Hardcore, traditional, old-school (old-skool? No), call it what you will, it’s that particular style of selling more transparent than the fake tan glowing on the face of someone who’s way more interested in making money than your wellbeing. Persuasive, fearful and time-consuming, this passive-aggressive not-taking-no-for-an-answer technique was still big in the 80s and 90s, but it's less so now that we’re all much wiser to it.
Or so I thought...
Before I tell you what happened this weekend I want to let you know that I’ve been a door to door salesman. I’ve sold second-hands cars, cable TV, encyclopaedia collections and yes, even double-glazing and conservatories or ‘home improvements’ as we used to call them back in the 1990s. I always smashed my targets but I rarely agreed with the cut-throat methods I was trained to employ. I adapted the good bits to suit my own personality, each situation and my customers, and once I began to understand the real reasons why people made decisions to buy, I moved on.
This weekend however I was transported right back to 1993 when a presentable young man with a big smile and a glossy brochure knocked on my front door and asked if we were in the market for new windows. “We’re in your area,” he told me, immediately activating the bullshit klaxons and flashing red lights in my head, “so we can set up an appointment with our advisor who will survey your property and give you a no-obligation quote”. As it happened my wife and I actually were hunting for quotations on some new windows, so I said: “Yes. Let’s set it up. But I only want a quote. If your advisor is looking for a sale on the day, it’s better they see someone else.”
That clearly meant nothing to the presentable young man, but fair enough. There’s always a chance a good salesperson can persuade you to change your mind. After all, that’s a part of selling.
On the day of the appointment, Saturday, a call comes in from their office. It's 8.25am and I've literally just walked out of the shower. I pick up the phone and this gruff, male voice barks down it: “Mr Laville, are you still good for two o clock this afternoon?”
“Windows. You and your wife will both be in won’t you?”
Ok, so it’s a qualifier call. No problem in principle, except that it's early (Saturday, right?) and once I’ve confirmed that we’ll both be at home, the guy grunts something incomprehensible and the phone goes dead. Not even a thank you or even a polite 'look forward to seeing you'.
I should have known better.
At 2pm the advisor turns up. He introduces himself pleasantly enough and I say, “Look. Just to let you know, I’m only gathering quotes. If you need a sale today you’re better off going on to your next appointment.”
“Not a problem,” he says, “I totally understand. Let me measure up, give you the quote and I’ll be on my way.”
Perfect, I’m thinking.
So the guy looks around the house for a few minutes, comes back indoors with his measurements and I cut to the chase. “How much?”
“Let me run the numbers,” he answers. Opening his laptop on my dining room table, the guy sits in a chair and looks at me and my wife like he’d really like her to offer him a cup of tea.
“Like I said,” I remind him, both of us standing over him, definitely not offering tea, coffee, biscuits or dried nuts in a jar. “We’re not making a decision today. Leave me the quote and whatever else you like and we’ll get back to you.”
“Whilst this is loading,” he says, “let me just run through how we make our windows.”
“Will it take long?”
“About an hour?”
I say to him, “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”
“Well I don’t think that’s really possible,” he says, trying to smile.
I decide to up the pressure. “You might as well go then,” I tell him. “I’ve had some quotes from local companies, I’ll go with one of those.”
The guy then races into his presentation, getting it wrong, making mistakes, and I start feeling sorry for him because I know this can be hard: tough customer and all that. But the thing is I genuinely want his quote. I do want some new windows. I just don’t want to listen to all the guff because I can get that off the internet and I still want to weigh up his quote versus the other companies we’ve talked to. All of whom were local and far more pleasant.
So while he’s doing that, I pull up his company website on my phone. I was looking at it earlier, and nothing he says to me about his windows is new.
Almost an hour later and this guy’s voice is croaking because I still haven’t offered him a cup of tea. He’s going on about the benefits of injecting gas between the panes. Apparently the gas is really important and “it’s not the sort of thing which your local window company can do for you, no offence.”
This isn’t the first time he’s had a go at the local companies. According to him they’re unreliable, take too long to get anything done, and are at least 30 percent more expensive. So in response to this latest dig at the competition I kind of flipped.
“How do you know?” I said to him.
“How do you know the local guys can’t do this?”
“Because they don’t have the manufacturing facilities that we do. We have an eighteen acre plant in the UK that employs over six-hundred specialist staff.”
Time to take control, I think. He’s had more than his fifteen minutes and I still don’t have my quote. Mind you, he doesn't have his cup of tea either. Stalemate.
“Can’t they buy from manufacturers who make windows the same way as yours?” I ask him.
“Well… Not really. They can’t buy from us.”
“That's not what I'm asking. I mean, you’re not the only company that makes windows with this... gas, are you? Surely any local firm can buy their windows from a manufacturer that uses the same process.”
“No, they’re too small,” he says. So I ask him if he knows who the local companies around here are.
Turns out he doesn’t.
