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Never assume your “great deal” is of any interest to your customer.

This cartoon (c) Ted Goft sums up the “Let’s Make a Deal” mentality in today.

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Recently, while waiting in the airport, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered the phone, I was treated to one of the finest examples of failed sales technique since I went three rounds with Phone Dialer in Las Vegas.

Here’s the transcript:

Me: Matthew Ferrara speaking.
(5 second pause)

Sales Guy: Oh, sorry! I thought I got an answering machine. This is Hilton Vacations calling. How are you today?

Me: I’m fine. How can I help you?

Sales Guy: Well, sir, we have noticed that you are a valued past client of Hilton, so we’re calling you today to offer you a special price on a fabulous vacation in [City]! When was the last time you were in [City], Matthew?

Me: Well, it has been quite a while. But I should tell you that it’s because [City] is the last place in America we’d ever think of taking a vacation. (This is entirely true. We’re just not people who like that kind of vacation spot.) So, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be interested.

Sales Guy: Oh, well, I guess I just picked the wrong one of the five city choices we have! Could I tell you about our other amazing deals?

Me: Actually, taking a vacation is the last thing on my mind these days. I’m moving across the country and we wouldn’t have the time to go on vacation. I don’t need a vacation deal. Perhaps you could get me a good deal on new car insurance, though?

Sales Guy: Um, er, well, we will keep you in mind for future deals. Have a good day.


I hung up and had a chuckle. How could a company as big as Hilton be making such a rudimentary sales mistake? First, they must have lots of data on my past stays at their hotel, probably none of which was ever in their offered city. Second, a rudimentary search of my mostly public persona – on social networks, blogs, videos and website – would have revealed me to be more of a “quiet, under-a-palm-tree” or “historical city” vacationer. Certainly there’d be no indications I like to go camping, ride roller coasters, or hug costumed cartoon characters.

But even without either of these “know the customer” research efforts, Sales Guy should have been trained to do the most basic activity in effective sales:

Ask the customer what they might need.

Elementary, my dear Sales Guy, but remarkably, so absent across today’s sales landscape. Perhaps it is because sales trainers feel that, given today’s customer’s infamously short attention span, you have to immediately go for the jugular? That would be a big mistake, because it confuses advertising which must be fast and focused, with sales which must take the time to build rapport and identify needs, before presenting solutions for sale.

Even in a hyper-fast modern era, good sales technique takes time.

It’s also clear that this mistake has crossed over into social media, too. Recently I watched an online discussion about creating “sales” on your Facebook page. One suggestion was to put “calls to action” into your large cover photo, so people will see it right away. This mistake is similar to Sales Guy’s error, because it tries to position social networking as a mass marketing channel, rather than a personalized relationship manager. Those are two different functions in the sales cycle, and use two entirely different techniques. Mixing the two is why many Facebook pages find themselves creating very little traction. Relationships take time, to be nurtured into a sale, a repeat purchase or a referral. Only then can you know what to offer, and when.

Which leads me to offer this reminder: Just because technology has become faster, don’t think people have sped up just as much. Yes, you can dial, email, tweet and post more, faster, farther. But eyeballs are not sales conversations. Mouths are. Until you can connect with someone directly, and get them talking to you (with any medium) you can’t be listening. And if you’re not listening, you’ll just keep making the same mistake Sales Guy did:

Offering a customer a great deal they could have cared less about.