Ideas for combating sales complacency

Published on: Apr 23, 2013
“It worked once, it worked twice, it worked three times,” reflects the serial killer in Lee Child’s Running Blind. “But you know there are no guarantees in life. You know that, better than anybody. So you keep on thinking, because the only thing that can get you known is your own complacency.”

The words may seem strangely philosophical for a crime novel, but no matter who we are, it’s complacency that gets us “known,” that betrays us. For anyone in sales, complacency is a sure-fire career killer. With that in mind, here are some thoughts that can help avoid the consequences of complacency. 

• “My customers love me.” Salespeople find fulfillment in believing that their customers really love them, or at least like them. However, such affectionate thoughts often result from “selective” memory. 

For example, salespeople seem to possess perfect recall for what they do for their customers. They describe in copious detail instances when they went far beyond a second mile to help customers. 

On the other hand, customer recall can be quite different. Customers never forget what salespeople didn’t do or how they felt let down, taken advantage of or cheated. 

By basking in self-congratulation –– the worst form of complacency –– salespeople deny themselves the golden opportunities for understanding customers more clearly, earning their trust and serving them more effectively. 

• “It takes persuasion to get people to buy.” If ever there were a cornerstone principle of sales, it might go something like this: how to turn “no” into “yes.” To be successful in sales, the ability to persuade is a core quality for climbing to the top rung. 

Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to persuasion. It’s the deep-seated distrust so many customers have for salespeople, who are viewed as capable of using every possible trick to get us to buy what we don’t want or need. Although a heads up shouldn’t be necessary, attempts at persuasion are powerless today, rendered impotent by customers’ unprecedented access to information. 

Today, customers need salespeople who are competent diagnosticians, who have developed expertise at identifying what needs to be fixed and how to go about doing it. 

• “I’m not like other salespeople.” Years ago, people quipped, “I cross the street when I see that insurance guy coming my way.” That’s changed. Now, we delete emails, ignore VM messages, and avoid certain LinkedIn (or any of the other social media) connections. What hasn’t changed is the undeniable fact that customers don’t trust salespeople, no matter what they say or what they call themselves. 

Why? Because customers react negatively if they feel the deck is stacked against them. They avoid those who make them feel inadequate, dumb or stupid. And that’s what happened when salespeople had a corner on knowledge. Now that the genie is out of the bottle and information is readily available, customers reject any salesperson who “smells” like the past. 

Being different from others in sales means having conversations with customers, asking questions, clarifying issues and being as transparent as possible. 

The point is clear. Combatting complacency is critical for success in sales today. So keep on thinking. 

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at johnrg31@me.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.