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Insight: How not to sell

by Randall Craig on June 5, 2015

Filed in: Blog, Business Development, Communication, Insight, Make It Happen Tipsheet

Tagged as: ,

Marketing and sales are at the core of almost every organization. Whether it is writing a proposal for a prospect, encouraging a person to join your organization, or selling an internal team on a concept, the act of gaining alignment and commitment is critical. More evidence of the importance of sales can be found by looking at the sheer number of training courses, books, webinars, and websites on the topic.

Why then, do so many organizations completely miss the mark? They are often their own worst enemies, working hard to prevent a sale from actually occurring. While the story below might not be representative of every company in every industry, it identifies some foundational principles that aren’t exactly rocket science.

Sales Insight #1: It’s cheaper to keep a client than look for a new one. And it’s less hassle (and cheaper) for the client to stay.
Recently, my firm, 108 ideaspace, decided to explore increasing the internet bandwidth into the office. We had a fairly expensive service that was delivering bandwidth at only 50% of the advertised rate. Option one was to get it fixed; option two was to upgrade to the next tier of service – fiber – at quadruple the price.

Option one was going to be easier, or so I thought. To order a service call required three phone calls, three hours of nonsense “testing” over the phone, two on-site visits by a service technician of two hours each, two modem swaps… all resulting in zero change in bandwidth. Beyond the wasted time, the internet service was down for over seven hours – a killer in my business.  Time to try option two.

Sales Insight #2: Make it easy for existing clients to purchase more (and more expensive) services.
Calling the “upgrade” department meant being shuffled to seven different people; each shuffle meant being entered into a voicemail queue for 5-10 minutes. Each person asked me to authenticate myself to “bring up the account”, which seemed strange, since I just wanted to speak to a person about the details of the higher bandwidth. They seemed baffled that I didn’t have my 10 digit account number handy. Eventually, the last shuffle wasn’t into a queue, but into the official voicemail for the business services department, where I was asked to leave my name and number.

Sales Insight #3: Respond quickly, especially if someone wants to purchase your products or services.
(I am still waiting for a salesperson to call. Maybe no one is actually monitoring the voicemail?)

Sales Insight #4: Not every prospect follows the same journey to commitment.  
Some are highly educated about the product or service, and just need to speak to a person to put in an order. Of those that need to be educated, some prefer to learn via webinar, others with technical papers, others with a short descriptive article, and some over the phone.

While waiting for the salesperson from my current provider to call, I decided to investigate alternatives. While all major (and minor) competitors had websites, the sites themselves were vastly different. Typical problems:
– Plastic marketing copy that provided no real information about the products and services
– Out-of-date content, and particularly out-of-date technical information
– No easily findable phone numbers
– No “contact us” web forms
– No information about geographic service capabilities
– No pricing (and no discussion of the issues behind pricing)

I wasn’t sure what they were thinking, but clearly there was a gap. Either their web agency doesn’t understand marketing, or the marketing departments have been unknowingly hoodwinked.

Sales insight #3 (again):  Respond quickly, especially if someone wants to purchase your products or services.
Desperate to make a purchase, I left messages with eight providers, either by phone, or via their websites. After a week, only three had responded.

Sales Insight #5: Ask great questions to understand the prospect’s real needs.
Paraphrasing Tom Stoyan, Canada’s Sales Coach: “It’s not about ‘selling’ your products or services – it’s about helping a prospect through the buying process.” This means asking great questions, answering theirs, and only then being in a position to be asked to write the proposal.

Of the three companies who responded, one immediately sent out a “boilerplate” one page quote. If they had at least a short conversation with me, they would have understood our needs, and they could have quoted the correct items. Oops.

Sales Insight #6: It’s also about the relationship.
Every touchpoint (telephone, email, educational documents, formal proposals, and presentations) can strengthen a relationship, and can build trust between the two parties. Price and expertise are table stakes: trust will close the deal.

This week’s action item: What is the one thing that you can do to make it easy for others to buy your products or services? If you’re not sure – or you think you’re doing such a great job – reach back out to those who decided not to commit with you. They decided against you for a reason.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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