Graham Communications

Read articles, training material for practically any topic.

Adults say the dumbest things

Author JohnGraham , 12/6/2012
While early TV host Art Linkletter said "kids say the darndest things," most of us have found that adults are capable of saying the dumbest things.
For example, a customer purchasing an iPhone in an Apple store was astonished when a salesperson let it be known that he personally preferred another brand. Before jumping on him for making such a bizarre (dumb) comment, let's assume he was new to the job and was understandably nervous, blurting out the first thing that came to mind.
Anyone who has given a speech knows how easy it is to become confused, lose your train of thought, forget what you wanted to say and then to keep talking when you couldn't remember how to end it.
Often times, we remain silent in situations where we are capable of making a contribution, fearing we'll say something dumb, particularly after hearing others blab endlessly.
According to AppleInsider, Apple has a training manual for its Genius Bar employees to help keep customers happy by empathizing with them. To a customer who feels a Mac is too expensive, an employee can say, "I can see how you'd feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it's a real value because of all the built-in software and capabilities."
The Apple Geniuses can say an application "quit unexpectedly" or "does not respond," but never "crashed." In the same way, there can be a "condition," an "issue" or a "situation," but not a "bug" or a "problem." Some of this has legal justifications.
Human interactions often create stress that short-circuits our thinking processes so we come out with the dumbest things.
How we sound to others is the big issue-- including customers. "Crash," for example, can send an ominous message, particularly to those who may not be familiar with computers. So, why use it? When a customer service person says, "I'll get back to you as soon as I can," they may mean "quickly," but it might also frustrate customers who interpret the words as meaning "when I get around to it."
It takes work to make sure our words mean the same to others as they do to us.
Is it worth the effort? A poll conducted by the NPD Group revealed that 60% of Apple's customers said they are more likely to purchase another product from the company after their experience with the company's technical support.

Insurance their way

Author JohnGraham , 12/3/2012
by John Graham

While much of the insurance industry dines on a diet of affluent clients, State Farm, Allstate, GEICO and Progressive are seizing the middle-market business for present gains and future rewards.

These companies don’t expect prospects to find them. Their advertising is in the face of middle-America hour-after-hour of every day offering winning combinations of saving money, hassle-free service and personalized coverage delivered at the customer’s convenience. One company even depicts insurance agents as “inept, stumbling do-dos.” And Allstate Insurance drives the message even deeper by making a slight –– but notable –– change to its famous tagline, “Are you in good hands?”

It might appear they’re primarily after auto insurance. But there’s much more to it than that –– as renters and homeowners insurance, financial services and life insurance creep into the messaging. 

Their goals are clear: 
To capture a broad segment of the middle market that doesn’t necessarily understand insurance and that welcomes approaches that better fit their lifestyle and mindset.
To become their customers’ permanent insurance providers. By serving their customers in ways that meet their personal expectations, they will be less likely to make a change later on. 

Will this strategy work? If companies focus on understanding their prospective customers, the chances are good that the payoff will be significant. 

In light of all this, where does this leave the “independent local insurance agent” who sees possibilities of doing business with millions of middle Americans? 
1. To start with, it’s time to discard the belief that all consumers want to talk to an insurance agent face-to-face. The behavior of a huge –– and growing –– number of consumers puts this view into question. 
2. Embrace technology like there’s no tomorrow. Seek insurance companies and organizations that get the technology message. Failing to be technologically aggressive may very well mean there is no tomorrow.
3. Recognize that customers define the quality of the customer experience. Apple, Amazon and others continue making changes based on customer feedback.

The big issue for an independent local insurance agent is not who you are or where you are, but your ability to perform in ways that meet the challenging demands of today’s –– and tomorrow’s consumers.

More than ever, it's all about pulling customers to you

Author JohnGraham , 11/2/2012
Since early in the last century, marketing was a matter of "getting your message out," whether through advertising or public relations. Even with the more recent demise of "mass marketing," the task has remained essentially a matter of finding new ways to communicate with customers. It's not surprising, then, that a preponderance of companies, both big and small, are 100% focused on talking about themselves.
This mindset is so embedded it won't go away, even though the idea of "reaching out" is dead on arrival! What will it take to get companies to understand that customers are interested in themselves, not someone's business?

