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Why So Defensive?0

By Tibor Shanto

While sales people would have you believe they are a confident lot, able to get others to see their view and follow them with comfort.  But when you watch them in play, on the sales field with the buyer, their behaviour comes across quiet differently.  For the most part, they behave with great insecurity and defensiveness often not experiences since grade school.

Watch how sellers respond to objections; any objections, while prospecting, during discovery, or at the end of the cycle.  The average sales person falls apart at the sign or even hint of an objection.  Even before the buyer completes their thought, sellers jump in to defend their position.  Because nothing says, “I am seeking to understand you, your requirements and objectives”; than a seller jumping on their sentence, not hearing their full thought, and throwing up a canned defense of something the prospect didn’t really mention.

Read on…

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A different fish 800

New Dogs – Old Tricks0

By Tibor Shanto

While politics may be dominating populism these days, it does not hold a monopoly on populism, it is part of, if not the driving force for any like-minded group.  While most tend to limit their exploration of populism to political and social movements, populism, with all it’s positive possibilities and ugly realities, permeates and exists in other tribal groups and movements, like sales.  While others may want to define in loftier ways, in the end, populism at its core, should be “support for the concerns of ordinary people”; unfortunately for those who want to exploit it, it is more a means of “profiting from the concerns (and hopes) of ordinary people, while ensuring that their status will not change in a way that diminishes their opportunity to profit from the concerns of the ordinary”.

A great example of this in sales is the never-ending cry from certain corners, proclaiming, announcing or predicting the death of Cold Calling.  The meanest of these are those who predict, and put that prediction just beyond people’s willingness to remember.

Speaking of which, isn’t it about time we dust off all the predictions from last December and see who wins – loses – draws and who cares.

Read on…

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Child in calss

You Don’t Have To Answer0

By Tibor Shanto

It seems many in sales feel the best way to show how smart they are, is to have all the answers at the ready, and feel compelled to bark an answer as soon as the prospect asks, sometimes even before.  I would suggest that even when you know the answer, no element of doubt, offering it up like a candy dispenser, will not lead to the prospect thinking you are smart by virtue of knowing answer, and certainly does not guarantee the deal.

I know some will be hard to convince, but you need to look at questions and answers as props in a play, where the plot and theme are centred around the prospect, their objectives, and things they are looking to, or more often, willing to change.  So, while being right is great for grade 8 English test, it may move the dial the wrong way in a given deal.

Just as the questions you ask are designed to create a learning experience for both buyer and seller, and allow you to take the meeting in certain directions, so do answers.

Too Soon

Prospects will in their own way prepare for meetings as well, and when they are focused on addressing something, they want to get to that point, just like sellers want to get to their point.  As experienced sellers will tell you, that facts and reality are sometimes best doled out in bits and pieces, and these are tied to the buyer’s state of readiness.  This is not so important if you are selling products to “informed” and predictable buyers looking for what they bought last time, and neither you or the buyer are inclined to change, learn or improve.

But if your success is based on helping buyers achieve a future state, one different than their current state, one that represents change, or as they think of it as “risk”, then it will likely involve educating and motivating that buyer.  There is a reason they call it a journey, it allows the buyer to evolve on the way to the destination.

Our role as sellers is to ensure the buyers gain an understanding of the specifics at hand.  Individual buyers we deal with, are part of a group of buyers, often with varying opinions and wish lists.  This means they need to both understand and explain the change you are proposing to others in the process, meaning that a “just in time” approach to answers will likely serve you better than spewing facts.

Child in calssNot Every Question Deserves An Answer

That’s right, there is no law that says that all questions have to be answered immediately, or at all.  Sometimes buyers ask questions not purely out of a need for an answer, but for example, as a way of thinking out loud.  Based experience, you know that certain question show a state of unreadiness on the part of the buyer.  Answering the question, now or too soon, may confirm some wrong assumptions, or limit your ability to explore areas later; another good reason to review all opportunities, won, lost or “no decision”.

