Set Expectations Like an Improviser

Are you in sales? Do you have a boss or have people working for you? Got people working with you? Do you work with people? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there are people who expect things from you.

The question is, are their expectations consistent with the reality you are prepared to deliver? Will you meet their expectations, or will you disappoint?

Half the answer lies in what you deliver. The other half lies in what they expect.

THE INCOMPLETE SET

Last month, I placed an order with a marketing company. They told me, “Your marketing product will go live in no more than 30 days. Maybe sooner.”

That’s expectation setting. They gave me an expectation about timeline.

They also told me that I’d have a “success manager” assigned to me and my marketing efforts, and that I’d hear from that manager to get my input along the way.

They gave me specific time when I should expect completion, but no specifics about when I’d hear from the “success manager.” Because they left a gap in setting expectations for me, I filled the gap with my own expectations about what the interim timeline would look like. Because I set my own expectations about their service, they set us both up for confusion, disappointment, and anxiety.

Indeed, two weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from anyone, I touched base with the sales rep who brought me on board to ask how things were progressing. “The holidays have created a backlog. I’m sure you’re still on target. You’ll hear from someone soon.”

Cool. Reassuring. A little bit.

When I called again a week after that, I heard, “There’s a bit of a backlog because of the holidays, but I’m sure your release will happen on time.”

Less reassuring. Kind of vague.

When I heard from his colleague that same day, “I received your search landing page today, and you’ll see it for review in about an hour,” that truly reassured me.

Why?

THE COMFORT OF SPECIFICITY

Was it the tangible progress that reassured me? Because someone had seen actual work done on my project…?

Well, that was part of it.

A bigger part of it, however, is that the info they gave me was specific. It was not a general assurance like, “I’m sure you’re still on target.” Or, “You’ll hear from someone soon.”

I heard instead, “I’m currently looking at this specific aspect of our deliverables to you.” She said, “You’ll see it in one hour.”

It was nice that I’d see it so quickly. But, “tomorrow morning by 10AM,” would have been almost as good. It’s the level of specificity that gave me something to hold on to. My worries are gone. And I know when I should start worrying. I can directly compare the reality on the ground with the expectation they set for me.

IMPROV’S LESSON FOR SETTING EXPECTATIONS

What I’d like to impart to you is a bit of wisdom I learned by training as an improviser…

The more specific you are with others in your life — those who work with you, live with you, depend on you, employ you, work for you, buy from you, sell to you… whatever — the more specific you are with others, the more comfortable they will be.

And guess what, the less likely they are to irritate you as well. I think I got under my vendor’s skin a bit, by writing a few times to ask about the status of my order.

What would have saved me the worry that my order would be late? What would have saved my vendor the irritation of my, “Are we there yet?”

One thing would have saved us both the stress — practicing the improviser’s tool, “Be Specific.” Had they been specific, not only about the deadline for the finished product, but about the timeline of every deliverable along the way, I’d have rested comfortably and left them to do their work.

BE SPECIFIC

So, dear reader, the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone else is looking to you for answers about what to expect:

  • When will you…?
  • What will X look like?
  • How will costs be calculated?
  • What do you like about…?
  • What are the metrics for success?
  • Where can I find X?
  • How can I attain X results?

Be as specific as you possibly can.

Expectations are like bowling. When you’ve got a seven-ten split, you can’t expect to knock down both pins by simply rolling the ball down the alley “that way.” You’ve got to hit the seven pin just so, in order to send it spinning into the ten. That’s a specific task.

So is communication. You’ll be rewarded for your specificity.


2 Ways to Sell Anything -- Sales Strategy

There are essentially two ways to go about selling anything. Either sales strategy can work if we define “work” as “lead to a sale.” One way will leave you and your client happier, more satisfied, and with a stronger relationship. The other will not.

To illustrate this, let me tell you the stories of my last two visits to a car lot and the sales strategies they reflect.

WAY #1: HOW TO MAYBE MAKE A SALE & CERTAINLY ALIENATE YOUR PROSPECT

Yesterday, I visited a car dealership for my first test-drives as I consider buying my next car. I’ll be buying very soon.

The sales rep (Bret) who approached me as I peered in some car windows was a young guy, inexperienced, but pleasant. Brought me some keys, accompanied me as I drove two cars, chatted me up, and learned about me and my life. He missed a few opportunities to dig into my purchase plans, but overall, a pleasant experience. So far, so good.