Once-and-for-all, it's time to recognize that the marketing revolution is here and it's all about pulling customers to you. This is what content marketing is all about. Two decades ago, we named it Magnet Marketing.

It’s Your Questions That Make The Sale

Author JohnGraham , 9/18/2012
By John Graham

The selling debacle
Even though buying cycles seem to stretch out longer as buyers require more time to make decisions, salespeople are doing their best to close quicker. 

 Much of what’s popular in selling, such as sales techniques, figuring out a prospect’s hot buttons and schmoozing and even relationship building, can be enormously overrated. 

Here’s the problem. Simply put, too much of what passes for “best practices” in sales focuses on what the salesperson should do to get the order, starting with a perfected “elevator speech.”

To make the concept vivid, the salesperson is like the classroom teacher of 30 or more years ago who was the “instructor,” the one who was in charge and who passed information to the often passive and less than attentive “learners.”

The result? Good salespeople with great products and services that are a good fit for their customers lose sales because they take the role of “instructor,” passing information to passive and often inattentive “learner-customers.” 

Such behavior is understandable. Whether it’s the unpredictability of an extended buying cycle or the fear of a competitor entering the picture, they sense the possibility of losing the sale and immediately response by getting into a “control mode,” cutting corners, taking shortcuts and jumping to the close before the customer is ready to buy.

Trust makes the difference
Faced with such a reality every working day, it becomes clear that the critical component for making more sales is gaining the customer’s trust as quickly as possible. It has always been important, but never as much as it is today. Trust is the bond that endures no matter the length and difficulty of the selling cycle.

To be totally clear about trust, it doesn’t develop from schmoozing, making unverified or exaggerated claims, or providing incomplete information. Today’s customers are doubters; they’ve been burned too often. They want value –– lots of value –– for their money. To put it simply, they don’t trust salespeople. Much of the success of and Apple is built on recognizing customer doubt by keeping their promises. 

Distrust is so fundamental today that those who ask a friend, family member or coworker for a referral, engage in their own vetting process before making a decision.

Creating trust
Salespeople understand the trust issue and they have their own views about how to develop it. We’ve heard most of the solutions: respect, acting with integrity, being responsible, sincere, honest, truthful and on and on it goes. Unfortunately, the words are generalizations, lacking specificity –– they don’t mean anything to customers.

So, the question remains, what do salespeople do to create trust? Answer: trust develops between customer and salesperson when the salesperson asks the right questions. It’s the questions that create value, understanding, and confidence.

Yet, salespeople like to talk about “meeting customer needs.” They talk about it, particularly in their presentations. But what does “meeting customer needs mean? Not too much. If anything, it’s abstract and non-specific, more like a “view from 30,000 feet,” where you see everything and nothing at the same time. “Meeting customer needs” is meaningless –– unless a salesperson fills it with content by taking the time to ask the right questions.  

And now the questions
The goal of asking questions is to probe until it’s clear the customer is satisfied.  Of course, the questions will differ based on your research of the prospect. They don’t need to be complex, but they must drill down to the heart of the issue. In emergency rooms throughout the United States, a series of three simple questions has replaced complex, computer-based calculations for assessing patients who are experiencing heart problems.

The simplicity of this approach belies the careful study that went into its development. It requires an investment of up-front time to understand the prospect, but it’s an investment well worth making.

The questions are key and here are examples of questions that help create trust ––

Getting started questions:
What problems are you experiencing?
What’s going on now that bothers you? 
What do you want to accomplish and in what time frame?
What makes you dissatisfied with what you’re currently using? 
What do you like? What don’t you like?
What do you expect from a sales rep?

Before meeting ends questions:
What’s better or worse than what you have now? 
How did you feel about this meeting?
Is there anything that seems to be missing?
Do you feel you have adequate information?
Do you feel uneasy about anything?
Where would you like to go from here? 
Are my answers sufficiently understandable and complete?
Did I probe sufficiently to understand your situation, your needs?
How can I improve my presentation?
Was I more helping or selling?

Then, what happens after the sale becomes the most important component in the sales process. Yet, salespeople often ignore it as they move on to the next “opportunity” and never look back, leaving the customer disappointed and even “jilted.” However, this is the critical point at which the customer becomes either Emissary or Enemy. This is when trust becomes real.

