Speak Softly -- And Don't Carry A Stick At All

The original quote actually goes, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” and is initially attributed to Teddy Roosevelt.  

Unfortunately, this is too often the predominant approach of media salespeople.  Far too many of them talk first and try to bludgeon you with their product rather than ask questions and listen.  

I recently switched out of ad tech and into a different tech arena, where I’m much more a marketer than a vendor. So I’m reminded that salespeople can be — let’s say it nicely — a bit aggressive and gruff.

I‘ve written versions of this story over the years but I think it’s probably been about four years since I last tried to tackle this issue.  I’ve also recently been working on a presentation that dives into the “Lost Art of Listening,” which reminds me that the very best salespeople listen first and speak second.  

Too often I’m on a call or in a meeting where a salesperson wants to sell me their product.  Instead they should be selling their solution to my needs, not their product.



It’s a subtle difference.  If you ask questions and listen to the responses you get, you end up with a significantly better understanding of the challenges facing your customer.  When you understand the challenges, you can position your product the correct way: as a solution for what they are trying to do.  

Too often I see a salesperson who comes in with buzzwords blazing, trying to force-feed a solution down our neck.   I had this happen just last week. From the very first minute it was clear I was not interested, but I was being nice enough to let them go on for a couple of minutes.  In the old days, I would have shut them down quickly and moved on.  I guess I’m getting calmer in my old age.

Sales is also about creating a dual connection.  First, it’s about connecting your product to a challenge that the customer is facing.  Second, it’s about creating a personal connection between two people, or one person and a brand.  That connection needs to demonstrate some level of credibility and trust,which only comes from a mutual understanding aided by time and an exchange of value. 

Sales is a hard job.  It requires a lot of patience, and sometimes you are stressed or maybe behind on your goals, and so some of this process and decorum gets tossed right out the window in favor of volume.  I get that, but if you sit and talk with any veteran salesperson, she will tell you that volume will always lose out to that personal connection. 

You can’t enter into a sales relationship carrying a big stick and trying to beat your customer into submission, forcing them to buy your product.  You have to take the required time to establish the connection, understand their needs and position your product in a viable, authentic manner. 

If your product doesn’t have the correct solution, then admit that and move on.  It’s better to lose the sale now but retain the relationship for later than it is to try too hard to force the sale now, risk the connection and definitely not deliver with the product. The best salesmanship  is a long-term game. Otherwise, you may hit your numbers now, but you’ll inevitably miss them in the long run.

Before your next sales meeting, be sure to have a couple of questions prepared and try not to monopolize the conversation.  Try to limit your talking to the first 15-20 minutes and let the customer do the rest.  Practice the right kinds of body language and the skills that people refer to as active listening/hearing.  These will help you in the long run -- and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll sell more. too.

3 comments about "Speak Softly -- And Don't Carry A Stick At All".
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  1. Eric Fischer from HJA Strategic Consulting, January 31, 2018 at 1:33 p.m.

    It takes two to tango, and unfortunately the "buy" side of the equation doesn't make it easy.  With today's "sales process", often times the seller is relegated to electronic correspondence with very little actual face time.  The anonymity of the electronic process and "CRM-based selling" (Salesforce) has unfortunately become way to common on the sales side with the unintended result becoming an insulated "buy" side partner who's often not willing to dance.  The whole other issue is the complete lack of training that now exists on the "buy" side which has left them unable to clearly elucidate the problem...but that's for another time. 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 31, 2018 at 2:41 p.m.

    Very true and is some respect, it always has been true although now it has gotten worse in this immediate, demand expectation world. You spoke about home voice command apparati in your home and training children in a previous article. If you have this in your home, you are contributing to this (way past the me generation) seriously dangerous selfishie generation. Civility and respect is being left behind on the dock as we sail away. So how can you be so surprised with salespeople who storm in and expect you to respond without doing their homework ?

  3. Oscar Trimboli from ., February 1, 2018 at 11:05 p.m.

    The most important thing to understand is we speak at 125 words per minute and can listen to 400 words per minute - so how do you stay in the moment?

    I have a podcast series called Deep Listening which will help with your research

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