When he learned that I train sales teams, he said, “I want to introduce you to my sales manager.” That’s where things took a turn for the worse.

WHAT THE SALES MANAGER DID TO ALIENATE ME

Mr. Manager said, “Tell me how Bret did. Just a second,” and he tried to get me to leave Bret in the lobby while we went outside. He wanted me to critique Bret’s sales performance where only he could hear. I refused to leave Bret anxious and alone in the lobby.

Mr. Sales Manager went on to:

  • Express frustration about the state of one of the cars I drove — not from empathy for me, but because he himself was angry that it wasn’t up to his standards.
  • Chastise an employee of his in front of me and in front of other employees.
  • Tell me of a customer he’d asked to leave his lot because she was rude to his employees, berating his staff.  (“Good,” I thought.) Then he said, “I told her she’d be happier somewhere else.” (He lied to her.)
  • Tell me repeatedly, “I’d really like to sell you a car,” even after I said, “I’ve got to go pick up my daughter.

He accomplished all this in under 10 minutes.

HOW MR. MANAGER COULD HAVE DONE BETTER

He could have:

  • Said, “Bret’s a new sales rep. He’s been working hard. Would you tell Bret what he’s done well as your salesman?” Then, “How could he improve?” He could have acted in Bret’s interest to develop his skill instead of only to get some evaluation without building Bret up.
  • Thought and framed his disappointment about the car’s condition not being up to snuff from a standpoint of empathy for me. “I’m sorry we didn’t meet our own standards. I’d have liked for you to have a better experience. I’d have liked for you to see our best work.”
  • Held his criticism for his employee for a time they were alone, without customers and other staff around. There was nothing urgent going on.
  • Told that rude woman who was berating his staff, “I don’t need your money. I understand you’re angry. I don’t want anyone to talk to my staff that way. Please either apologize, or look for a car at another dealership.”
  • Heard and respected that I needed to leave to pick up my daughter.
  • Focused his thinking and speaking on helping me instead of being self-centered. “I want to sell you a car,” is none of my business. To be blunt, it’s not my job to care about his sales goals.
  • Come from a standpoint of service. “I want to be sure you get a car that’s going to really serve your needs.” Or, “I want to make the often obnoxious experience of buying a car easy, efficient, and pleasant for you. I hope that will win your business.”

Your customers are not there to serve you with a purchase. Rather, they’re expecting your service in exchange for their purchase.

To be fair, I was probably never going to purchase a car from Bret or his manager.

Because I’m loyal to Steve.

I stopped at Bret’s dealership because I’ve just started looking, and I like to see what’s out there, drive a few cars. The dealership was convenient at a time when I had an hour.

Two years ago, when I was shopping for a car, I knew just the car I wanted: a 2012 Jetta Sportwagen. I called one dealership that had one, and I was directed to Steve. (You can find Steve at this link. This is not a paid advert. Steve earned my appreciation and loyalty.)

WAY #2: HOW TO MAYBE MAKE THE SALE & CERTAINLY PLEASE PEOPLE

When I arrived at Steve’s two years ago, he greeted me like a guest, went out of his way to make me comfortable, and didn’t try to sell me anything. I’ve been telling the story and recommending Steve ever since.

HOW STEVE WON MY LOYALTY

  • Steve let me run my car buying process.
  • On the phone I said, “I’d like to drive the car on your lot, then I’m going to drive another car in the next town over. Then I’m going to weigh my options, and make a purchase.” Steve said, “Ok. Great.”
  • When I arrived to drive the car, Steve greeted me warmly, humanly, authentically without any sign of a forced smile.
  • He had the car running and the seat warmer on already. It was a cold day.
  • He spoke a little, but mostly let me listen to the car and do my thing as he rode along with me on the test drive.
  • When I said, “Thanks. I’m going to drive the other one tomorrow, and you may hear back from me,” he did not reply, “How can I put you in a car today?”
  • When I called the following afternoon and asked to drive the car again, Steve was warm again, not annoyed at my request.
  • Steve usually sells new Lexuses. But when I arrived, Steve had done a bunch of research into how to sync my phone with the car’s bluetooth. He showed me how. He went out of his way to make everything easy and pleasant for me.
  • He called me a week after I bought the car and asked how it was treating me.
  • He called a year later and said, “Happy anniversary.”

TO SUM UP — A Pushy Way, and a Helpful Way

In short, “Way 1”, focusing on yourself and the sale, pushing your will on the buyer may lead to a sale — once. And it will almost always alienate people, even if they buy.