After the sale, follow up with questions, whether a week or a month later:
How do you feel about your purchase?
What have you been thinking about?
Do you have any doubts, issues or concerns?
What questions do you have?
Is there anything you would like to be different?
Is there anything you would like me to do?

If a feeling of trust has developed with the customer, be sure to ask for a referral.

Questions transform the selling process
As valuable as information is for a successful sales process, asking probing questions produces more than just information. It’s the most effective way to help customers become deeply involved in a dialogue –– a conversation –– that becomes an intriguing exercise in further discovery. It’s the way for the sales process to become an adventure, rather than a drag.

On top of that, it’s the way they come to recognize that their salesperson is serious, concerned and thorough. It’s through the questioning experience that customers become loyal partners, who are invested in the sales process rather than disengaged observers and passive participants.

The relentless task of asking questions also helps customers clarify their thinking, discover what they may have missed, revisit their assumptions, and reconsider their opinions. It’s the way to build trust and get to the right results.

In effect, the salesperson’s role is to create a stage on which the decision making process is acted out. Ultimately, it’s the way to help customers avoid making an unsatisfactory decision. They should never need to say, “I wish I had known that before I made my purchase.”

The task of today’s salesperson goes way beyond product knowledge and even “solutions.” It’s to help customers discover possibilities they may not have considered or even thought about. 
It’s your questions that make the sale.

John R. Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a monthly e-Newsletter, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at, 617-774-9759 or

Business Ideas To Challenge Our Thinking

Author JohnGraham , 8/16/2012
By John Graham

The company president was excited about a popular cartoon depicting warriors fighting a battle with bows-and-arrows, along with a suited salesman carrying a machine gun and a briefcase. “Can’t you see I have no time to see a salesman,” says a beleaguered officer, “I’ve got a battle to fight.” Ironically, this is the same executive who nixed new opportunities for his company to grow its sales.

Ideas challenging the status quo can face roadblocks in just about any company, whether in sales, marketing or, most importantly, the future. Yet, it may be that those are ideas that can let in more light so that effective change can take place. Here are six of them:
      • Business owners can be wrong. Scratch entrepreneurs and it doesn’t take much to discover their immense pride in the business and, ironically, a dogmatic belief in their own ideas that may do it damage. 
A president of a highly successful industrial business became so enamored with breaking new ground in his industry by selling equipment on the Internet that he made a substantial investment in an eCommerce website without taking the time to determine whether or not customers would purchase his company’s type of products online. The venture failed and, worse yet, just at the time when the recession began taking its toll on the economy.
What we think about our business can distort reality and interfere with meeting today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.
      • Everything is never on the table. It’s pure posturing and anyone who puts it to the test, gets hurt. Just ask GM’s recently fired marketing chief, Joel Ewanick. He’s the one who came up the campaigns for Chevrolet,  “Love it or return it” and  “Chevy runs deep.” He also opted out of Super Bowl XII advertising and cancelled GM’s Facebook ads just prior to the social media giant going public. 
Most revealing, he also discovered that other things run even deeper at GM; namely, “That ain’t the way we do it around here.” When someone says, “Everything is on the table,” don’t believe it. They may think they mean it, but putting them to the test can be dangerous. There are always ideas, practices and activities that are untouchable.
• It’s all about strategy. When the Boston Business Journal (BBJ) asked Mark B. Kerwin, Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, about the biggest challenge he faces in his field today, he gave his answer in six words: “Staying strategic as opposed to tactical.”

Steve Jobs couldn’t have said it better. First and foremost, he was a brilliant strategist. His commitment was to building a company that built beautiful things that consumers admire and love to use in their daily lives. It’s no accident that M.G. Siegler of TechCrunch describes Mountain Lion, Apple’s latest operating system, as “definitely the most polished and robust version of OS X yet.” 

Tactics are easier to understand and far more fun, but most of the time, they’re temporary and don’t advance us to the goal.
• “Customers for life” is deception. Why? Because it’s counter-intuitive, naïve –– and dangerous. Yet, these three words seem so ingrained in our thinking that Googling them produces 1, 390,000 results. Even against such a mountain of evidence, it’s still an illusion.