There is also the opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s “deep bench”.  You can introduce experts and specialist to respond.  Setting that meeting will allow you to surface and involve others in the process, by setting up a meeting to introduce your expert(s) to their team.  It also allows you to ensure that they form relationships with those in a better position to ensure success after the signature.  Something that if it came to you, would cause you to not “sell”, and delays in resolving the clients issues.

Knowing the answer is one things, what makes you an expert seller, not a product or fact expert, is how you use and dispense the answers in a way that drives the buyer’s and you objectives.

Hey – We’re moving

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Our new home: www.TiborShanto.com
We’ll still keep things here for a while, but this same great post is also available at
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Financial analyst and stock broker business concept as a human face wearing reflective glasses with arrows going up and down as a metaphor for having the vision for forecasting and analizing economic direction.

What’s My Future In Sales?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

There is a lot of discussion around the role of technology in sales, advances in AI (you decide what the A stands for), and its impact on the role of and future of sales people.  There is no doubt that technology will continue to change the process of revenue generation, maintenance and growth, but that’s nothing new.  In any given decade as technology is introduced, the sales tribe is the first to adopt.  We are the ones who figure out how to leverage new tech to make more money, sales ops figure out how to take cost out of the cycle, driving even greater margins.

But any conversation about “sales” and technology, should really be framed not as discussion of sales, but revenue.  Revenue, across the entire “client life cycle”, in that context, sales, or specifically, the act of selling, is but one small part of the cycle.  Selling here is defined as the initial point of persuading someone who is not doing business with you, to do business with you.  A small part of the larger revenue cycle, a crucial one, one that enables the flow of revenue, but it is a small part in the context of the “client life cycle”.  That front piece is different than the rest of the rest of the cycle.

Financial analyst and stock broker business concept as a human face wearing reflective glasses with arrows going up and down as a metaphor for having the vision for forecasting and analizing economic direction.

This why once the client has been persuaded, in most instances, the client managed by a different set of people with different skills.  This is even more pronounced in today’s “disintermediated” sales environment, or as some would like to call it, “sales specialization”.  No matter the label, the reality is that the person with making the initial sale, is not the one tasked with ensuring “customer experience”, fulfilment and support, “account management”, or growth, or renewal.  Taken as a whole, it’s all sales, but we all know it is a hockey team, yes, it’s all the Habs, but no one looks for the goalie to score, or a centre to stand between the pipes.

Which brings us to tech’s impact on sales, more specifically the discussion of “salespeople” being displaced by tech.  I would argue that if we took the “client life cycle”, the continuing revenue cycle, some parts are much more vulnerable to being out done by tech and replaced by tech.  In fact, the further you are in the process, the more at risk you are to being “Amazoned”.

The critical point, is the ability to persuade someone to change what they are doing now, and buy your offering or service from you, the thing hunters do.  While tools and tech can help score leads, nurture them, even get them to the point of engagement.  This may be easy for that small part of the market that is actively looking, ready to buy, and are just looking for the right vendor.  But when it comes to that 70% plus part of the market that is in Status Quo, not interacting with the market.  It takes real skill to engage with someone who has not given any thought to engaging, changing or buying.  This is the very reason that closed opportunities are handed off to people with other skills, and out of the hands of hunters, and given to people with different skills; skills I would argue easily replace by automation, which will likely do it more efficiently.

So, if you are a hunter, with the unique EQ, IQ, and skills to lead and persuade, you need not worry about displaced.  If you are downstream from the signature, Alexa has your number.

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Calendar 2016

Time To Get Around To It0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Michael Jordan was quoted that the only thing that changes is our focus on the fundamentals, a great lesson for those who tend to be distracted by shinny objects promising “easier” way of achieving or exceeding quota, or, to avoid doing things we don’t like. One of the core fundamentals for successful selling is how we view and utilize time, right down to the minute. It is always important to remember that time is the only non-renewable resource we have. Leads are recyclable, lost deals can be revisited and won. But once the next 60 seconds go by, we don’t get to replenish or redo.

This leads us to the importance of allocating time, not managing it; once time is allocated to specific activity, then focus on executing and managing the activity you actually designated the time to. But many sales people cherry pick time, and use it to avoid things that have to be done, like prospecting for example.

