middle packages were not an option. Now, I didn’t have much of a problem with that since he was just trying to control the flow of information to his favor (not something I agree with, but something I understand). What I had a problem with was what he did next: when I finally told him I would think about it, that I would need to take the numbers home to think (we were talking about amounts over US$2,000), he quickly grabbed the pricing sheet and threw it away. Apparently, taking the numbers home was not an option: I could only have the information right there and then. This made it blatantly obvious (as if it wasn’t already) that the only reason he was being so forthcoming with the information was that he was expecting to make that sale right now, whether by hook or by crook. (More the later than the former.)

There are two sales philosophies most people will encounter. The first philosophy — the one everyone likes, but people rarely see, or associate with salesmen — is the attitude that “I’m here to assist the customer get the best possible solution, and I’m convinced what I have to offer will likely fill that need.” The second philosophy — the one everyone hates and mostly associates with salesmen — is the attitude that “I’m here to close the sale.” This is what I like to call the “Tinman Sales Philosophy”. Josh was definitely one of these tinman.

(The reason I call this the “Tinman Sales Philosophy” is because there was once a group of salesmen who sold siding for homes. These folks were called Tinmen, and the way they would operate is by going to a customers home, making the sale for new siding, and collecting half the money right there. After they collected the money, the Tinmen would get to work: They would essentially rip out one of the walls in the house. After they were done ripping the wall out, they would cover the hole and tell you that they would complete the job once you paid the other half. Needless to say, this left a lot of people with a very bad opinion regarding salesmen, most of who are actually not only great people, but a positive influence in our economy.)

Anyway, a few weeks after the incident, I got a call from Josh. (This is called the “follow up” call.) During the conversation he was basically dismissive and rude, trying again to just get the sale: not to have me come in again, not to give me more information, not to broker a better deal, just to make the sale based on numbers I could no longer remember. Needless to say, I kept the conversation short this time, telling him that I wasn’t at all interested in what he was offering. Instead of asking the one question which would have possibly have saved him the sale, he simply hung up.

By the way, for you salespeople, the question you always always always want to ask is “WHY?”. You always what to know why a person is doing anything. This way you can address the problem, if it is addressable. For example, suppose you ask a person why they don’t want to join your gym. The first answer they may give you is “Well, I don’t have the time” or “it doesn’t fit into my schedule.” While all this is well and good, a followup response like “if we could figure out how make the best of your schedule in order to let you maximize your time here, would you be ready to make a decision?” might have one of two results. The first result is that the person would say either “yes” or “no” and simply leave it at that. The second result — the more likely of the two — is that the person would then come out and tell you the real reason they don’t want to make a decision to proceed.

When dealing with a salesperson, people will often give two reasons why they decide not to do something: a reason that sounds good, then the real reason. The only way to get to this is by asking questions — especially why — and then listening. Josh never really did any of those things.

If you’re in sales and you find yourself struggling (or being too polarizing, like I later found out this fellow had been fired for being) I would suggest that you check out the book How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger. The book is a foundational work on the art of salesmanship, and has taught me not only about how to properly listen and find out a person’s “why”, but also about different sales tactics, and how not to trap people (or get trapped) into believing that I, the salesperson, care more about myself and the sale than the customer’s needs. While caring more about myself and hard-balling customers into making a decisions may be effective in the short run (it may get you sales to someone who’s genuinely looking), in the long run it will not help generate leads.

(By the way, if you deal with salespeople on a regular basis, I also highly suggest reading this book, since it will teach you how to spot a good salesperson, someone who actually cares about the long-term status of your relationship and satisfaction, and how to spot a Tinman.)

With that, I’ll bring this to a close. Hopefully this post will help you deal — if you have to — with a bad salesperson in the future, and curtail any bad experiences they may be setting you up for.

5 thoughts on “Dealing with a Bad Salesperson

  1. I had an interesting experience

    I had also some time back checked out a few gyms. I remember one saleswoman very well because i was appalled at how lousy they were.

    After showing us the facilities and completely ignoring the aspects we said we were looking for..(we said we wanted something that involved personal training and werent looking for extras like access to 100 different classes we never intend to take) and focusing on the glitz of that establishment, they tried to close the deal right then and there.

    One thing i hate is when the salesman starts out from the begginning like they are trying to close the deal. Yeesh. Annoying. I dont like being locked in from the start.

    Anyways, when we said we would like to think about it further, something we said we would do from the start, we were told “Don’t think about this too much or you will make the wrong decision.”

    ….Yes…lets not think about where i am going to invest a constant cashflow over the next few months. That immediatly turned me off to this place. Regardless of their facilities and price, i wouldn’t want to be a member there.

    People in the sales industry must realize that often they are the sole ambassador of that company. Their attitude and personality will reflect what the company values.

    This person made me feel like a number. Its not exactly the best way to get a sale.

    Btw, on the tinman part. Don’t fight it. The tinman union is too strong. 😛

  2. I belong to Planet Fitness (University Dr. & Sunrise Blvd). It’s only $12 month for new members (It was $10 a month when I joined). It is hard to find available equipment during peak times, but then again – I work a really odd schedule and I’m usually not there during any peak time. Which reminds me *I really need to start going to the gym again*. Tis the time of year for New Year’s resolutions.

  3. I have recently dealt with a really bad sales rep (we’ll call him Gabe Larusson) who is constantly arguing with us (the customer). We try to make him see that if he lowers his price a little, it will help us succeed – which will help him succeed in the long-run.

    It is interesting to see how so many sales people refuse to look at situations as win-win, or as a long-term situation. Rather they approach as win-lose and want a sure dollar amount today.

    Director of I.T.

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