On the face of it, it should be obvious that customers are never for life: they die, find a better deal, move, change their lifestyles, retire or want something new. In B2B, some merge or sell, go out of business, or become obsolete.

In spite of doing everything possible to keep customers happy and satisfied, they still leave. Yet, bloggers, speakers, and business writers implore us to embrace the belief that we can keep them forever. 

Businesses are best served by abandoning mythical thinking, such as “customers for life,” and embrace reality with a “nothing is forever” mentality.
      • Downed by the demon of self-deception. More than just about anything else, self-deception is the biggest human stumbling block, and just about every business is plagued with this unrelenting problem.

In a study of a group of college students, researchers discovered that cheating gives students false confidence in their abilities, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The upshot seemed to be that once we lie, it doesn’t take much for us to convince ourselves that we’re not lying.

Ask the president of a highly successful consumer services company to describe his primary business objective and he would undoubtedly say, “Putting our customers first.” In all sincerity, he would mean it. Yet, this same president sent a letter to his customers filled with dozens of references as to why customers should do business with his company, but no rationale was given as to why it would benefit the customers to do so. It was if he was writing the letter to himself.

To test out just how widespread self-deception is in business, watch the employees’ faces when the president or sales manager is holding forth on the company’s newest product launch, announcing next year’s goals or the need to increase productivity. Then, you can see the clash of two quite different realities.
• Forget about “The Great Person.” At Talbot’s, the women’s clothing retailer, there has been a parade of CEOs, each one with the answer to the company’s troubles and each one taking it deeper into lower sales and increased debt. The story is the same at Yahoo, where hope now hangs on yet another CEO. 

It might be helpful if boards of directors stopped wanting to believe that the next executive holds the key. The “Great  (Man) Person Theory” has had its day, even though its vestiges can be found everywhere, including business.

The fallacy rests in believing that success will follow with the right person. But, as science writer Matt Ridley says (WSJ, 5/22/10), innovation depends on exchange. For example, he points to Uruk, in Southern Mesopotamia. It “was probably the first city the world has ever seen, housing more than 50,000 people within its six miles of walls. Uruk, its agriculture made prosperous by sophisticated irrigation canals, was home to the first class of middlemen, trade intermediaries.”

Arguably, it’s the same in America: Silicon Valley in technology, Boston in medical care, New York in finance and Las Vegas in casinos.

As Ridley points out, “In the modern world, innovation is a collective enterprise that relies on exchange.”
In business, as elsewhere, ideas, as much as action, make a difference. Companies that put action above ideas may find that they are doing a lot of things backwards.

John R. Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a monthly eNewsletter, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at, 617-774-9759 or


Author JohnGraham , 8/6/2012
by John Graham

Align your marketing program to the needs and desires of today’s online customers.

“Control the customer and you control the sale.” This advice served generations of successful salespeople who knew that they could make any sale once they could get face-to-face with a prospect.

When this sales process began to change, the change was so subtle that most salespeople overlooked its impact. Even the waves of consumer catalogs failed to alert the selling profession to the revolution that was taking place. It wasn’t catalogs as such that were so important. Whether it was Sears and Roebuck, L.L. Bean, PC Warehouse, or Victoria’s Secret, cataloging became a great success story because the cataloguers offered what the customer wanted more than anything else: Convenience.

But catalogs were just a rest stop along the world’s merchandising highway. Now, it’s the Internet. Although some express concern about “security issues,” millions of shoppers buy books at and other popular sites using their credit cards every day. The experience builds consumer confidence and paves the way for increased spending via the Internet. As Andy Grove of Intel warns, “The world now runs on Internet time.”

The effects of Internet buying activity are being felt in virtually every industry nationwide. A Dodge dealer in Phoenix, like so many other merchandisers, is seeing it first-hand.

Describing the dealership’s expanding presence on the World Wide Web, he reports that “we are dealing with a totally different type of car buyer ... the cyber shopper. Many of them walk in (or e-mail) with invoice in hand and a retail book value on their trade. Since most are doing their shopping from home, it’s nearly impossible to ‘sell value’ in the product. In fact, if they don’t get what they want in the form of ‘Best Price,’ most of them never get their feet in the door. ... I’ve sold quite a few cars in my time and it’s much easier to isolate the objection and overcome it when I have an opportunity to ‘sell’ the product, and myself, face to face.”