Regularly when I ask buyers why they didn’t prospect, or when they plan to prospect, I hear “I’ll get around to it when I have time”.  As though some rich uncle is going to pull up with some extra time in the trunk, and give it to us.  Time is something you have to commit to in advance.  If you don’t commit time in advance in your calendar for important activities, like prospecting, you will not do it.

“I’ll get around to it when I have the time.” Is the very opposite of what it should be.

I understand that there a lot of demands on a sales person’s time, the importance of focusing on current customers; I understand the importance of finishing that proposal, doing a demo, and all the things we signed up for as sales professionals.  As professionals, one of the key skills we are paid the big bucks for is prioritizing, be that targets, opportunities, accounts, but most importantly, our activities.  While maintaining current customers is important, it’s as important to remember where the current customer base came from, and having that influence how and what we prioritize.

No Distraction

It is interesting to work with new sales people, when they have no distractions, no base, no proposals, nothing to do but identify and pursue pipeline opportunities.  These newbies have nothing else to focus on but that.  Then their success begins to chip away at not only the available time for prospecting, but their willingness to prospect.

It’s the latter that surprises me. There is no taking away from the fact that prospects have to be sold, and clients have to be serviced, but at what point does a quota carrying rep decide that they “have earned the right not to prospect”. An actual quote from a 12-year veteran has made quota in about half those years, but only twice in sequential years.  When something is important, you make time for it. This is as true for business as it is personal wants.  Which may lead one to conclude that they do not want to prospect.

Calendar timeBut for those who do want, and are genuinely struggling to pack everything they need to do into a work week, the only option is to get ahead of it, and commit to it in advance by blocking it out in your calendar.  Studies have shown that we are less likely to blow-off an activity that is in our calendar, than those that not, despite best intentions.  Most reps only have client meetings and team meetings in their calendar, important, but no more important than prospecting.  Real pros I work with, set appointments in their calendars to do research, to segment their opportunities, and time to prospect.  They also build time into their calendar for legitimate distractions, this way when they do need to be sidetracked while prospecting, they have time “banked” away to make sure they can complete their task, prospecting.  If the distraction or “client emergency” does not happen, then you have time in the bank for other high-value activities, like maybe prospecting.

Those who plan their prospecting times in advance, avoid the peaks and valleys that drain so many sellers.  The emotional rollercoaster, the misspent energy, all avoided by setting an appointment with themselves to secure appointments with their next big client.

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3 Reasons ‘Choice’ is Killing Your Pipeline0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Most people think they like choice, they think, contrary to practical experience, that choice empowers them, giving them “control”, and a sense of being in charge of their own destiny.  The reality is often different, and giving prospects choices can have unanticipated consequences.  While there are some pros and cons, there are three reasons you should not give choices, especially where you don’t have to, and you’re just doing it because you ran out of ideas.  So, in no specific order or importance here are three reasons not to provide choice.

Less Revenue

Less Revenue – I have heard from many that they give a choice of product, and related cost, as a means of helping the customer feel less pressure, and the opportunity to not go with the highest priced option.  I have had professional sales people tell me they give three choices, because they know that most will go for the middle tier.

I have a client that sell components, by far his best product is the middle of the three he presents clients.  Most clients love it, and give off “buying signals” indicating they will go for option B, till pricing comes up, when and most revert to the lower priced component.  When we changed the approach to presenting the best option, one price, one decision, much easier to make than three.  Quicker sales, more revenues, no unhappy customers.

Authority

Authority – One reason the above works so well, is that his sales people now are presenting themselves as subject matter experts.  They first spend time understanding what the prospect is trying to achieve and then present the right option.  Usually it is the former middle choice, but the reps often present the lower and higher cost point alternatives, based on what they uncover during discovery.

As a subject matter authority, you build the right to make a recommendation based on your expertise, experience, and support of the company.  Imagine if you went to an expert for help, a doctor, and after they talk to you, examine you, and share their prognoses, and then offered you three options.  Would you not look to them as the expert, to make a recommendation, it should not be like going to a restaurant, given a menu, and pick you cure.  One of the upsides of conducting a good discovery, is along the way you are earning the credibility to make a recommendation; I guess when you don’t have that credibility, you reach for the menu – look out for the sales bots, they’ll do it better.