“Way 2”, focusing on your prospect and seeking to serve them, looking at things from the perspective of their interests, will often lead to a sale — if it’s good for the buyer. And it will almost always make you friends and fans who’ll come back and refer others.

Bret’s manager was all about Bret’s manager. Steve was all about me. I’m sure Steve is acting strategically at some level to maximize the likelihood of a sale. But his strategy is about how to give me the best experience with no pressure.

Pressure will sometimes win a sale, but it will not win anyone’s heart. Stepping into a prospect’s life with the intention of helping to improve it if you can — that wins hearts. Steve won my heart, so I’ve referred business to him. And I’ve called him again to tell him what I’m looking for in my next car. He sold me a car once. He did it right. And now he’s got my business anytime I need a car.

Don’t be like Bret’s manager. Be like Steve.


Improve internal Sales Communication

"Going Great" and Other BS Sales Reps Say Sometimes

Improve internal Sales Communication

If you’ve got sales reps working for you (really, if you’ve got anyone working for you), and you’re getting all the accurate information from them that you need, when you need it, then read no further. If you need any more accurate information than you’re getting, when you need it, read on.

 

A SALES TEAM PROBLEM

Engaged and high-performing sales VPs and sales managers are telling me about a problem they’re having with their reps. “My reps aren’t communicating well with me. And sales cycles are too long.” Sound familiar?

Maybe broken communication and too-long sales cycles sound like two problems, not one. I’m combining them because solving internal communication problems can shorten sales cycles. And the same fears that prevent communication also interfere in sales relationships and prohibit rapport building.

Fear of uncertainty leads to vague, unproductive communication.

BREAKDOWN 1

You ask your rep, “Rep, how’s it going with the Smith & Co. account?” Your rep smiles and replies, “It’s going great.”

Best case scenario, you and Rep are on the same page about what “great” means. Progress is happening swiftly. Prospect is eagerly moving through the buying process. Commitment leads to commitment, and a signed contract is on the way. And Prospect has been qualified as good a fit for you as you are for them.

But what if “great” means something different to the rep than it means to you? To you, “great” means the deal is making distinct and swift progress down the pipeline. To Rep, maybe “great” means that this difficult and demanding prospect hasn’t been making demands this week. That’s easier on Rep, but could actually be a sign of a stall.

Worst case scenario, but a very common one, “great” is not actually in any way related to the deal. It’s a default response. Like, “How are you doing?” and “fine.” It’s just an effective way Rep has found to end the conversation with you, the supervisor, “so I can get back to work.” It’s a method reps use to avoid looking bad in front of supervisors. Rep doesn’t have to face your disappointment or their own if everybody accepts “great” as an acceptable response.

BREAKDOWN 2

You ask your rep when the Acme Ltd deal is going to close. Rep replies, “By month end.” But the deal doesn’t close by month end. Was Rep simply mistaken? Did something unexpected and unpredictable come up, or was the roadblock expected and predictable? Or, did Rep knowingly promise you a pipe-dream in order to delay delivering bad news they knew was coming?

Well meaning reps, even high-performing ones, often dodge, delay, defer effective internal communication. “If I report green, and then bust my butt, I’ll get this account to green before it hits the fan. Everything will be cool. I’ll make sure it becomes cool. No one will have to know that there was ever a problem.”

BREAKDOWN 3

You ask Rep about the pending Anonymous & Associates deal, and Rep says, “They asked me to check back next fiscal year.”

You say, “I thought the contract was a done deal, all but signed.”

“Yeah.” Rep says, “I thought so too. They changed their mind.” You ask what happened. Rep bows her head. She tells you about a blunder she made on a sales call last month, putting her foot in her mouth. She apologized at the time, but the whole tenor of the relationship changed. And she just couldn’t pull the deal out of the resulting nose dive. If Rep had only come to you immediately, you know you could have helped mend the damage done, and come out ahead. If only Rep had told you at the time.

A SALES TEAM SITUATION

Your job as a sales team leader is to increase revenues, to improve systems and strategies, and the get ever greater results from the resources at hand. It’s a sales-team leader’s job to get more this year out of well-meaning reps who are doing good work than we got last year.

Many people in your role, however, struggle to get the granular, specific information they need to assess, project, and support. Sales Directors say they’re learning about problems in the pipeline later than they wish. If I’d known earlier,” they mourn, “I could have helped. And my projections would have been more accurate.”