This auto dealer isn’t alone. Many companies have broken speed records to produce a website and take advantage of the Internet’s popularity, only to discover that they weren’t ready for the change in buying behavior that characterizes this sales venue.

As the Dodge dealer pointed out, today’s customers arrive by e-mail or in person after doing their research online. They no longer come to be educated and informed or to gather information. The Internet has taken this role away from the dealer. By the time customers contact the dealer, they know exactly what they want and what they’re willing to pay.


Many salespeople have convinced themselves that, at heart, people feel there’s value in doing business with someone they know. But is this really the way customers feel?

Auto manufacturers make it clear that the vehicle’s warranty is good at any of their dealerships. Dell Computers has been highly successful selling computers by direct mail. The Internet only serves to enhance this type of buying experience. Dell and others provide the buyer with detailed information at their websites.

From the experience of Dell and others, we can see that customer reliance on a personal relationship is not what’s important to them. With their products supported by warranties, their only remaining concerns are price, quality, and value. In other words, their buying decision becomes product driven instead of sales driven.

Given this change in consumer attitude, successful businesses will be those that can adapt and provide an environment supportive of the new buying reality. An insistence that consumers continue to value the sales environment that you think should be important will only result in a loss of business.

Here are a few suggestions for bringing your business into line with today’s consumer attitudes:

1. Build a Web “store.” Cyber shoppers want something different, not just a website. They want a virtual store, not just one that leads to a “real” store. It’s quite possible that these customers associate physical locations (including sprawling auto dealerships) with high costs that are passed along to customers. Larry Downes and Chunka Mui, authors of Unleashing the Killer App, make the point: “Technology makes it possible to create, cheaply and consistently, a customer offering that is unique; not just one time, but every time.” In effect, the Internet shrinks selling costs, or at least it changes the perception of these expenses. The catalogs started the trend and cyber selling is taking it to the next step.

A virtual store gives customers the opportunity to custom-order what they want and the pricing reflects the reduced operating costs. This is what Toshiba has done for its independent dealers. Because the company sells only through dealers, the web-marketing goal is to get customers to the dealers who have had customers call and order specific products by model number after visiting the dealer’s website. In other words, the time might have arrived when the objective is no longer one of only using the Internet to attract customers to a physical location. The goal is now to get them to a virtual store.

2. Listen to the customer or lose the sale. There’s nothing new about saying that successful salespeople are good at listening to customers. Even though salespeople might know it, few actually put the idea into practice. Before even meeting a customer, many salespeople decide what they’re going to sell. They set the agenda and their job is to get the customer to agree with it. They decide what they want, rather than attempting to understand the needs of the customer and then find the right solutions. Of course, there are those who contend that customers don’t know what they want, and the salesperson’s role is to guide them in making the right choice, i.e., what the salesperson wants to sell.

This selling style is outdated and helps explain why many customers are put off by coercive, manipulative, and customer-ignoring sales techniques. This is also why effective banner advertising on the Internet asks questions. One dry cleaner, interested in attracting off-season clothing storage customers, used a banner that asked, “Need more closet space?” The goal was to identify customers with bulging closets. Another banner appealed to those looking for a tradesman. It read, “Need help with a home improvement project?”

3. Save the customer time — then money. Cyber shoppers are interested in saving time, not running around trying to find the right place to make a purchase. One survey shows that 60% of women and 40% of men who made catalog purchases do so for one reason: Convenience. Those searching for products and services on the web are known to value time above almost anything else. These are the “time-stackers,” people who perform several tasks at the same time. They know that it costs more to talk on a cell phone, but they can do that while they’re walking, meeting, or just about anything else.

A major issue in sales is adapting to the customer’s schedule. For the car dealer, this might mean seven-day-a-week service, “mall hours,” and free pick-up and delivery at the customer’s home or office. The concept is simple: In exchange for the customer’s money, you give the customer time.

4. The customer is in charge of the sale. Taking charge of the sale has been the traditional salesperson’s role: Fail to take or keep control and lose the sale. This is changing, quickly becoming a “one-to-one” marketplace.