Inability To Choose

Inability To Choose – We have all been in situations where given three or four choices, we ended up leaving with none.  This is not limited to impulse buying or something not having importance.  While not all, the reality is that many of the deals that end in no-decision, do so because the buyer could not make a choice, and ‘abandoning’ was the easiest option, of course had we not started them down the ‘option’ path, they may have found it easy to say yes to one thing, recommended by an expert at a rational price.

A friend expressed it best when speaking about having his car worked on.  He hates having to choose which type of oil he should pick when he has his car service, or choosing winter tires.  He is typical of the first example.  He is convinced that the highest priced tires are overpriced, with extras he feels he does not need.  He doesn’t want to be that guy that opts for the cheapest, after all his daughter often drives the car.  So, he goes for the middle, but here is the rub.  He never feels good, always second guessing, which makes the purchase much more dramatic and stressful than need be.  As he says “if the mechanic would just tell me what I need, why, and which one best does the job, I’d buy that one, even if it was the top of the line.  But when I have to make a choice, I’m never quite sure about the choice, and I just don’t feel good about it.

Choice is yours, want to make you buyer feel good about dealing with you, don’t make it about price, make it about them, and your ability to recommend and deliver on the best “solution” for them.

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The Change Game0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

No matter how one slices it, sales is a game of change. If you are the incumbent, the best way to avoid a client to change vendors, is to continuously introduce change in how your product helps the client achieve their objectives. If you are not the incumbent, then it is all about regime change. Both require that you capture and maintain the buyer’s focus, and have them adopt the change you represent. At its core, it is about first changing how the buyer/prospect views their reality. To do that, you need to do two things:

  1. Fully understand the buyer’s current view of their current state
  2. Get them to change their current view of their current state

Buyer Current State

This is not as easy as it first sounds, which why many sellers ignore it, and pay the price. Main reason is that it requires that we completely let go of our product and service, and immerse ourselves, not so much in the buyer’s view of our product, but their world, how they see it, where they see it going, why and how. Before you can change their view of their current state, you need to “live it”, so you can look at the issue the way they do, not the way you hope they do, or think they do.

It has been shown that opportunities have a greater likelihood to fall apart long before the talk of vendor or selection begins. Once they (buyer(s)), agree that there is a specific worth addressing, they then go on to see if and how it can be addressed. It is only once everyone agrees that that it is indeed addressable and how, does the internal conversation on the buy side turns to with whom, i.e. which vendor(s).

They may turn to the vendor community for information in the middle phase, but it is really for subject specific not product or solution specific info. Many vendors confuse this as a signal to pitch, when the buyer is actually looking for insights on the issue, how it impacts them and their objectives, and what others have done, see, and thought about in this stage, they are not looking for product stuff, they are not there yet mentally. And if you lead with product at this stage, you are putting your chances of being considered in the selection stage at risk.

So without an understanding of their current state, and how that state informs their views and actions; you will not be able to see what it will influence their views in a way that leads them to a view, which by extension, leads your product. Changing their state, their objectives, and the filters blinders, starts with you adopting their view, not hoping that they adopt yours.

Key here are their objectives, if you can align to those, especially those agreed on internally in the first stage “is this addressable?”, then you will be in a position to share how others have dealt with things, not how your product changed things.

The goal is to change their vision and outlook, and the impacts they want to deliver to their organization, it is not about getting them to change vendors to do the same as they are with their current vendor, with slightly fresher hue. It really is about doing something different, not just doing things differently #sellbetter Click To Tweet.

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tango basic steps

What Has To Happen Next?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

A simple question at first glance, but when you ask people in a given vocation or profession, it is staggering how many different answers one gets, and more stunning is the number of people who can’t give you a clear answer. Most read way too much into the question, and try to come up with elaborate responses that go well beyond and away from the question. “How you get across the road?”, is very different than Why did the chicken cross the road?” In sales, I find the responses break down to roughly three group: (1) Those who understand and answer the question asked; (2) Those interpret the question, changing it slightly in the process, and the response fits their repurposed question, both misleading the inquisitor and leaving them wanting; (3) People who don’t know, and can’t be bothered worrying about it.