And when sales reps project a front that, “It’s all good,” it can be difficult to assess where they need coaching, and to support them in advancing their skill and to improve their results.

Does this sound like your life? Do the well-meaning (even high-performing) reps on your team keep information to themselves when it would serve the company (and themselves) better if they’d share it?

You need a collaboration boost.

 

AN ADEPTABLE SALES PERSPECTIVE

That’s why I want improvisers on my sales team. It’s not just that their presence and focus on others create great relationships with prospects that convert them to clients, keep them coming back, increase referral business, and generate gratitude (as described in an earlier blog post). They’re a part of an open system of information that allows the whole organization to thrive, improve, and succeed.

Teams trained to improvise (in programs like Adeptability Training) have more fluid and open information flow — and thus they’re more adaptive, more responsive, and more effective collaborators. Improvisers share information — even information that shows their vulnerabilities — freely and frequently. Sharing information is how they get ahead.

Even before Adeptability Training, you can start to practice its principles today. At your next sales-team meeting, coach your team to put this one into practice. We call this principle “Be Obvious.”


A SOLUTION

Ask your team to “Be Obvious” with you. Tell them, “Nothing goes without saying.”

People who practice “Be Obvious” say more about more. You can ask for more information — and get it — by saying, “Nothing’s too obvious to tell me.” And you, as a supervisor, can be obvious right back. When Rep tells you, “Everything’s great with Smith & Company,” you can say, “I don’t know what ‘great’ means in this circumstance. Tell me more.”

This only works if you tell them as well, “When you come to me early with a problem, I will have your back.” Provide them with the coaching, the support, and the resources they need to excel. Sales reps thrive with support, and faith, and freedom. Most of us in sales are relational types. We may have lone-wolf tendencies, but we get a lot from the relationships that nurture us.

Make a game of it. You might say, “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then say what you think no-one should miss. “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then ask the question whose answer may be obvious. “I know this might be obvious, but have you asked Prospect this question.”

Ridiculing people for being “Captain Obvious” is a common thing in the culture at large, and in many company cultures as well.

“Be Obvious” culture, however, is far more effective. And with a little practice, feedback, and having fun with it, “Be Obvious” can easily be installed within a few weeks.

You’ll never go back.

When your reps are “obvious” with you, you’ll suddenly have three times the opportunities to provide coaching inside the sales process. With more information flow, you can close more business and fine-tune your sales process to truly respond to the particulars of your business, your product, and your clients.

As you repeatedly ask for more information, your reps will learn that vagueness won’t fly. They’ll stop saying, “Going great,” and they’ll actually start giving you details before you have to ask for them.

BONUS ADEPTABLE TOOL

Be Specific.

Ask your team to give you more specifics, greater detail — as a rule. This principle walks hand-in-hand with “Be Obvious.”

The tough part for you… Have the patience to keep asking. Dig into the details, and don’t take “fine” for an answer. Be kind. Be patient. Keep at it. The folks on your team will become fonts of specific information you can use to shepherd deals, notice skill gaps, give an assist, and coach effectively.

Your team will thrive. You will exceed objectives.

 

TRAINING VS. INSTRUCTION

I make a distinction between training and instruction. Instruction provides information. It takes considerable work to implement. You’ve got to bring considerable, deliberate attention to bear.

Training is experiential and creates habit. Once trained, people behave as trained by default.

 

If this sounds useful, book a call. We’ll help make it easier to keep the information flowing on your team.


Powerful Networking Approach for Sales - And for Everything Else

I’ve learned some things about networking in recent years that I wish I’d known a long time ago.

LOST OPPORTUNITY

If I’d known 20 years ago, I’d be rich now, and my work-life (which I’ve liked) would have been more fulfilling. Networking is different from prospecting. (And, by the way, even my prospecting looks more now like networking than simply looking for business.)

When I go to a networking event, I hope I’ll meet people with whom I’ll be able to do business. Doing business is how I eat. Most people “do networking” from within that hope. And they hate networking. And therefore, networking doesn’t work for most people like it works for those few high performers who seem to close business out of nowhere without breaking a sweat.

I used to suck at networking. I didn’t understand that in order to be effective, networking must be separate from the hope that it’ll lead to business.

We’re told, “add value,” and, “just meet people.” We’re told, “Ask people about themselves.” We’re admonished, “Don’t be pushy.” And, “Be authentic, genuine.” Almost nobody tells us how, or even what those things mean. They don’t tell us that when we try to be authentic, the trying prohibits authenticity.