Walk through just about any department store and the message becomes vividly clear. Departments are divided into “boutiques,” an attempt to offer a more personal approach within the context of a large store. A computer program “designs” Levi’s using an individual’s exact measurements, while several carmakers give customers the option of building a car to their personal specifications. Internet browsers allow users to customize their home pages.

The Internet is about the singular. It facilitates individual expression better than any other form of communication. It has to do with one customer and one customer alone. This gets rid of the traditional “what’s-on-the-shelf?” mentality. Traditional salesmanship was often a process of persuading the customer to want what we have available: One or two sizes fit all. This type of selling is predicated on controlling the customer and face-to-face encounters, circumstances that are negated by the Internet.

The Internet makes selling both more and less personal. It’s more personal in that it’s strictly one-on-one, but it’s less personal because customers can be totally anonymous, revealing only as much as they choose at any given moment. This makes it very difficult to apply traditional sales techniques and much more crucial to do everything possible to allow customers to be drawn into what can be called a “web-net” until they decide that “this is the place to do business.” Throughout it all, the task is to make it clear that the customer is in charge of the sale.


Although these techniques apply to the cyber customer, they also pertain to everyone who thinks like a cyber shopper, whether on the net, in an auto dealership, a shopping mall, or purchasing for a business.

The Internet has altered buyer expectations of what it means to be a professional salesperson and how customers want to be dealt with today. The Internet is not just changing where people buy, but, more importantly, how they buy.

How to Love Meetings

Author JohnGraham , 5/23/2012
Human behavior is bizarre. There’s simply no other way to describe it. For example, everyone hates meetings. Some people go from one meeting to the next. Sometimes the meetings overlap.

Yet, there seems to be a meeting explosion in most companies –– even though many (most) are boring, unnecessary and a waste of time.

Someone, somewhere doesn’t seem to get it. That’s not quite correct. More companies are going to short (often 5-minutes) “stand up” meetings, particularly at the beginning of the day with each participant answering specific questions such as these:

1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
2. What will I do today?
3. What obstacles are impeding my progress?

In effect, these questions change the meeting game from what people are doing, as one person says, to “progressing the work.” Some suggest meeting at the start of the day, while others feel later in the morning after people have a chance to get organized works better. There are other sets of questions to be sure, but these seem to be the most common ones.

A timekeeper plays a critical role, as does the facilitator. Many suggest that these be rotating assignments.

May want to give stand up meetings a shot. Hit link for more info. It's Not Just Standing Up

Getting it Right for Customers

Author JohnGraham , 5/17/2012

Insurance company makes stunning move

It’s easy to criticize insurance companies for being behind the technology curve. Yet, such reluctance is understandable since there may be no industry in which “the devil is in the details” is more appropriate.

Happily, change is on the way. For example, Progressive Insurance, the folks who brought us fabulous Flo in the “insurance shop.” As you know, Flo’s back with new commercials.

But after a prospect sees an ad, the process tends to bog down in the “phone experience.” Progressive aims to change that by going “direct-to-consumer” with a mobile app that “uses image capture technology (similar to what’s being used by banks) designed to provide an accurate auto insurance rate that is customized to the user, and upon acceptance to actually bind coverage,” reports Pat Speer of Insurance Networking News.

Getting ahead of the competition –– Geico, USAAA, State Farm and now Allstate –– Progressive has taken a step forward in customer convenience. The others won’t be far behind.

Link to Flo's commercial here: Progressive

Sales tip: Do a yellow pad and a briefcase send the wrong message?

Author JohnGraham , 5/17/2012

In a word, the answer is yes. Both are symbolic of the pre-tablet era, particularly for those in sales and marketing. The time for a change hit me not long ago when I found myself going into a meeting with both an iPad and yellow pad. It was if I were trying to straddle two eras.


The iPad belongs in meetings, not only for content but also for notetaking. While some people prefer keyboard, others choose an app for writing by hand. These have improved over the last year or so. But, like buying almost anything else, it’s all about personal preference. Here are a few possibilities: Penultimate, Notability, UPAD, Noteshelf and Mental Note, to mention a few. Some are free and others are a few bucks. With a stylus, even a lefty can do a fair job.