If you are in sales, especially leading a team, this should be a major concern, especially if you “have a sales process” you think is driving your success. It may be more accurate that it is driving reps’ results, not how they achieve those results; in fact, if they did follow the process, the result would be more success. The good things is that in sales, you can get ahead of this and ensure greater success and results.

Next time your team is together, (and you can do this on your own if you are a rep), ask for a volunteer, and ask them the following:

“Who is your best prospect?” Not meant to be a trick question, but it is interesting the responses you get, but that’s for another post.

After they tell you who their best prospect is, follow up with this question (phrase it any way you like):

“Given where you are in the cycle, what is the very next thing that needs to happen to move the sale forward?”

You would think for experienced sales people, especially if they have been in the role for a few years and have been close to or at quota, meaning they have successfully executed the cycle several times, the answer should not only be straight forward, but something they are thinking about.

Those in group (1), always respond by telling what action has to be taken by them, the buyer, and mutually. Why that action, and the specifics it will lead to in moving the sale ahead, including what has to happen next, once this next step is completed, and the consequences and contingencies in case things do not go as planned. They can clearly and in specific detail provide the ingredients and recipe for making next happen.

Those in group (2), take the question, add some subjectivity to the mix, and hear “what should happen next”, then proceed to give you an answer that is more strategic and theoretical than the question required. Instead of speaking to specific actions and tools, as group (1) did, they general outcomes, skipping the how to make those outcomes happen. “We need to get buy in”; “we need to identify the decision maker(s)”; and other no-brainer feel good statements, but all absent the “what has to happen” for those things to come to be.

tango basic stepsYou can avoid this by being more specific in your process, perhaps start by changing the label to sales-flow, allowing you to get more prescriptive. Don’t assume that because your process calls for understanding the buying/decision process, that everyone on the team knows the specific steps they’ll need to execute to actually do that. On the other hand, many in group (2), when given specific and granular steps, improve their game and results measurably. There is a reason why NFL playbooks have drawings and arrows, Arthur Murray has the footprints on the floor, and Broadway stages have markers. Once you have that, they will need to practice, not just to get it, but once they got it, practice to master, and to ensure that you can adjust when the buyer and markets change.

Last, inspect, inspect that they are doing it, each step, as it has to happen. Don’t just assume they are doing it based on results (yikes), do you think gets a Tom Brady pass? Sure he wants to get to the end-zone, but getting there takes one down at a time, knowing exactly what has to happen after each play.

BTW, if you are wondering why I didn’t get to group number (3), don’t worry about it, they didn’t notice.

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right rich

You Can Be Right And Rich0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

I am not sure where it originated, but we have all heard the question/expression: “Do you want to be right – or do you want to be rich?” A question many managers have asked, and fewer reps have answered. While there is no right or wrong answer, most managers tell me they prefer to hear ‘rich’ more so than ‘right’, you decide. There is a variation I deal with daily when working with sales people and how many, not all, but many approach the process.

While most professions seem to welcome the opportunity to be introduced to different methodologies, thought process, etc., it seems to be different. Again, many, not all, let’s go with the crowd favourite: 80/20, so about 80% of reps, actively resist training, development and improvement. Given that less than 60% of reps seem to make quota, you would think there may be a different view.

It seems that as soon as they hear that training is coming, many hear “they don’t think I know what I am doing, so they are bringing someone in to change things, worse, change me.” Whereas the outlook should be, I am good at what I do, this is an opportunity to do even better. What is even more profound is that the 20%, those who are consistently rocking it, have the opposite outlook, and frankly attitude, while participating in training and development; they bring curiosity, and embrace the new techniques and quickly assimilate them into their success.

