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As a small business owner, I get repeatedly clobbered with hordes of attempts to sell me stuff I don’t need.  Sometimes it seems like I’m spending more time trying to run off people who want me to give THEM money than making money myself.  However, I am sympathetic to the plight of the salesperson, seeing how I have to wear that hat as the business owner from time to time myself, and it’s really a tough gig.  Rejection is difficult enough to handle infrequently, and I can only imagine how rough a day slam full of rejections can tax one’s mind.

Two recent incidents, however, make me wonder if some salespeople are asking for the rejection or even the abuse that they receive.  I’ll talk about the short one first; the second one is a bit of an epic saga, a grand adventure into the world of what us Internet-savvy folk call EPIC FAIL.

Someone from some sort of local directory called the shop, seeking my purchase of a listing in their directory.  Our word-of-mouth income is so good (and our experience with other advertising forms has been so poor) that we don’t really need to advertise much at all; our customers are well taken care of, and in return those customers take care of us.  Well, this here salesperson weren’t gunna have nunavit!  Despite my attempts to make it clear that we did not wish to advertise AT THIS TIME, the person didn’t seem to understand what I was saying.  Eventually I was forced to enter “blunt mode” and outright state that “I don’t want to do this.”

This genius had a clever response to my clear refusal.  What was it?  Oh, the suspense is probably killing you.

“So you’re saying that you’re not accepting new customers?”

If your face just slammed into the desk in disbelief, now you know how I felt at that moment.

If she was smart, she would have offered her contact information so that I could call her should I change my mind in the future (which HAS happened in the past).  Instead, she chooses to insult my intelligence with one of the scummiest sales tactics in the book.  What kind of stupid business owner is going to fall for that kind of line?  I can’t imagine anyone who deserves to be in business at all tripping over this lame attempt at forcing a sale.

Just to prove that I understand what’s going on here, I’ll explain how this statement was theoretically supposed to work on me.  When faced with relatively strong refusal, a salesperson may be able to “save the sale” by changing the client’s mindset.  This is actually a very common sales tactic and is apparently extremely popular with multi-level marketing sales.  Note how MLM salespeople don’t approach you saying “wanna sell some products and make money?”  They instead ask a series of questions to which you are generally certain to answer in the affirmative.  The theory here is that if you say an equivalent to “yes” three times, you’ll be more willing to agree to a sale, because you’ve been nudged into an agreeing mindset.  The trick with the question “so you don’t want new customers?” is to extract a denial of that question and a subsequent positive statement i.e. “yes, I DO want new customers” to then inch me back towards the affirmative.  Unfortunately, human beings aren’t robots and business owners know better than to fall for such paltry tricks.  My response was a sarcastic “No, I’m not accepting new customers.” *click* and that was the end of the conversation.  Hint: if you’re trying to sell me something, don’t insult my intelligence.

If you think that’s bad, though, you’d love getting a load of the next sales call I dealt with.  Someone who runs a local sports reporting website (and one that appears very hastily assembled, no less) wanted me to purchase advertising in the sidebars of the site.  The first suspicious part was that site content was rather minimal, and used a WordPress installation that seemed to have been partially broken by someone.  The fabulous claims of a good unique visitor count that this guy rolled off certainly didn’t seem to match the semi-broken nature of the site, and anyone can say that they have thousands of unique visits per week.  The second problem, though, was in the advertising format they were using: it was positively insane.  Ads are formatted sort of like vertical business cards and stacked on top of each other scaling all the way down the blog…on BOTH SIDES OF THE PAGE.  And they didn’t seem to stop, either: though ad placement in the two columns was totally random, there had to be at least 30-40 ads on every page.  It screams “we made this site to sell bogus worthless advertising!” and it looks unprofessional.

The salesman who called was where the real problems began, though.  In general, he did a good job of working around my rejections until I switched from vague business reasons to concrete observations about what he had said and the site which he sent me to examine.  These problems resulted in the quick termination of the call, and one very upset salesman.

Problem 1:  “Here’s what I’ll do.  I’m going to call some of the people that advertise on the site already, and I’ll ask them how it’s working for them.  Once I have that information, I’ll make a decision.”  His response?  “Now that doesn’t make one bit of sense.”  Immediately the alarm bells go off in my head: what I propose makes ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY PERFECT SENSE.  Before buying an ad and blowing all that money, why on earth wouldn’t I try to find some sort of metric for determining how well it works, especially if it’s advertising I already don’t feel that I need anyway?  He tried to convince me that the success of a chiropractor’s ad or a home renovator’s ad might not be the same as my own, and to some minor extent that may have been a correct statement, but if I called ALL of the advertisers and MOST of them found it to be a waste of dollars, doesn’t that speak volumes about the performance of the advertising in general?  He tried to offer me some “success stories” to which I replied that success stories from the mouth of the salesperson don’t mean anything because they can be easily fabricated.  It wasn’t taking much for him to get pretty annoyed with me, but then…

Problem 2:  “You said that you don’t have any computer repair people on the site and that you want one, but I see an ad for ‘Randolph Telephone Company AtomicTechs’ on the site.”  The guy clearly didn’t know how to respond because I caught him in a lie.  He tried to use the silly generic slogan from that ad to convince me that “that’s not the same as what you do!”  Once again, a salesman thinks I’m a complete idiot.  That was the end of the game.

In short, if you’re selling something, don’t be stupid about it.  Understand who you’re selling to before you call, or at least figure it out.  And whatever you do, don’t lie to or belittle the potential customer.  Would you buy anything from someone who belittled you or told you a load of bull about the product?

I didn’t think so.

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