I finally bought the bullet and dropped off my briefcase at a thrift shop. 


Author JohnGraham , 5/3/2012

by John Graham  

There are few offenses in business worse than challenging the validity of the near sacred “elevator speech,” that one-minute message verbalizing the unique qualities of what a salesperson does or sells.

The need for the “elevator speech” seems obvious because hordes of salespeople fumble and stumble when asked what they do. Even though they might have adequate knowledge of what they sell and the company they represent, they’re unable to verbalize the message clearly and succinctly.

As someone said, “If you don’t have an elevator speech, people won’t know what you really do.” It’s no wonder that sales managers make it a top priority to motivate their people to prepare and practice mini-messages.

If all this is true, then why knock it? Why challenge something that’s needed and useful to a salesperson? To put it bluntly, an “elevator speech” is damaging because it’s a one-way, robotic “conversation” that defeats sales. It “tells” but doesn’t “sell.”

For a better understanding of the “elevator speech” problem, consider one of the most common complaints of sales managers: salespeople talk too much. Because silence seems to drive them crazy, they fill “the empty space” with a constant flow of patter about anything and everything.

There’s more to the story. Customers also complain that salespeople turn them off by talking constantly and failing to listen. It’s becomes a vicious circle: salespeople are poor listeners because they won’t shut up. On and on they go, babbling about their product, service, and the company they represent, without stopping long enough for customers to ask questions.

“Many salespeople feel compelled to recite their canned pitch regardless of the customer’s actual interest,” comments Steve W. Martin of USC’s Marshall School of Business. In other words, they spin their spiel rather than interacting with customers and prospects.

Of course many salespeople talk too much –– and it’s always about themselves and their company. That’s what they know. It’s drilled into them day after day. They simply regurgitate the words because that’s what they’re told to do. So, why should anyone expect them to change or do otherwise?

Salespeople go to lead generation groups, stand up and talk about themselves. No one listens, particularly when they’ve heard the same words time after time. In such situations, salespeople should be asking themselves this question: “Why should the people sitting round the table recommend me?” However, they don’t because they’ve been taught to mouth an “elevator speech.”

They show up at networking meetings and say (a dozen times over), “Hi, I’m Susan from Gotcha International and…. .” Susan is doing what she has been told to do, and leaves with a handful of business cards. Back at the office, she tells her boss that it was a good day for Gotcha.

When making cold calls, salespeople invariably start out by saying, “Hi, I’m Roscoe and my company…. .” Whether it’s in person, on the phone or in e-mails, it’s time to slam the door, hang up or hit delete. It’s time salespeople got the Special Memo: no one cares who you are or what you’re selling.

The “elevator speech” approach breeds disaster. It undermines and kills sales because it fails to engage customers. In fact, it has just the opposite result: it bores the listener. No one wants to spend even 60-seconds listening to people talking about themselves. This is by far the most successful method of driving prospects away. They don’t want to do business with people who have zero interest in anything but what they want to accomplish.

So, what should a salesperson say when someone asks, “What do you do?” Instead of pressing the “elevator speech” button and jabbering about the products or services they sell or the company they work for, the best response is simply to say, “Thanks for asking.”

If played correctly, the next step gives salespeople the opportunity to begin a conversation. What this takes is a captivating statement that compels someone to ask what it means. Here are several examples

•“It’s my job to snoop around and find where my clients are spending money needlessly.” Much better than saying, “I’m a consultant.”
•“Businesses depend on me to make sure they have a constant flow of new prospects.” This is far more interesting than saying, “I’m in marketing.”
•“My customers depend on me to make sure they won’t run out money when they need it most.” This is preferable to saying, “I’m a financial advisor.”
•“I help my clients take advantage of new, profitable opportunities.” Much better than saying, “I’m a commercial loan officer.”
By now, the picture should be clear. When a salesperson makes this type of statement, it opens the door for the prospect to ask a question: “How do you do that?” or “What does that mean?” Now, a situation is right for moving forward and starting a conversation.

Engaging people in this way will intrigue them so that they’ll want to know more. Now, they are the ones asking for additional information, which is far better than turning them off.

John Graham, a marketing and sales consultant and business writer, lives in Boston, Mass. You can reach him at (617) 774-9759 or e-mail