We don’t know that when we speak with people while holding a specific hope, we come off desperate and turn people off. In fact, many of your sales managers push you to close sales in a way that breeds feelings of desperation and prevents you from building rapport and closing business. No one tells us what to do with the profound desire to get business and make money.

THE HIGH PERFORMER’S DIFFERENCE

The highest performers are driven by the desire to make money, and they don’t allow that desire to co-opt their conversations. Their conversations are about people, and about being of help. Their conversations are not about how they’ll make quota.

The key is to step aside from hope when talking with others — whether in a sales conversation or simply networking. You can hope, of course. Don’t let me take that away from you. Heck, you can’t help it. To hope is human. Just let hope be a passenger, not a driver. You may have heard the adage, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope isn’t a healthy relationship driver either.

Drive your networking and your connecting instead with faith. Hope is specific. I hope you like me. I hope you’re a good prospect for me. I hope we can do business. I really hope I leave this event with at least one strong lead. It’s pretty easy to have your hopes dashed. So it’s pretty easy to come across as desperate or manipulative — salesy — as you pursue your hopes.

Faith is more general. It’s not so easily dashed. I have faith that if I do the right things, I’ll be successful. I have faith that if I help whomever is in front of me, some people I help will want what I sell, and want it from me. I have faith that I’ll close deals, even if I don’t close the particular deal in front of me now. I have faith that the deals I do close will be with the right people for the right reasons at the right time.

The profound connections I make with people through that authentic, calm, confident standpoint will lead to more business. When I do go to close the deal, with faith as my context, I’ll close because it’s the best way to help the prospect, not because I need the sale.


A STORY

This morning, Thomas Tomasevic, an accountability buddy of mine asked, “How was the networking event you went to last night?”

I spent two hours in a large room full of business people and left without a single substantial lead. I did not gain even one prospect who’s likely to ever buy the training packages that are my bread and butter.

It was one of the absolute best nights of networking of my life.

I told Thomas about every substantial conversation I had last night. Here, edited just a bit for clarity, is the email I sent him recounting my great success. (In parenthesis below, is a bit of commentary I’m adding now.)

8 STRATEGIES TO POWER-UP YOUR NETWORKING

What I did all in one very fruitful evening:

1. Remember people who aren’t there.

I met two people who mentioned they do business with maritime clients – I’m connecting them with an excellent maritime photographer I know. (That adds value to the people I met since they can refer their clients to a resource. It adds value to photographer Mihael Blikshteyn because he may get business through my recommendation.)

2. Compliment people where you see strengths they don’t.

One of the people I’m connecting with Mihael is an attorney who feels she is, “not good with people…” But she can be. Based on my experience — she was good with me — I told her, “You’re better with people than you think.” (I was being honest. She could sense that. That adds value to her by starting to replace a limiting belief that she told me hampers her ability to attract new business.)

3. Your network is like your brain. It’s not just about making new connections. Strengthen existing ones too.

I ran into at least five people I already knew and deepened those connections: I impressed one with the value I gave to someone else by shifting her perspective and offering to help with a problem she was facing. I promised another person whose services I’d used that I’d make a LinkedIn recommendation of praise I’d emailed to him privately. With another, I talked about valuable sources of content online, and we traded valuable business boosting resources. The fourth, I smiled at, shook his hand, and told him I’d missed him at the last Wednesday morning meeting we both frequently attend. With the fifth, I asked if he’d done business with a lead I’d sent his way that wasn’t a fit for my company, and asked if there was anything I could do to help with that lead.

4. Trite as it is, look for the win-win (and the win-win-win).

I met the corporate giving manager of a major Seattle theater, and started the relationship off strong. I shared with her my passion for theater, and agreed to mention her and her theater to leaders I meet who care about the arts. She agreed to send me podcast guests for “Mighty Good Work“. (That’s good for both of us. By introducing them to me, her donors get a free platform to tell their stories. I get a shortcut to creating the content my listeners want, and I expand the network of leaders I’m connected to.)

This was her first Seattle Chamber event, and she asked me if I thought they’d be useful to her. I gave her some counsel about how to approach choosing which events to attend and how to meet the C-Suite folks in the crowd who can help her expand her network of leaders and grow her donor base.

