Too many salespeople strive to give customers anything they want without considering the impact to operational costs or long-term sales. These salespeople typically attempt to be all things to all customers and are unskilled at setting limits with them. They don't know how to professionally say no. And the problem is that the very person who loses in the transaction is the customer.

Rick Davis When a team is busy performing nonstandard operations to help a customer who needs a favor, numerous other customers and salespeople often are hurt in the process. Sometimes the damage is merely a minor, operational miscue, but other cases of overpromising end up plaguing a company's balance sheet for years.

For example, one national siding and roofing dealer holds managers accountable for inventory levels and views excess inventory as evidence of bad salesmanship, not only from an individual salesperson, but from the organization as a whole that lets its salespeople continually tax the supplier's limited resources. In response to a salesman's lobbying efforts, one of its New England branches bought half a truck of a custom-color vinyl siding for a client that needed less than 200 square feet of coverage. This left the company with an abundance of material that has never been sold.

Consider the lumber salesman that pressures his inside support teammate to quickly turn around quotes on blueprints. This salesman often rushes into his estimator's office and, while providing limited information, expects responses that stress the estimator's ability to do the job well while forcing him to put off work for other clients. You can imagine the likelihood for mistakes that arises. If the salesman would make the effort to discuss more realistic time frames with the builder, services to that builder would improve, and the estimator likely would do a better job for the entire organization.

You surely could add your own observations to this list. Instead, ask yourself whether you contribute to this problem. With the slow market and stressed operating budgets, salespeople and managers must be even more vigilant about managing costs and customer expectations. Some options are:

1. Ask yourself what alternatives are available. Whether the request is for a special delivery, a unique product, or an extra service that will run up costs and create havoc in your organization, evaluate the options and discuss them with your client.

2. Is this a real request, or a mere hope? Great Sales Leaders recognize that customers often test the waters and really do not expect a special request to be fulfilled; the customers figure they may as well try. Your challenge is to discern the real importance of the request.

3. Will others do it? What if they do? Naturally, nobody wants to lose precious business in a shrinking market. On the other hand, nobody wants to make short-term decisions that create long-term damage. If you fear losing a sale, ask yourself what alternatives are realistic, and consider that you might win in the long run even if you lose a short-term sale.

You probably have discovered that an honest answer that costs you a short-term sale often helps you solidify a long-term relationship. Take stock of what your company delivers and sell those capabilities–then you can promise what you deliver with confidence.

–Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409.
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