Why Sleazy Sales Tricks Don’t Work
Way back in the dark days, when I was a corporate cubicle dweller there was a common trick used by salespeople. One that I was taught as a rookie recruitment consultant, and it served me well – up to a point. I was trained to cold call potential clients and tell them that my company was conducting an industry survey into recruitment practices and trends. It would only take 10 minutes of their time, and if they took part they would be provided with a free copy when the survey was published.
Of course, it wasn’t what it seemed.
The truth behind it was that the answers to the survey would tell us whether the client was recruiting or likely to recruit in the near future, how big their team, and how big his or her recruitment budget was. Then bingo! If they sounded like a dream client we would try to arrange a meeting – and of course the client would agree much more readily now that rapport had been developed over the 10 minutes of the survey questions. The aim of the call of course was nothing to do with the survey, it was to win business. In fact, I remember the moment when, naïve and incredulous, I challenged my manager and discovered that there was no such survey! I couldn’t feel the same way about the ruse after that and stopped using it – it was my first and last period of success in using a “sleazy sales trick”.
Fast forward to today, and I teach heart-centred business owners how to sell in ways that are authentic and based on integrity, and I promise not to teach any of the sleazy techniques that give sales such a bad name. I truly believe with all my heart that it is possible to be fully effective in sales without needing to resort to tricks or underhand techniques. In fact, my business depends on it.
So I feel deeply uncomfortable when I see this kind of sales technique being adopted by otherwise good-hearted business people, in particular coaches, healers and holistic practitioners.
It goes something like this: Coach or therapist meets someone networking and on chatting to them discovers that they are in their target market. Instead of using honest approaches or being straightforward enough to say “from what you’ve just told me I really think that I could help you with that, might you be interested in having another conversation with me to find out more?” they instead ask their ‘target’ if they would be happy to help with some market research. It will take about 10 minutes, can we schedule an appointment? The ‘target’ (not even a potential client as they have not even indicated an interest!) like most people, wants to help, and so a few days later they end up on the phone with the coach in question answering a series of “market research” questions. Having taken them through the questions, if the coach feels that the target could potentially be a client they then change tack, and the next thing they know the ‘target’ is subject to a sales conversation that they didn’t even volunteer to take part in! Ouch.
(Note this is not the same as using Market Research calls for genuine reasons, that DO often lead to clients because both parties recognise this to be a great next step)
I feel so disappointed when I hear of these otherwise well-intentioned, heart-centred business owners adopting this type of underhand approach. Quite apart from anything else, it is unlikely to work.
But let’s investigate why not;
1. It’s Uncomfortable
Most coaches, healers & holistic practitioners are good-hearted people who don’t like to operate without integrity. Using a sneaky approach like this will most probably feel uncomfortable for most of them, and that uncomfortable energy will be picked up by the client. It’s unlikely that it will lead to the client agreeing to work with them.
2. It’s One Sided
This approach sees the business owner meeting an otherwise innocent party and “deciding” for them that they are a potential client, and then trying to “lead them down a path” of becoming a client. This is one-sided, and even a bit arrogant. It’s not for YOU to decide who your clients are. It is for THEM to decide if they need you – your job is to make sure you communicate what you can do for them in the most compelling way possible so they understand exactly what you can do for them. And then IF they are interested, and IF you know you can help them, it is to guide them confidently to make the right decision about whether to work with you.
I was recently at the receiving end of one of these research calls. In the interests of his “research” the practitioner (lets call him Darren for the sake of anonymity) asked me a number of very probing questions relating to my personal and emotional life. So even though I hadn’t approached Darren with the awareness of any problem, the very nature of his questions led him (and me) to explore areas that I had not identified as a particular problem to me. In other words stirring up a problem that at that time wasn’t a problem for me and leading me to feel that maybe it was something important to work on – with his help of course!
3. It’s Disingenuous
Your client may be polite about it, but nobody will “not notice” when you turn a research call into a sales conversation. And it’s not that likely that someone will be happy to switch seamlessly from realising they have been hoodwinked into being sold to, to being genuinely open to consider working with you (if they seem to be, they are probably just being polite).
4. It’s no way to start a Relationship
When your client says yes to working with you, it’s not like selling a widget or a used car where the customer walks off into the distance and you never have to face them again. Instead, when your client says “Yes!” to you, you enter into a deeper level of intimacy where they are going to be opening up to you about details of their lives – their relationships, their intimate fears and desires, their unhealthy emotions, maybe the shambles that is their accounting or business systems. If you enter that relationship based on dishonesty it will be very difficult to regain the level of trust that you need to truly work together to get the best outcome.
So what to do instead?
That’s easy! Only ever treat a potential client in the way that you, yourself would want to be treated. If you wouldn’t want to be tricked or lied to, then don’t do it. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned you are. And even if you get the outcome you want, it will be a hollow victory if it doesn’t feel good for either of you.
Instead I’d suggest you do one of the following:
1. If you truly feel you can help someone then simply invite them directly to a conversation to find out more about working with you, or offer them a “high-value free session” so that they can get to know you and your work much better. OR
2. If it’s not clear if someone is a potential client or not, but they do fit your ideal client profile then invite them to take part in a Market Research call – but one without the “ick”. Research calls done well can be hugely valuable for your business and I do recommend them, especially when you are in the early stages of business and still learning about the problems and desires of your ideal clients, and the language they use to describe them. But there are ways to do them well that feel respectful and DO lead to clients, referrals and other opportunities:
- Let the subject of your research call know what they can expect from it and how it will work
- Acknowledge and thank them for their time – usually by offering to help them with something in return
- If you genuinely feel you could help them further then absolutely you should invite them to find out more about working with you – but then let the client decide if they want to take that next step to find out more. Once you’ve concluded the research they might well be eager to find out more – but not if you “trick” them into being sold to.
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