5. Make promises that you will later keep. Think long term.

I met a young guy from Boeing whose job I didn’t understand. He gave me some insight about selling into Boeing. He’s going to be looking for a new position, and I told him to reach out when he starts. (I’ll gladly help him land in a great situation for him. I’m glad to know a little more about how to succeed in pitching Boeing.)

6. People love help. They love to give it. They love to get it. Create relationships between others where there’s no direct benefit to you.

I met a young woman who’s a financial advisor. I helped her shift her thinking about sales from, “I must convince them,” to, “I must simply support and offer expertise – educating without judgment.” She’ll grow her business by being valuable, gaining trust, and building rapport without raising people’s defenses. She heaved a sigh of relief to have a new, more authentic way of thinking about sales. I learned she’s feeling daunted and lonely in the male dominant field. I promised to connect her with a dynamic woman who’s an experienced veteran in the same industry who will enjoy being a mentor to her. (This connection is already made, and they are both grateful for the opportunity to get to know one another. They’ll be talking in a few days.)

7. Help build others’ businesses.

The venue this event was held in had a unique character – I sought out the event sales person for the venue, and promised to connect her with a significant Seattle event planner I know who’s never held an event there, but who will appreciate the character of the venue. (Both the venue and the event planner will derive value — one gets new business. The other has new inventory to offer her clients that’s unique in the marketplace.)

8. Recognize opportunity.

The manager of programs and partnerships at the Seattle Chamber saw me in passing, and I smiled and said, “Hi!” Unprompted, she promised to call me next month. She’d like to have me give a presentation or two at upcoming chamber events.


[mk_image src=”https://www.theyesworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/meeting-web-e1476228228525.png” image_size=”full”]

A PERSPECTIVE

I’m likely to get no business directly from any of the connections I made last night. Even so, I view it as one of my most successful nights of networking. I didn’t change the world. Not their worlds, and not mine.

A different KPI

And… The number of people upon whom I made a positive impression… The number of people for whom I made a notable difference… That’s the KPI by which I’m measuring my success and giving my performance full marks. I’m still trying to give value as a result of the evening. You may have noticed all the links in this post helping you find the people I met.

All connections are good connections. They’re all promising connections. You never know what’ll come of the seeds of goodwill sewn indiscriminately.

And, I had fun. I felt very few moments of self-consciousness all night.

Escape Self-Consciousness

Some people are very self-conscious about networking, about approaching strangers, about telling people what they do, and about asking for business. Until recently, I was self-conscious about all that.

The opposite of self-conscious is you-conscious. Be conscious of the other person and how you can help them. It’s an easier approach, free of self-consciousness, if you begin each encounter with the thought, “Who are you? How can I help?”

Cultivate Gratitude

There’s a reason a book entitled The Go Giver is so popular among top performers. Gratitude is a currency.

Are you building and banking gratitude in your network? What shifts do you need to make to your expectations and intentions around networking in order to enjoy it more and to provide more value? Are you approaching your business relationships from an improviser’s mentality — where your plan is specific enough to drive your behavior, and open enough to accommodate serendipity and allow you to recognize subtle opportunities?

Resolve to put some gratitude in the bank today, and tomorrow. And tomorrow.


Ditch This Destructive Sales Approach Today

Most of the sales people I work with have the best interests of their clients at heart. They’re looking to make deals that’ll be great for all parties involved. But that’s not universal. I’m glad to say that the attitude I’m about to tell you about is rare and getting rarer. But it’s still out there, and it should be eradicated.

This attitude is bad. It’s bad for your relationships. It’s bad for your image. It’s bad for your business. It’s bad for your sales. In fact, I recently met a salesman who offered me an incredible deal on something I’ve been interested in for a long time. And, rather than give him the sale, I’d prefer to go without. By revealing this common sales approach, he lost a slam-dunk sale and a potentially powerful referrer.

The Setup

Last week at an event, I met two guys in sales. I learned from talking with them that they both sell group entertainment packages, each for a different company. Mark (names changed to protect the innocent) sells short, local cruises. He talked about the relationships he had with clients and prospects and about the experiences groups have when working with his company. He showed genuine interest in the work I do, and saw value in it for himself and his team. I’ll refer him business whenever I can.

John (names changed to protect the guilty) sells a thrilling, unique, and amazing ride-like experience to groups. I’ve known about the existence of his product for some time, and I have always thought, “I’m gonna do that. That looks fun!” At the end of our ten minute conversation, John failed to make one of the world’s easiest sales. He offered me the opportunity to do something I very much want to do. He offered it for free. A free thrilling, unique, amazing ride-like experience I’ve wanted to try, offered for free, and I will not accept his offer. I probably will never refer any business to him either.

