Since starting this site I’ve attracted a bit more attention than I anticipated. As is often the case on the internet, there have been many people with questionable spelling skills who have criticized me for one thing or another. For the most part I have a chuckle, forward their emails to my friends, and move on with my life.
However, there has been one criticism that struck a nerve and it has to do with salespeople. Some of my most popular posts have been explaining the common sales tactics used in the shady corners of the replacement window business specifically and the home improvement business more generally. I’ve tried to shine a light on some of the methods that salespeople use to get folks to overpay for new windows and judging by many of the positive comments, I’ve been able to help quite a few people. That really feels great.
The criticism that has stood out to me has to do with the reasoning that because I’m exposing these tactics I must not like, appreciate or understand salespeople. This bothers me for several reasons, but most specifically because I have a deeper respect for a serious professional salesperson than just about anyone you’ve ever met.
I’ve worked in professional sales for almost 20 years in several industries. I’ve known great salespeople and sales managers and of course I’ve known the bad ones too. There are several important misconceptions relating to what it means to be a salesperson and this feels like a good time to address them.
First, misleading someone into making a bad purchasing decision is not the job of a professional salesperson. I’ll tell you why.
Sales is a craft. It’s a hard job that many people are afraid to do. It takes work and it involves failure; often quite a lot of failure. The failure is different than a baseball player who strikes out. That is done on the field in front of the crowd. Everyone knows you put in the practice and tried hard. You still might get cut, but your efforts are seen.
The failure that you’ll experience in sales is solitary. It’s you sitting alone in your car on a cold rainy night listening to a voicemail from a customer saying they bought elsewhere. It’s knowing you needed that sale to hit your numbers and remembering that customer shaking your hand and looking you in the eye just last week saying he was going to work with you. It can take an emotional toll that folks with regular salaried 9-5 jobs just don’t understand.
Folks deal with that kind of pressure differently and unfortunately some choose to take the easy road. You can lie or mislead your customers and if you’re half way good at that you can make a living. Being good at deception doesn’t make you a good salesperson. Why not? It’s too easy.
James Brown once said there’s a big difference between a lounge act and the main stage. If you need to mislead your customers to get a sale you will never make it to the main stage. You may be able to pay your rent, feed your family, buy a nice car, and you may even pickup a few “salesperson of the month” trophies, but you’ll never really be successful if you base your success on lying to your customers.
After college I was a finance manager at a car dealership in Indiana. We helped to arrange loans, sold extended warranties and other insurance products. During that time an undercover piece aired on a national news magazine show (Dateline or 20/20 or one of those). The show exposed some shady dealings amongst finance managers and it included hidden camera footage. It was pretty bad and as an insider it was completely unsurprising.
I knew that I never wanted to be the bad guy featured on one of those shows. I also knew that some of our transactions were not always the type that would make my mom proud. The pressure to hit our numbers was strong and we had to face the music in the managers meetings every month. A professional salesperson faces a level of accountability that Jill in customer service or Mike at the sandwich shop will never understand.
I was faced with a choice. I could keep doing things the way I had been taught and hope Stone Phillips never came walking through my door, or I could find a better way. I hid a tape recorder on my desk (this is back when recorders actually had tapes) and I listened to my interactions with customers, the successes and the failures.
I asked myself if I would be comfortable with this tape being played on the nightly news and at first the answer was a resounding no. To keep things short here I’ll let you know that I made it my business to solve that problem. I sought additional information about my products, met with experts, and focused my efforts on selling the products that created the most value for my customers. Within just a few months I was generating the second highest profit per contract in the dealership group, I was making more money each month and I was doing it with my head held high. There’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money when you’re not deceiving people.
Unfortunately in the window business it’s not uncommon for a salesperson to be in a no-win situation. There are many companies out there offering bad deals every day and the salesperson often has little to no say in the matter. A company offering typical vinyl replacement windows at $1,000 – $1,200 per window is offering a pretty bad deal and that salesperson is faced with a difficult choice. They can tell you it’s a bad deal and quickly find the unemployment line or they can follow the script and try to get paid.
In cases like that it’s common for the sales manager to recruit salespeople who are not familiar with the business. That way they can teach them that all of their claims are actually true. The inexperienced salesperson will believe this for a while which of course makes his job much easier. You can see evidence of this in the comments on my posts. We have industry people posing about how their windows really are so great that they are worth that cost. I ask them what makes them so great and they say things like virgin vinyl, special glass, fully welded frames, “top quality”, or they just don’t respond.
In many if not most cases the salesperson actually believes that his products are better. Why wouldn’t they? Their boss seems like a knowledgeable guy and he’s explained all of this very thoroughly. Once the salesperson realizes that many other companies are offering the same or very comparable products with similar installation and similar warranties at a fraction of the cost they’re faced with a pretty hard choice. If they’re going to keep their job the only option is to lie to the customer, try to sell the contract and justify it as being a “good salesperson” in order to sleep at night.
The job of a professional salesperson is to understand the wants and needs of their customers, provide a solution to a problem and to do it in a way that represents a real value to the customer.
Of course if you’re the salesperson you’re going to emphasize the positives and downplay the negatives. You’re going to know what your competitors are offering. You’re going to show that customer why your solution is the best solution and you’re going to continue to put yourself out there facing rejection every day.
You’re going to offer a professional demonstration of your products and you’re going to present information clearly and accurately in order to make sure that customers know you’re the best deal going.
If you’re going to make it to the main stage you’re going to work on your craft over and over and over again. How are you presenting this option? What caused you to lose that deal? What caused you to get this one? What could have gone better today? You’ll need to put in a lot of work that never gets seen.
When your coworkers spend 2 hours in a Starbucks waiting for their next appointment you spend that time in your car listening to a recording of your last sales call and talking out loud to yourself as you’re role-playing a different customer interaction. Does that feel awkward at first? Sure. Is it effective? Absolutely. Is it harder than drinking a mocha latte and talking about football with your friends? Yep.
When I started my company I knew I wanted to create an environment where success could be achieved without compromising our character and we’ve been lucky enough to achieve that. We have any great salespeople on our team who work hard every single day to help our customers. I know as the owner of a business I have the opportunity to control my own environment in a way that many people do not.
Ultimately if you find your self in a sales position that is a lounge act you have a responsibility to yourself and your family to find another job. Chalk it up as a life experience, and put those sales skills to work in the job market. As someone who has hired a lot of people I can tell you there are great jobs out there regardless of what you hear on the news. Staying in a bad sales job is nobody fault but yours.
Sales is a great profession. It can offer earning potential unmatched by many other professions and it comes with a freedom and a level of control that many people will never experience. Don’t be the guy out there lying to customers at 10:00PM about the managers special that expires today. It really is unnecessary and it gives us all a bad name. The really great professional salespeople in our industry make a whole lot more money up there on the main stage than any lounge act ever will. I promise.
If you’re looking for a window company right now, the best advice we have is to join Angie’s List. For just a couple bucks you can get a 1-month membership and it’ll be worth much more than a caramel macchiato in the long run. You can find the best pricing for Angie’s List on the internet right here.
If you’re already a member of Angie’s List or if you’re just not going to join (despite my ringing endorsement), you can find our suggestions for the best companies in your area right here.