The New Rule of Agency Selling: ABL

Now what’s it going to take to put you in that new car today?

Surely that goofy phrase wins the award for cheesiest sales pitch of all time. You’ve probably already visualized the shady character who delivers that line. Nevertheless, that phrase didn’t reach iconic status because it failed. Indeed, many of the classic sales techniques we use today go back decades and became classics because they worked — and maybe still work. Still, I’m not a fan of “selling” per se. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this so long I can see every pitch coming a mile away and have become immune to every technique from Zig Ziglar to Jeffrey Gitomer. However, I have a feeling it has more to do with something more universal and simple — I hate to be sold.

When you get down to it, who among us really wants to be sold — on anything? I’m a successful, independent, free-thinking business owner with very clear ideas about what I want and what I need. I don’t need you to schmooze-sell me something I don’t need. Sounds harsh, yes, but that’s probably the mindset of more employers and candidates than you realize.

Sell Me on My Needs

Ironically, I still remain vulnerable to your charms due to one simple fact. Regardless of my accomplishments and level of success, I still have what every human being on the planet has and will always have — needs. If you can figure out what my real needs are, and show me how you will meet those needs, then you and I will have a lot to talk about.

Without trying to vilify the classic sales and closing techniques we all grew up learning and putting into practice, I do think it’s time we recognize that many of those methods have become a little tired and painfully transparent in the current business world. Clients and candidates are a lot smarter and more educated than they were in the ‘50s and ‘60s when many of the techniques were developed. As a society we’ve moved into a new era of abundant information at lightning speed, and that requires a new approach. In the 1990s MTV paved the way for what would become an entire new genre of television entertainment. The Real World gave viewers, for the first time, an unscripted look into the real lives of real people and guess what, America loved it. Certainly arguments can be made that so-called reality TV has gone overboard, but it remains a force to be reckoned with and demonstrates a fundamental truth, people crave authenticity, genuineness and honesty. They want us to “keep it real.”

Time to “Get Real”

As we move into the second half of 2015, we will need to provide new solutions packaged to meet the needs in our market. I’m going to make a bold suggestion: toss out your canned pitches and preconceived biases, and get real. That’s not to say you should just wing it and go into any sales call unprepared. Instead, replace the tired pitches, slick say-nothing phrases, and methods for overcoming objections with a prepared list of wise, thoughtful, open-ended questions that allow you to get at the root of what your client’s true needs are. Once you have, fill those needs. Offer creative, real-world options and solutions that work for them. Above all listen. Put into practice some hardcore, undivided, active listening!

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The Transactional Approach Is a Disservice

In our business we think in terms of clients “needing a job” or “needing to fill an available position.” However, this transactional outlook does a disservice to ourselves and our clients by oversimplifying their situation and diminishing the value we bring to the table. To find out what the true needs of your clients and prospects are you have to ask great questions — the right questions. These must be crafted to each specific client and situation, but here are a few suggestions of open-ended questions that do a great job of mining information you can use:

  • We’ve noticed a couple of trends in your industry, namely ____ and ____. How are these affecting your business?
  • Can you tell me more about ____?
  • What are the three biggest mistakes being made by _____?
  • What would be the ideal income if we were to work together?
  • What is your process when considering making this type of decision?

Stop thinking about yourself. Your greatest chance to help your clients and prospects comes when you get them to really open up and reveal their thoughts, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams for their firm or their lives. Another old-school sales cliché you’ve undoubtedly heard before is the “ABC” rule of sales: Always Be Closing! Here’s a better idea — Always Be Listening! Ask the right questions, then listen intently. Ask more questions, and then listen more. Get to the root of what they are really trying to accomplish and step in and fill that need.

Oh. One more thing. You still have to cold call.

Debby Millhouse is the Owner and President of CEO Inc. Founded in Charlotte, NC in 1994, CEO Inc. is a full service recruiting firm providing direct hire placement, temp staffing and human capital services for clients nationwide. Millhouse has been honored as one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women by The Mecklenburg Times, inducted into the Business Leader Hall of Fame as one of the top entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area, and given the Women in Business Achievement Award winner by the Charlotte Business Journal. CEO Inc. has also been honored with the Charlotte Ethics in Business Award, Charlotte Best Places to Work Award, and recognized as one of the top 50 diversity-owned businesses in the state of North Carolina. She is a Certified Staffing Professional (CSP) as designated by the American Staffing Association, Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and Certified Temporary Staffing Specialist (CTS) as designated by the National Association of Personnel Services. She can be reached at 704-372-4701 or visit CEOHR.com for more information.

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