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The Five Most Idiotic Sales Techniques

Written by Len Foley on Tuesday, 30 November 2004 6:00 pm

There are so many idiotic techniques masquerading as professional sales tools that it took considerable restraint to limit my list to only five.

Idiotic Technique #1: The Porcupine Close

This is the equivalent of ramming a red-hot poker into the ear of your client. The porcupine close goes something like this:

A woman walks into a store and asks the salesperson, "Does this dress come in blue?"

The salesperson nods, asking, "Would you like the dress in blue?"

Put simply, the porcupine close is answering a question with a "leading question" that forces the client into the direction you want him or her to go (in other words, it predisposes the client to say "yes" to your offer).

I once witnessed a "smooth" salesman using the porcupine close on a woman looking at stereos. She asked, "Does this model come with professional sounding tape-to-tape dubbing?"

The salesman smiled, and asked: "Would you like a model that came with professional tape-to-tape dubbing?"

The woman looked at him like he had three heads, and said: "Of course I want professional tape dubbing … WHY ELSE WOULD I BE ASKING YOU ABOUT IT?"

The salesman got caught using one of the most widely used, moronic closing techniques ever devised. It's so blatantly manipulative and underhanded that I'm amazed it's persisted for so long in so many sales training methods.

Could you imagine a wife saying to her husband, "Honey, would you mind taking out the trash?"

And the husband responds, asking, "Would you like me to take out the trash?"

Or imagine asking a hot dog vendor, "Do your hotdogs come with relish?"

"Would you like your hotdog with relish?"

It just doesn't make any sense. Why not simply answer: "Yes, our hotdogs come with relish…relish, mustard, sauerkraut, and onions. Would you like me to make you one now?"

This leads into the 2nd most idiotic sales technique: leading questions.

Idiotic Technique #2: Leading Questions

A leading question isn't really a question at all; it's a command that bullies the client into thinking about something in a particular way.

In his best-selling book, How to Master the Art of Selling, Tom Hopkins uses these examples:

"You're interested in quality in the product you're looking for, aren't you?"

"Working with suppliers who value their reputations for reliability and integrity is important, isn't it?"

"A reputation for professionalism is important, isn't it?"

Essentially, you're asking the client a question that you know they already know the answer to. Who's gonna say they want products that are of poor quality or dishonest suppliers with poor reputations? It's an absurd waste of time (both for you and the prospect) to ask these kinds of questions.

The reason why salespeople still use this technique goes back to the Dale Carnegie principle which assumes if you get the client to say "yes" to something at least three times they'll be more likely to say "yes" to your offer.

So does that mean if you ask your client three simple "yes" questions and then ask him if he'd like a punch in the nose, he'd be more likely to welcome a good jab? Of course not. Leading questions quietly inform your clients that you think they're idiots. Why else would you ask them pointless questions that you don't care to hear answered?

Idiotic Technique #3: Matching and Mirroring the Client

I once saw Tony Robbins in a nationally televised interview.

The host of the program (Barry Nolan) seemed very impressed with Robbins and quite pleased with the way the interview had turned out…but when the footage arrived at the editing suite, Mr. Nolan had another story to tell.

One of the editors working on the Robbins piece was familiar with some of Tony's "sales techniques" and spotted Robbins mirroring the host throughout the entire interview. (Mirroring is simply a process whereby the salesperson "mimics" the clients body movements, breathing patterns, and voice tonality, pitch, tempo, etc. in an attempt to gain rapport and make the client feel as though he's talking with someone "just like himself").

I'm not sure what Tony Robbins was thinking to do something so obvious on national television. Robbins is a very powerful communicator, but unfortunately, Mr. Nolan felt he sometimes goes a bit far with some of his abilities.

I'm not against mirroring or matching, per se. I find myself unconsciously matching my breathing and voice tempo to people all the time…but the key here is your degree of subtlety. Obviously, if a client speaks three words per minute, you'd come across like an obnoxious boob if you raced along like an auctioneer. But you'd also come across like an annoying heckler if you matched the person's identical tempo. A little common sense is required for the appropriate use of this technique.

Idiotic Technique #4: The Tie-Down Technique

Again, our old friend Tom Hopkins has a whole arsenal of Tie-Down Techniques you can use:

Scenario A:

Client: "I like green."

Salesperson: "Isn't green an emotional color? We're offering a choice of three new shades of green on our latest models. Which do you prefer, Bali Mist, Irish Sea, or Acapulco Spring?"

Client: "I go for Bali Mist. It looks like the most restful shade."

Salesperson: "Doesn't it?"

Scenario B:

Client: "Quality is important."

Salesperson: "Isn't it?"

If you ever chewed on tin foil you'll have a reference for how irritating this close can be.

The Tie-Down Technique is nothing more than a tag-along-line the salesperson throws in whenever the client says something he or she agrees with.

You can usually identify a Tie-Down in sentences ending with words like: Isn't it? Don't you? Couldn't you? Wouldn't you? The list goes on. It's particularly annoying to hear a salesperson using this technique over and over, isn't it? I'm sure you've heard this down many times, haven't you?

Idiotic Technique #5: The Erroneous Conclusion Technique

The Erroneous Conclusion Technique is an intentional blunder on the part of the salesperson that gets the client to reveal information he or she may not have otherwise shared.

For instance, a salesperson may overhear a couple talking about a stove they're considering buying:

"We need this stove by the fifteenth of June," the woman says, "that's the day before your parents anniversary and we need to prepare a lot of food…"

The salesperson makes a note of the remark and then later says to the clients: "So your parents are coming on the tenth of June, aren't they?"

"No," the woman responds, "they're arriving on the fifteenth…"

The salesperson then asks: "So you'd need the stove delivered by the thirteenth?"

"Yes," she says.

"Good." The salesperson pulls out an order form and starts filling in the delivery date.

The Erroneous Conclusion Technique begins with a deliberate lie that evolves into a ham-handed ploy to get the order form filled out.

The salesperson using this technique believes it's more difficult for the client to resist once his or her words are committed to paper. Of course, this reasoning is misguided…and more often than not, ridiculous.

Deliberate deception is no way to begin a life-long relationship with your client. In fact, it's no way to begin any kind of relationship.

I'm astounded to hear sales trainers when they first teach this technique; many trainers not only teach this technique but they also consider it one of the best ways to have a "good time" with their clients.

As Tom Hopkins notes, "If you make a mistake and they correct you, write it down and they own it. It's fun---and there's nothing to it." Maybe I'm a little old fashioned, but it doesn't sound like much fun to me.

Other idiotic techniques that I could have included but didn't: the Nail-Down Close, the Half-Nelson Close (the name says it all), the Hat-in-hand Close, the Five-Dollar-Trust Technique, Reflexive Closing Questions, and of course: the Deliberate Mistake Technique.

Len Foley is a sales trainer and author of a new book, Sales Without the Sucker Punch!

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