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Why Johnny Can't Sell

The predominant reason Johnny can't sell to at least maintain quota is because he doesn't feel comfortable asking thought-provoking questions. Because the information economy has so effectively neutralized and marginalized the traditional value proposition of sales people bringing information to the table, sales people are left with now creating value by not giving out information, but rather by getting information. Today, you are paid and rewarded for your questions, not your answers or solutions.

The following are the reasons why Johnny can't sell and won't dare put himself in the untenable situation of being vulnerable by asking questions:

  • Narcissistic behavior–Johnny has an overevolved ego that believes the world revolves around him, his company, his product and his solution. Unfortunately for Johnny, the customer has all the same conditions. We know how this story ends...it is not pretty!
  • Wrong intentions–Johnny enters every sales engagement with unbridled conviction that he can sell his prospect and they need what he has. When you're that confident that you can sell someone it pretty much negates the value of asking questions. Unfortunately, few sales people can get away with it.
  • Overly emotional–Johnny is overly emotional in his sales calls to the point he can't be in the moment, be objective and be listening intently, subsequently he misses opportunities to ask questions that will uncover hidden feelings, mixed buying signals and entrenched non-supportive buying habits.
  • Information glutton–When Johnny buys something he is a glutton for information. Since he believes that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, he overloads customers with senseless information, leaving scarcely any time for asking questions. He uses product information to browbeat and hit customers over the head, instead of using it properly as a tool to gather more information.
  • ADD–Ever since childhood Johnny has been on Ritalin and by nature he is impatient and hurried in everything he does. Unfortunately, in the world of sales, asking thought-provoking questions requires a lot of patience, humility and forbearance. Johnny just doesn't have the time to ask questions.
  • Can't hear or accept negative news–Johnny has a one track mind and will not ask questions that might derail his momentum. Since he fears negative news, he sticks to hopeful and leading questions which ensures him safe, positive answers. He is oblivious to the notion that sales is all about finding the truth, whether it hurts or not.
  • Enthusiasm junkie–Johnny grew up listening to too many motivational speakers from Nightingale Conant espousing selling with enthusiasm, excitement and unflagging confidence. There are three major flaws with enthusiastic selling. One, it puts all the emphasis on the least important party at the selling event. Secondly, you cannot ask tough questions to get to your customer's problems very easily when you are all jazzed up on enthusiasm steroids. Thirdly, you lose all objectivity and you are unable to read between the lines and hear what is not being said.
  • Perfection complex–Johnny believe sales is all about putting your best foot forward, never dropping your guard, always stressing the positive and never bringing up anything that could be construed as negative or eliciting negative emotions. His perfection complex projects an individual who is inauthentic, not realistic, biased and unwilling to face the truth. Consequently, he only ask questions that he knows will give him answers he wants to hear. Talk about delusions!
  • Curious and inquisitive deficient–Johnny lacks one of the most basic natural skills for mastering sales; curiosity. Johnny just is not all that curious about his customer's business, operations, problems, frustrations and future goals. He will ask a couple of superficial questions, but he realizes that anything deeper and more meaningful would be intrusive and too personal for his liking. Let's keep it light is his rallying call.
  • Control freak–Johnny likes to be in control and a master of his environment. He has watched too many legal dramas where prosecutors never ask a question that they do not know the answer to. He does not know that in sales the way to take charge is to give up being in charge.
  • Know it all–Johnny is not only a self-acknowledged know it all, but he feels it is a little silly to ask questions that he already knows the answers to. Too bad for Johnny, because once you get good at asking questions you ask them predominantly for the benefit of the customer, not yourself. Customers love to answer questions that are counter to the self-interest of the sales person, because they know that it will be valuable and telling to uncover their real issues and motives.
  • The past is the past–Johnny is a classic forward thinking, future oriented sales person. Why dredge up circumstances from the past when the future is where the excitement is, and most importantly where the solution is. What Johnny fails to realize is that you cannot easily make something right, before your first understand what is wrong. The past is where the customer's problems are and where the future lies.
  • No-nonsense logical and rational seller–Johnny is a meat and potatoes kind of guy who is logical and rational. He is oblivious to the idea that customers buy for emotional reasons. This does not make sense to him, because all he hears, or wants to hear, are the rational justifications his customers vocalize. All that emotional stuff he gets at home with the misses. It is too touchy feely to ask questions like that, and he does not want his customers to get any wrong ideas. If only he knew that customers analyze their problems logically and make decisions to buy intuitively.
  • Love the art of selling–Yeah, it is called selling for a reason, Johnny figures. His company wouldn't have invested all that time each year at the national sales meeting to go over the technical superiority of their offering, unless it was critical for him to get the message out to his customers; loud and clear. What Johnny does not realize is his information should be used as a tool to get more information. Selling by its very nature so often produces the exact opposite effect. Especially the way Johnny does it. The harder you sell the harder it is to sell and ask questions. If Johnny only knew that the sales person with the best understanding of the customer's circumstances will consistently outsell the sales person with the best product, service and price, he would throw out all his information and put all his focus on deep understanding, instead of being superficially understood.
  • The truth hurts–Johnny does not realize that at its core selling is a quest for the truth. It is not about selling in its traditional form, but more about finding customers who have met preconditioned criteria, have actionable problems and are in a position to consider changing. The truth is more about the customer's situation and circumstances, than the truth about the superiority of one's offering. If that is true, then that takes all the fun out of selling. That is not the program Johnny signed up for. His main concern is where does he prominently fit in this equation? Well, gosh, he does not.
  • Quickie artist–Johnny is a short term thinker. Selling strategically sounds good, but he has a quota to meet and a family to feed. When you sell strategically, everything gets bogged down when you ask all those fancy questions. It's just downright cumbersome.

There are a lot of Johnnies out there. Johnny will eventually come around when he finally realizes that in the information economy it is all about context, not content. The goal is to reverse the traditional flow of information in a sales call, and that can only be accomplished through strategic questioning.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com