How To Lose A Sale With Your First Response – Sales eXecution 2826

By Tibor Shanto – 

Child in calss

When you initially approach an unsuspecting prospect, how you present what you sell will go a long way in determining the outcome.

Yet when you ask sales people to tell you what they sell, a large majority and their managers get it wrong. They will usually tell me things like:

  • I sell hardware – software – any kindaware
  • Systems, or “high end” systems
  • Blah blah blah services
  • MFP Printers
  • Print solutions

These are all good, but in the end these are things that you deliver, literally, in most cases they are a means to an entirely different end. These are also how the user or implementer would define things, after all they are part of the process, not the ultimate beneficiary. If you are an IT person working on implementing a new finance package, the above type of response will suffice, because they are more likely to be part of the selection process, not the buying process, those who have the requirement that drives the selection and implementation.

One interesting follow on to the above is when we drill down on “solutions”, that crowd favourite, juicy, round, yet vague enough to fit most conversations. (Usually only a few words either side of the other great undefined – value) By implication, when you say you have a solution, you should be able to articulate what you can solve for the prospect, in terms they can relate to, not vis-à-vis your quota. Basing your answer to that on the list above will cost you sales. The problem the user or implementer are trying to solve are very different than those that got the project funded and backed. Without that you will always be in the selection pageant, not in the decision tent.

When we push this point a bit, we get a second round of answers, better but not quite there yet. We get:

  • Improved productivity
  • Improved work-flow
  • Efficiencies
  • Peace of mind

No doubt a step forward, but on their as they are above, and in most initial prospecting conversations, they mean nothing, they lack teeth. How can we improve their work-flow or productivity? What specific efficiencies can you introduce that are specific to them, not your offering Remember your offering and that of your two closest competitor, usually known as Column A and Column C, are most likely 85% the same, so if you can’t answer that, the discussion drops to line P, for price.

The answer is really “why do people buy?” People at all levels of the decision. The challenge in selling the first list is it only speaks to the selection folks, not the buying folks; the second list needs to have a lot more specifics aligned with the buyers’ objectives than just identifying their categories. You need to speak to those objectives and outcomes you have delivered. Understanding how they view productivity, and speaking to that in specific terms is a start. They need to be able to visualize and relate to the specifics of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Same for the financial aspect, time shifts, risk and more. Then you need to be able to present things in a way that aligns with their filters, and each role in the decision will be biased by their role.

The reality is that much has changed in sales, but the fact that first impressions are crucial has not, and how you answer that initial question of “What do you sell?” can make all the difference to your success.

Tibor Shanto

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  1. Tony Giovaniello

    I agree with the article. However, the challenge is always in putting the solution in context of a real and prioritized problem that the buyer is experiencing. Solving a problem that is not a prioritized business initiative supported and funded by management is may not be fruitful. It may actually be a waste of your time. Research and uncovering the need, and then constructing a pathway for your product, software, or service to meaningfully address the problem is the true skill sales people need to develop and deploy.

    • Tibor Shanto


      Thanks for the feedback.

      The only comment I would make is that looking for a problem limits the number of people you can engage with. Instead, why not research objectives and sell to those, you’ll capture the problem cases as well as others.


  2. Steve Struthers

    Good topic, and I liked where it was going … then it just kind of ended. You know, like one of those responses you write but then you run out of allowed characters before you finish your thoughts. I agree with challenges of List 1 and that List 2 is much better. A few specific examples of what you consider to be excellent responses to the “tell me what you sell” question would have finished it off much better.

    • Tibor Shanto


      Thanks for the feedback.

      Sorry about the ending, wasn’t meant to be that way, I thought I would lay out the pointers, and allow people to complete it on their own. But I will revisit it soon and expand on it.


  3. Nikole Knight

    ” By implication, when you say you have a solution, you should be able to articulate what you can solve for the prospect, in terms they can relate to”

    This remark to me is the key, the basic foundation for successful selling. Unless your company is the only producer of whatever service, solution or product you are selling, then that means there are X number of other companies selling the exact same thing. Looking from both perspectives, as the buyer and seller, you should be able to tell me very clearly what, why and how your solution/product is the one that will serve my needs and produce ROI, because that is the bottom line to any organization seeking a solution. As the seller, I should have in no uncertain terms the answer to that question.

    • Tibor Shanto


      Thanks for the feedback. I agree that if there is even one alternative, you need to aaddress the specifics in a clear and meaningful way.


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