It seems that many are looking for validation of what they are doing, and how they are doing it, while ignoring new elements they could benefit from. I have spoken to many peers who see a similar reaction, reps spending time and energy defending something that is not under attack, leaving one to wonder what’s going on. It seems many see it as an opportunity for a pissing contest than a way to make improvement to how they sell, and let’s face it, by extension make more sales and commissions.

Unfortunately, it is a contest with few winners. It’s not like we have a choice but to constantly improve how we sell. Next fiscal year will bring an increased quota, more competition, enhanced customer expectations and demands; the one thing you will not see an increase in is time. Whatever you delivered this year, you will need to deliver more next year, in no more time than this year. And while this may be as obvious as day, it seems to be lacking in the day to day, week to week planning of many reps.

I understand the realities of change, but at the core, what we sell is change, no matter the product or service. When you talk to most sellers the thing that frustrates them most is prospects who are close to change, guard and defend things as they are now. They are then approached by sales people, most of whom (80%), are doing things the same way as the other, and the very same way they did last year and the years before.

right richIf the name of the game is change, so if you want to “demo” anything, demo your ability to change to make improvements and win. But if your approach is no different this than last or two years ago, what are you communicating to your prospect beyond the words? “well he is saying some new shit, but he is selling the same way.” The incongruity is too big to miss. Can they help conclude that “They’re selling as they always have, the same must hold through for their product, I am safe to go with the same decision I made last time.”

On the other hand, if you approached things differently, you may get a different result. This is not to say that you need to make wholesale changes every time, but you need to change enough to lead a conversation you can both benefit from.

By not being defensive, and open to adding to, augmenting, enhancing and changing how you sell, you may find that you can be both right and rich.

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dad teaching

Be The Play0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Being a holiday Monday here in Ontario, thought we’d look at something that can get you to think enough not to distract from the sun and water, yet enough to count. So for that our topic for today is that there two views (often more, but at least two) into every issue. As a seller, be that an individual rep, a specific VP or an entire company, must be full cognizant, understand the other view if they are to succeed. Let’s be clear, I am not suggestion you have to agree, but to sell better and more, you have to be aware, and include in your calculations and actions. Failing to do that will cost you sales and time, neither most sellers can afford to lose much of.

Some time ago I post a piece looking at how people sell like they buy, and buy like they sell, this becomes a problem when the leader of the sales team buys everything on price. This was played again recently when I approached a graphics design company. Spoke with the owner and president, we identified some areas to explore, but he wanted to do it through his VP of sales. While this makes perfect sense, it is already an indicator that there are differing views internally, we’ll see.

dad teachingAs you would expect, the VP did not feel that the team needed any attention at all, and was clearly speaking because the conversation started “upstairs”. After performing the customary “Seasoned Team” ritual, we got down to business. My first question was about markets they were currently in, and those they were targeting; his first question was about price. Five minutes in, two of which were introductions, we are down to price. Not what kind of outcomes I have been able to deliver against, not what are the dials he is trying to turn in his sales approach and team, what we do, how we do it; with a hint to any of that, boom, price. Now I know he was trying to take me down the budget path, not so much to blow me off, but to be able to offer a sacrifice other than training: “look at all the other better ways we could spend that money, the team is good.” If only the numbers supported that fantasy.

More importantly, how do you think his team sells? I would bet on price. How much help is he to his people when they come to him with prospect question other than price? Especially since price is such a here and now issue, and leaders need to be forward looking.

This goes beyond the price question, if a leader cannot clearly project the future state of his/her organization, it is difficult to get your reps to do the same with prospects. Which is why many default to asking “what’s your pain point” or some other equally lame question, like “Don’t you agree it would be great if you deliver 11% more widgets?” “Of course it would, except nothing in this meeting thus far indicates you can do that, so let me ask, how much?” Whereas a question about their desired future state, expressed not in the form of a question, but as an outcome, one other customers have achieved and leveraged.

If you are a sales leader, be that VP, or front-line manager, next time you in the midst of making a purchase, ask yourself how you’re reacting, and what would you sales team see in your behavior, and how they would deal with it. If all they hear from mom/dad is price, what do you think they talk about when they are out there on their own?

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