Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The New Salesman: Square Peg, Round Hole

My assistant came back to the office today with a distinct look of disgust.  Apparently she did some last minute dress shopping over lunch.  She went on to explain how infuriating it is when a salesperson tries to cram a “hideous mess of a dress” on to anyone willing to buy.  She further explained how she had met this salesperson before and was given a song and dance about how great an outfit looked, when clearly it was just meant for a mannequin.  This trip, she tried to avoid this salesperson and with good reason.  While I laughed at her fitting room trials, I couldn’t help but think about how it’s not just mall employees who push their way in for a buck.

Tips for the New Guy – Don’t sell a square peg for a round hole
Want to ruin your career?  Just establish a reputation as a guy who “force fits” the wrong product into customer applications. Customers will never forget or forgive you for it. 

I call the practice selling square pegs for round holes. Allow me to share a war story.  Join me as we hop into Mr. Peabody’s WayBack Time Machine.  We’ll set the dials to the 1980s. 

One of my friends was working for an automation company.
  The company had just launched a brand-new product – but it was a dog.  The technology was too little and too late for the market.  Nearly everyone-- customers, competition and salespeople, recognized the issues.  But the upper management of the company insisted the product could be sold.  When it didn’t sell, they instituted a large ($1,000 back when this was a lot of money) bonus for anyone making a sale.

My friend leveraged all the trust one of his customers put in him to force the product into their operation.  He collected the bonus check, and prepared to live happily ever after.   But problems soon showed their ugly face.    

The product didn’t work in the application.  The customer (and my friend) worked weeks trying to get some level of suitable operation.  But again, it was the wrong product.  And, even though networking wasn’t the same back then as it is today (no internet, no users groups, no on-line forums), the customer soon came to realize others knew about the problem well before their purchase.

They felt burned, ripped off and abused.  And, my friend was caught in a terrible position.  He had sacrificed the customer’s trust for a hand full of bucks.  He sold a square peg for a round hole.  Branded: My friend was permanently branded as a guy not to be trusted. 

Here are three rules to follow in avoiding the label
Rule One - If your company doesn’t provide the right solution to the customer’s problem, don’t try to force fit a product into the wrong application.

If your product doesn’t work well in a hot environment, explain to the customer why you think this time you need to NOT make the sale.  Doing this demonstrates your integrity and adds to your reputation as a trusted adviser. 

If you know a competitor has the right product, offer to assist the customer in selecting the correct solution.  If multiple competitors offer an appropriate solution, I recommend directing the customer to the competitor with the lowest overall competitive threat.  Online sellers fit this bill, because they rarely push for other business.  Mostly, they simply process the order.  Some sellers have even offered to purchase the product
and pass it along to their customer at cost.  Either way, you send a strong message to your customer – you are a guy who can be trusted.
Rule Two – If no real solution exists, explain the risks of using your product.

Sometimes, no real solution exists.  Every now and then we run across an application where no real solution exists.  This is a rare occurrence but it does happen. 

Your solution may work, but may not last very long.  The product in your catalog may need to be modified to work.  There are probably risks.  Make certain the customer understand what might happen and that you are only making the suggestion because you can think of no other solutions.  The customer wins and you might still make a sale.

Rule Three – Your solution doesn’t have to be the best on the planet, if it works for the customer.

This whole “square peg -- round hole” issue confuses many new sellers.  They wonder if their products and solutions must be the absolute best on the planet.  The answer is no.  If your product works for the customer and solves their problem, it works. 

There may be other products that run faster, cost a little less, and have a sexier connection, but solving problems is your stock in trade.  The competitor’s product may run for a million operations, but if the application calls for 10,000 cycles and yours will work.  You have done the job.

A final word…
There are a few sales managers out there who are looking for salespeople to “force fit” their company’s offering everywhere.  Most times, it comes as a lapse in judgment.  On rare occasions, it’s a deeply seated case of machismo taken to extreme.

My friend’s management team tried to slam products.  They offered outrageous rewards.  My friend bought into the program.  He got his bonus but lost a more valuable thing – customer trust.

When your manager insists you sell the wrong product, get clarification.  Are you missing something?  Is your manager missing something?  If it’s the macho “I can sell anything to anybody” issue, we need to talk.  Give us a call.

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