Are You the World’s Worst Salesman?

“The best of merchandise will go back to the shelf unless handled by a conscientious, tactful salesman.” – James Cash Penney

Many years ago, Steve Martin made a short little film – a film clip, really – called “The World’s Worst Waiter.” One sight gag I remember was Martin as the waiter serving a turkey dinner. The customer asks for gravy on his mashed potatoes. Martin promptly turns his thumb down, sticks it into the gob of spuds, and pours gravy onto his shoulder. The gravy runs down the length of his arm and into the potatoes.

I was reminded of this by a telemarketing call I received the other day from a financial planner who – in my opinion, based on our brief call – would be a contender for the “world’s worst salesman” title.

He explained to me that he was calling because I had responded to one of his firm’s mailings and had requested a free booklet on retirement planning. I had indeed done that, and told him I remembered.

“Did you get the booklet?” he asked, reading the next question on his carefully crafted script.

“No,” I replied. “I don’t think I got it.”

And here’s where he went off base.

“Well, it was sent over a month ago,” he replied in a slightly confrontational tone, as if I had done something wrong.

“I didn’t get it as far as I know,” I explained patiently. “But I did request the booklet and would like to have it. Can you send it again?”

Obviously, he didn’t want to send it again. He wanted to sell me on an appointment to sell me his financial products or services. So instead of saying yes, he continued with: “Oh, I don’t have it here,” he said, as if explaining logistics to an idiot. “Those are sent from the home office.”

Then, instead of saying, “But I can call them and get one out to you right away,” he followed that with dead silence.

The booklet was, of course, a come-on. What’s known in the marketing business as a “bait piece” – free information offered to generate a sales lead. And it was obvious that my request for it was an annoyance to this fellow, interfering with his goal.

“Well, if I can’t get the booklet I requested, I guess we are done,” I said. “Thanks for calling.”

He stammered, “Well … uh … well …” At that point, I thanked him again, told him I was really busy and couldn’t waste more time with him, and said that since he wasn’t going to help me get what I asked for – what his firm offered – the call was over. And I hung up.

Listen. There are times when your objectives clash with your prospect’s objectives. Like in this case. I wanted the booklet I had requested. He wanted to sell me something.

Well, guess what? The customer doesn’t care about you, your sales quota, your commission, or the loan payment you have to make this month. He cares about himself and his needs.

When you put the prospect’s needs first, you win. When you ignore the prospect’s interests, wishes, and requests, you lose.

Now, I understand the philosophy some sales trainers teach that sending any kind of literature is a waste of time. They tell you to say to the prospect, “I could send you a brochure, but that won’t really explain our service. It would be much better for me to show you in person.”

Why do they want you to say that? Because your chances of closing the sale increase when you can get in front of the prospect.

But if the prospect replies, “I want the brochure (or booklet, CD, white paper, or whatever you offered) first, and then I’ll decide whether I am interested” – for goodness sake, give him what he is asking for! Don’t argue with him.

Here’s another example …

I responded to an excellent radio commercial that offered a “free tape” on overcoming stress and anxiety. But when I called the 800 number to get it, the sales rep who took my call did everything in his power to convince me that I didn’t want the free tape. That, instead, I should get “the whole program” – a much bigger tape set costing hundreds of dollars.

I responded that I might be interested in the program – and that he could certainly send a brochure – but I wanted the free tape offered in the radio spot first … and that’s why I was calling.

“Oh, you don’t want that tape,” he said. “It’s just a long commercial. It’s really not worth listening to.”

“If I don’t want it and it’s a worthless commercial, then why did you run a radio spot encouraging me to send for it as a way to reduce stress and anxiety?” I countered.

The bait-piece strategy can easily double the response to your direct-marketing campaigns. But you negate its effectiveness … and actually make it work against you … if you either (a) offer a worthless bait piece or (b) try to force the recipient into a sales situation without sending the material you offered.

Now that you know the wrong way to use a bait piece in your direct marketing, I’ll show you the right way … in my next ETR article.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition, a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business. Sign up for his e-zine, The Direct Response Letter]