Influence- dominate or cooperteThe cold call: how not to sell

The cold call, or unsolicited sales call, was a fascinating example of how not to sell.

Normally I politely refuse to continue with such calls but I wasn’t particularly busy when he phoned so I let him talk on, curious to discover how the carefully rehearsed sales pitch would progress.

He  began by talking about how he wanted to create a relationship between his and our company in which we would provide his corporate customers with NLP-based staff development programmes.

His fast delivery would have made it difficult for me to ask any clarifying questions - even if I'd wanted to.

But I was curious to see where he was going and quite fascinated by his slick, and patently manipulative, approach.

Needs analysis? Huh, who needs that!

So he talked on and on and on.  Good, old-fashioned "talk 'em into submission" selling. None of your fancy needs analysis stuff – in fact, he didn't ask any questions about what I wanted or might want.

He also carefully avoided offering any tangible details or factual information - just the benefits to us (as he saw it) of 'working together'!

Now, since you don't often get to hear such extreme examples of this approach in business-to-business selling, I continued to listen, wondering how he'd get to the 'hook' and ask me to commit to paying money to his company.

Okay, I’ve had enough

However, after about 10 minutes I did run out of curiosity and fascination – and patience. It was too amateurish and too patronising and, although I wasn't in a hurry at the start, I now began thinking of lots of other things to do with my time…

So I bluntly asked what he was selling and how much he wanted.

Mind you, it did take quite a few more questions to nail him down but I discovered that his company would put us in front of a few potential customers for the trifling sum of £12,000! That's nearly $19,000, by the way. I could now see why he was loathe to get to the point.

Talking at customers

It amazes me that sales people are still being trained in this style. Even back in the 70's when I first began exploring skilful selling the talk-em-into-submission approach was going out of fashion.

In fact, it has been going out of fashion for over 60 years. Way back in the 50’s Bert H Schlain, a sales trainer and author of Big League Salesmanship, warned salespeople about talking too much: "Samson slew 10,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass - and every day 1000's of orders are killed in the same way"!

'Okay, but I’m not in sales...'

By now you may be thinking ‘but I’m not a salesperson…! What has this to do with me?’ #

Well, even though you may not use that label, you are in sales. In fact, we’re all ‘in sales’.

You are ‘selling’ when you wish to

  • Encourage get your little ones to go to bed, or do their homework or eat their greens
  • Get your friend to believe in, and have more confidence, in himself
  • Motivate your work team to do something new or in a different way
  • Convince your friends to opt for your choice of venue for that evening out
  • Get your coaching client to approach challenges in a new way.

You may not be selling products or services for cash but you are selling ideas. You’re aiming to get other people to change their minds. You are aiming to 'influence' them.

Influencing and selling are the same thing.

And, like all forms of influencing, selling works best as a listen-first process. All good influencers talk less and listen more!

It’s actually an essential first step in walking the talk of the NLP Principle: Meet people in their model of the world which, in plain English, means getting to know what it is like to be the other person before you begin to influence them.

Influencing - the 3 essentials

In our NLP courses we recommend a consultative approach to all forms of influencing. At its core this has just 3 essentials

  1. First find out what they want.
  2. Discover what it important to them about this i.e. what are the feelings (or Values) that getting what they wish for will enable them to feel - or avoid feeling.
  3. Then discuss how your idea/offer can enable them to fulfil these Values.

Three examples

In a job appraisal:

I am the your manager. I need you to change what you do and how you go about this.

I first need to discover the Values that are important to you in your job and career.

I then then to help you recognise how making these change will benefit you - so that you will understand how the new way of working will enable you to feel more of the feelings you want to feel and less of the feelings you do not want to feel.

In a life relationship:

I want to go on a foreign holiday this year - but you want to stay in the UK.

I need to discover what a UK holiday will do for you (which Values it will fulfil) I then need to discuss with you how my foreign holiday plan will do this even better.

In selling:

I am in formal selling. I sell Super Widgets.

I need to find out what’s important  to you about widgets in general – what they enable you to have, do, feel – and avoid feeling.

Then I need to discuss with you how Super Widgets will fulfil these Values more effectively.

Does this approach always work?

No. Nothing always works in human interaction.

We use this approach until we achieve agreement – or until we recognise that it’s not going to work and opt to move on.

Then we either compromise - or give up - or, in the case of some people, struggle for dominance!

The bottom line?

My fast-talking salesperson’s approach demonstrated a lot about his attitude including:

  • he was not interested in me nor in my needs
  • he did not want me to think about the offer – just to listen and accept
  • he did not trust my judgement to be able to evaluate the offer for myself
  • he saw selling as a matter of overpowering the ‘punters’ with his slick patter
  • he was unlikely to have any interest in me nor in my business once I had accepted his offer – then it would become a question of Ah, sorry, that’s a matter for Support – you’ll have to contact them.

Yes, this kind 'talk 'em into submission' approach can work - with some people a lot of the time. And with a lot of people some of the time - but few of these will come back for more.

Respectful influencing

When it come to the broader field of influencing we need to decide

Do I want to always get my own way in life


Do I want to also get along with people.

Do you want to give and take – or just take.

Insisting on always getting your own way means that, sooner or later, people will get tired of always giving in – and they withdraw.

In respectful influencing we aim to assist people in making choices that are in both our interests.

And even when they make choices that disappoint us it’s still in our interests.  Because, while we may ‘lose’ on this particular issue, we maintain the relationship – and we strengthen it.

And finally…

Looking back on our one-sided conversation, the sad thing is that my telesales caller could have been a very good sales person. He was bright, personable and used his voice well.  He just didn't have the skills for the job.

(First published on 25 May 2012 - now re-written.)