Sales Technique: Admit Your Flaws
A lively debate broke out this week at my office. We're working on a major sales opportunity, and were fortunate enough (thanks to our quick-thinking VP Sales) to get an advance copy of the criteria the customer is planning to put in their RFP. Our thought was to send over a pre-emptive presentation detailing why they should choose us before things even get to the RFP stage.
As it turns out, we fulfill every single item on their laundry list except one.
Here's where the debate began:
My advice to the salesperson on the account was to explicitly list all the requirements we fulfill, state that we fulfill them, and, here's the kicker, add one final paragraph explaining the requirement that we don't fulfill, and how the customer could work around it.
However, while the salesperson agreed, the sales engineer did not, arguing that we shouldn't say anything that could be construed as negative. Thus did the debate rage.
My philosophy in persuasion has always been to be very explicit about what I and my product *cannot* do, to reveal any obvious flaws we might have, rather than waiting for the customer to discover them.
It's my belief that in any sales or persuasion situation, the person you're trying to convince is always looking for "the catch" in your offer, and that displaying your honesty by revealing the catch is the best way to build trust and credibility.
I've done a number of reference calls for various vendors I use, and one of the main reasons I'm so persuasive with their potential customers is that I emphasize the weaknesses of their offerings, and then explain why the other strengths are enough to outweigh the weaknesses.
The key is in making sure that you don't disappoint. Far better to set expectations lower, then exceed them, than it is to oversell what you can do.
Of course, you must use this technique carefully. Your goal is to present a positive image of a trustworthy and honest person who is still confident in his offering. If you simply go around bashing yourself and saying how much you suck, you're unlikely to convince anyone. The formulation I generally use is:
1. Here's why you should do this
2. Here's the potential catch
3. Here's why the catch may be less critical than you might think
4. Only you can tell whether the benefits outweigh the catch. What do you think?
This technique applies to any persuasion situation, ranging from classic sales, to a VC pitch, to convincing your child to do something.
So how about you? How do you approach sales? Do you conceal or reveal your potential flaws?