An Open Letter to Sales People

In the last several weeks, I have been called, emailed or otherwise pitched to by a variety of solutions providers. I have to tell you despite having a great memory, I can't remember a single company name nor what any of the companies who wanted my firm's money do.    The reason I can't recall any of those fine details is because I was too put off by the approach, lack of planning and general disrespect for my time that within two minutes of each call, I zoned out.  I have also had a series of great sales pitches in the past while, where halfway through the call I wanted to purchase the service or product regardless of the price, because the person pitching to me understood my need, met a challenge or was generally on the ball. I get that sales can be a tough a grind and I generally applaud the tenacity and bravery of sales people.  But to the sales people who fall in the first group, I offer this:
Do your research
There is no excuse today to not research targets. Ten minutes on LinkedIn, Facebook, even the good ol'Google should provide insight into me as an individual, my role with the firm and how your product or service might be work for me.  Failing that, ask me what I do in the realm of whatever you are trying to tell me and then listen to my answer.  Use my answer to probe further or offer up a synergy of some kind.  I recently had a sales person fail at this exercise when, after hearing my answer to her question, responded with (and I am loosely paraphrasing) "oh, well this product is not for you then, we have better success with firms who want to be innovative". I hope she wasn't suggesting that I am the poster child for stagnant approaches to laws firms. A quick read of my LinkedIn profile suggests otherwise, I think. I shouldn't have to say it, but don't insult your prospective clients either. 

Study the Site
As it happens, laws firms, like any businesses today, have websites.  The websites, like the firms, vary in their sophistication but at the very least the sites will tell you something about a firm. Visit that site before you pick up the phone. Don't, for example, try to sell a litigation boutique access to your corporate database or a Canadian firm exclusively US content without making the case for why I should listen beyond the initial pitch.  If a firm very obviously can't benefit from your product or service don't pick up the phone or draft the email. 

Avoid Jargon
I work in Marketing we invented catch phrases and slogans. Please use your own language when you call me to tell me about your product or service. I don't deal well with jargon or salesy chatter that describes specifically nothing. Don't tell me what "law firms" all over are doing or are interested in, as it assumes that I don't know my business and that I am relying on people like you to tell me what I need. I don't.  I do my own research, but if you were to call me and tell me how another firm in a similar geographic area or with similar practices is benefitting from your product or service, I am all ears. 

I love learning about new products and services in the market, I thrive on hearing how other firms are using products to their competitive advantage, or to increase efficiency. Don't stop contacting me -  ever.  All I ask, is that before you do call or email me, please spend a bit of time doing your homework if you want me to listen. 

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Michael Haltman said...

Great article. I posted it on LinkedIn with a link back to you.



Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. As a Sales VP, I would say that you are spot on. Prospects deserve that respect for their time. Maureen

Library Sherpa said...

It's as if you read my mind, Zena. I'm curious to know if sales people are this unprepared with other sectors or is it just library/info pro world? To me, it's a serious sign of disrespect if you can't even be bothered to do any prep work before a call or meeting. If an answer can be found on my firm's website, then don't ask me that question when I'm in a meeting with you. Great post.

Marlene Gebauer said...

Agreed. This happens too often.

Ryan McClead said...

Z, I completely agree with you and you are much nicer than I am. But I wonder, how often does this type of thing happen when an attorney calls their client or a potential client? Maybe there is a teachable moment in here for law firms.

Zena Applebaum said...

Ryan, I would hope that by employing people like me to do the background research for them lawyers are not making the same mistakes when they call prospects or especially clients! Know your clients, know your prospects. Teachable moment, I hope and if anyone out there in 3 Geeks comment land wants help in putting together even the most basic dossier, let me know....I am happy to share.

Anonymous said...

In the last month I have sat through three product demos for new or updated databases. Some of the presenters were well versed in their products but could not link the service to our practice. One sales person showed us how we could use the product to identify businesses in one area, making it easier to make sales calls - really? One very annoying term that seems to be creeping into every pitch these days is "you guys". You loose me as soon as I hear it.

Anonymous said...

I used to laugh about the cold calls I'd receive (20+ years ago) trying to sell me treatises that my library had suscribed to for decades.

Andrew Klein said...

Great post, I definitely agree Sales People need to be effective in their pitches and lately they just are not, they get into a routine and just try to slide by when they really should be putting more effort into it.

Chris Attig said...

I get these messages, too...99.9% get deleted.

The ones that don't get one question:

"How will your product or service help my Firm accomplish its vision of Changing the Way Veterans Experience the VA Claims Process."

I have yet to get a thoughtful answer.

Another way that a law firm's Vision can help minimize outside distractors.

Great post!

Chris Attig
Veterans Law Blog


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