Why?

At the beginning of our conversation, John told Mark and me the secret to sales. “The secret to sales,” he said, “is to make people feel obligated to you.” That’s the sales approach I’ve been talking about. I wondered immediately if he really meant that, and my improv training kicked in.

My job in improv is to make my partner look good. John was my partner in improv. I thought that statement didn’t make him look too hot, so I offered him an easy-shift alternative. “Yeah,” I said, almost as though I agreed with him. “Gratitude works for me. Express gratitude. Treat people in ways I’d be grateful to be treated. Offer whatever support I can. People respond well.”

“Gratitude, yeah,” replied John. “I guess it’s good to feel gratitude. Obligation, though. That’s the stuff. People feel like they owe you something, so they buy what you’re selling. Works no matter what.”

Ten minutes later, John gave Mark and me his card and offered both of us a free ride, “any time.” I want the ride. But I do not want a relationship where the currency is obligation. John had already pulled back the curtain to show the inner workings of his offer. It’s a spider web. He gives a free ride. He expects I’ll feel obligated to him for giving me something of value for free. And then, out of a sense of IOU, I’ll buy a group experience, and/or, I’ll refer others to him so he can sell them a group experience.

The thing is, I value relationships above all other resources in business and beyond. I’ll never send John business because I won’t deliberately expose anyone I care about to his spider web of expected obligation.

Relationships Matter

Obligation lives right next to resentment. When we feel obligated, that often leads us to feeling resentful of the obligation. “Crap. I’ve got to go do this thing for this person. I wish I didn’t have to.” By contrast, when we’re motivated by gratitude, the story we tell ourselves is different. “I’d like to go do this thing for this person. I’ll feel good to give back to someone who’s given to me.”

If I give to another with no expectations of obligation, then we are equals throughout the transaction, from beginning to end. The transaction is complete immediately after I’ve given. But the transaction stretches on with barbed hooks when I have an expectation of obligation. The transaction is only half complete after I’ve given, even if there’s no cash fee for my service. I’m left in a perpetual state of waiting, of incompleteness until you return the favor. I’ll exact my fee one day. And I’ll resent you if the return doesn’t come within my arbitrarily sensed frame of “right timing.”

Drop This Sales Approach

When I began this article, I expected my guidance would be, “Drop this “obligation” approach to selling. I realize now, as I close, that it’s bigger than that. The expectation of obligation is a symptom of a much bigger disease. The disease is viewing business and sales as a zero sum game. In a zero sum game, there is often seen to be a winner and a loser, but that’s not the only way of creating a zero-sum.

Here’s another zero-sum approach. If I give you something, then I am in the negative and you are in the positive. The world is out of balance until you right the imbalance by giving back to me. You owe me. If you owe me, I resent you. Every time.

A Giving Alternative

If I give to you with no expectation from you, we’re both increased. You’ve gotten my gift. I’ve got the reward of having made a difference in your day or in your life. And I’ve built good will in my community. On last week’s episode of our podcast, Mighty Good Work, guest Chris Free said that if you treat people in your community well, “they’ll call you when they need help. And sometimes… they pay you for that help.”

When you pour generosity into your community without specific expectation, then you find yourself in a community of gratitude and generosity. And, you’ve given people a sample of the value you have to give. It comes back.

In the world we now live in, of white papers and free webinars, and free-mium SaaS products, maybe this isn’t news. But not everyone is here yet in the win-win world we occupy. Sales isn’t zero sum. Win-win isn’t everyone sacrificing equally. The best business transactions elevate everyone’s position.We can both have the better end of the deal.

Be Equal

If John, with a genuine smile, had offered me a free ride, I would have taken it in a twinkling. And I’d have been grateful. He’d have lost nothing (one ride doesn’t cost much for them to provide). I would have gained a thrilling experience. He’d have the pleasure of giving. I’d have the pleasure of feeling grateful. And he’d have the added benefit that I’d be looking for opportunities to refer business to him. I’m a connector.

As it stands, I won’t refer him business, even though he’s made that same offer. His sales approach is toxic. And I won’t poison my relationships.

John’s not a bad guy. He just hasn’t learned to be equal. Business, sales, exists as an opportunity to increase everyone’s position all at once.