TELL-TALE SIGNS of Sales Ineptitude (and that its time for more sales training!)

Jan 24, 2011

Every now and then I have an encounter with a sales professional that is so off base and incongruent with my dominant buying motivation that the lack of training, focus, and need for improvement is written across their forehead.

I’ve had a few of these memorably dysfunctional sales presentations over the years. Here are a few of those that I still remember, and why the sales person lost me as a client.  The examples are from a number of “people-to-people” business sales modeling recruiting and even though the examples are not all from recruiting — they remain relevant.

Maybe you can learn something from their mistakes.

1. Sparta, NJ – Real Estate Saleswoman

A recommend Realtor® that came referred through my church was helping us walk through a home sale. The house was in exactly the upscale neighborhood I wanted and the sub-development and location to schools was perfect.

My Buying Requirements (which had to be met to close the deal):

  • 4 bedroom, 2 ½ baths minimum
  • Nice yard
  • Must have first floor and second floor “home office” or “bonus room” as we were running aspects of the business (accounting, etc.) from home virtually at the time

The real estate agent did not ask me about my above requirements. Instead she insisted, “Let’s start in the basement.” As we were in the basement she insisted I “pay attention” to what she had to tell me about the duct work. I could not care less.

She was trying to tell me they engineered the heating ducts for the forced air system to make use of the space between the joists so that if I ever wanted to finish the basement I’d have 8.5 feet of headroom.

At the time, finishing a new home’s basement was not on my list of things to do and the fact it had heat was sufficient. I told her this. Yet, she insisted, “This is very important, however, if I don’t explain it to you, you cannot appreciate the engineering that went into this type of duct-work design.”

I was trying to get upstairs, preferably to the 2nd floor – but she would have none of it until she gave me her tour of the heating system.

Needless to say I never called her back again.


  • Failing to ask the buyer what he or she wants first and foremost.
  • Failure to obtain the “Dominant Motive for Buying” (My hot buttons).
  • Failure to structure the tour to address my hot buttons and dominant motivations – she could have taken me to the basement lastly as icing on the cake if my key needs were first met.
  • Sales process was incongruent to my buying process.

2. New Jersey – Personnel Recruiter

Back around 1998 I was so busy I could not keep up with the existing office staff. So I decided to do the unthinkable: I called an Englewood Cliffs personnel staffing company owner and asked her to help me with a full time office assistant. I simply had no time to conduct my own search and was overwhelmed with projects from companies that insisted on working with myself only.

My requirements were (this will be nostalgic to some of you):

  • Windows 95 OS experience (my favorite version – it was much easier to navigate back then than Windows 7 which I cuss at every day)
  • Ability to work with Wordperfect (MS Word was just becoming popular) and Outlook
  • Preferable experience with ACT! Contact Management System
  • Required QuickBooks experience
  • Ability to help us to convert to Windows 98 among other projects.

I wish I were making this up, but the first girl I interviewed, who had no education other than a few “business courses” at a local community college (this would have been fine if they were the right courses) had little to no computer experience.


  • Candidates submitted could not type well.
  • Did not have the computer skills necessary.
  • Their skills were very exaggerated, well beyond what they could do when presented to me on the phone for interview arrangement (sound familiar?).

After one girl (the first one I interviewed) answered “No” to every question, no typing skills, no computer skills, never worked with QuickBooks … I finally asked her “So why should I hire you?” (at this point I asked just for fun as the serious part of the interview had long ended).

Her reply? “Because I’m a pretty face and I can make your clients and visitors feel very comfortable when they walk in the door.”

I nearly flipped off my chair. I felt she had even been coached to say that. The sad part was she did not have a pretty face and was scarred on one side from what seemed to be a knife or switchblade fight.

I called the recruiter – who was previously the president of a large branch of a national chain of staffing firms – and let her know my experience was not conducive to what I was expecting to pay a fee for.

I have had numerous experiences like this every year, year in and year out, with sales people that are tone deaf, myopic, and careless.

A great book that will help you get your sales ability back on track is “SPIN SELLING,”  by Neil Rackham, considered a sales training classic.

I’ve read it twice and it never gets old even though it was written in the late nineteen-eighties – it’s like the Wizard of Oz of sales training – it never becomes obsolete or outdated.

With SPIN Selling you are taught to first ask questions. Plenty of questions. Then only after you have collected considerable information as to the prospective client’s business, daily challenges, strengths, and weaknesses might you be prepared for probing further.

Then you structure your questions to help the client identify (using his own thought process, not yours) how those challenges and shortcomings might be costing him or her lost money, revenue, or sales.

With SPIN Selling you are taught to:

  • Assess the Situation
  • Identify the Problem
  • Help the customer identify the cost of the Implication

And finally (after what may have been several visits and multiple phone-calls only):

  • Help the customer arrive at a Need-Payoff

In SPIN Selling, Rackham helps the customer (not the sales person) arrive at his or her “Need-Payoff.” Translation: the actual value the purchase would have to bring to the company to be worth the cost. The payoff (value delivered from making a purchase) must be sufficiently high to create the NEED which otherwise may have gone unrecognized.

It’s brilliant stuff. And companies like IBM, Xerox, SAP, and global conglomerates have applied this sales-force wide to get away from “cute rebuttals” and “objection handling techniques” to sell truly large price-tag items or services that could not be sold without this gentle, deliberate, step by step process.

Try applying SPIN Selling to your recruiting business. It’s the perfect recipe for our high-price-tag twenty or forty thousand dollar fee services and will help you get the client to focus on the value derived from the investment, and not the investment itself evaluated in a vacuum — which is always a losing proposition when it comes to contingency or retained search.

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