“So you can’t know how big they are,” I say to him. “You don’t even know who they are! Look, just tell me how much. Please.”
He maintains he has more to say but I insist and I’m genuinely starting to get annoyed, so he gives me the price. Sort of.
Here’s how that went:
“Normally,” he begins, “this kind of installation with [blah…] would cost you twenty-three thousand pounds.”
If I’d been sitting down I’d have fallen off my chair. It’s more than double the highest price I’d been quoted by our ‘too small’, 'unreliable' and 'expensive' local firms.
“However,” he continues, “today is your lucky day.”
If I hadn’t already fallen off the chair that I wasn’t sitting on I’d have fallen off it twice. I look at my wife standing next to me.
Did he just say what I think he said?
(This is an exchange she and I have which is communicated solely by the judicious raising of our eyebrows.)
In return, my wife’s eyebrows say to me: Why do you invite these people into the house? You’re an idiot. Get rid of him.
The guy is still talking: “… if you’re willing to make a deposit of one-hundred pounds today then I can let you in on a really special deal. To be honest we’re not supposed to be taking orders on this today because officially it’s finished, but the boss has already said he’d OK it.”
At this point I’m incredulous. Do companies really still use these tactics to grab a deal, I’m thinking? It’s like being in a really poor car showroom.
My wife butts in. “What’s the deal?” she says. Right to the point, but inwardly I’m screaming, ‘Noooooo!’
At this the guy visibly relaxes! I see it happen, and it’s simply ASTONISHING! He leans back in his chair, he smiles and he flexes his fingers, I kid you not.
“What would you say if I could take that down to just four-teen grand?” he asks, slowly, measured.
My wife springs her trap. “Then I’d say you were massively overcharging us in the first place and your discount is a fake.”
I start looking at my phone again, back on their website. I’m feeling nervous for the guy now but my wife has just given me an idea and I do something I should’ve done earlier.
However, he laughs it off. He says, “I like you, so I tell you what I’ll do: I think I can get you an even better deal.”
Still looking at his website on my phone I mumble, “Are you going to call your manager?”
“I’m going to call my manager!” he announces proudly.
My wife leaves the room. I didn’t dare look at her eyebrows.
The guy calls his manager.
(I remember back in my day we had to use the customer’s phone for this. This guy’s got it easy.)
Very quickly he’s on his phone, talking ‘to his manager’. “Yes, really lovely couple… they’ve been offered some deals by a few local firms… Yes... Yes, I told them about the gas.”
Eventually he finishes his call, looks at me and says, “Great news! I can do the whole thing for ten-and-a-half-K if you put a hundred deposit down today. We can do the credit check online now. Won’t take five minutes.”
I slide my phone across the table. Screen up.
He looks at it and within a few seconds everything about him crumbles. I have my poker face on. It doesn’t get out much.
“Where’s this?” he asks in a very small, strangled voice. Still no tea.
“TrustPilot,” I tell him. “The link’s on your own website.”
“I see… Well I… Can I read these?”
He reads them quietly, sweating, and then he says, “There are some five-star reviews though…”
I spin the phone back to me. “Yes, seventy-four percent of your reviews are ‘excellent’. So if they’re genuine you have some very happy customers. But listen to this…”
I read a few of the bad ones out and they’re essentially variations on, ‘Don’t trust this company… Incompetent… Rubbish… Aggressive and Bullying salesmen… Terrible experience… Shambolic… Cowboys… Nightmare … DO NOT BUY … etc etc…’
“I think we’ll call it a day,” I finish up. “Don’t you agree?”
The guy is truly beat. It’s raining outside, a dark Saturday afternoon, and now he’s got to explain to his boss why he didn’t get the sale. I feel for him a bit, so I soften up and tell him it’s not him, he’s a nice guy, but I’d made it clear from the start I wasn’t going to buy today and now the chances of me buying anything from his company are zero squared. I ask him if he’s got any more calls this afternoon and on the way to the door we get into a bit of a conversation. He relaxes, tells me the targets are hard, the environment competitive and he’s been doing this kind of job all over the world for thirty-odd years, though only six months so far with this company.
“The internet does make it more difficult,” he says.
“So change the way you sell,” I tell him. Inwardly I'm thinking 'get yourself a better job'.
I give him my business card, we talk briefly about what I do, but not surprisingly they’ve yet to call me back. I wish them well.
OK. So there’s a lot to unpack here and I welcome your thoughts and comments. And I get it that maybe I’m not a typical customer. But who is?
Thing is, I do enjoy being sold to. I love it when I speak to someone who is master of their salescraft, who takes me on a journey towards buying something amazing, and even though I can still see the tactics and techniques behind it, and even if I still don’t buy the thing, I’m nonetheless appreciative of it when it’s done well. Even when someone tries to do well. But I think in this case, the odds were stacked against this guy because the sales process his company employs is outdated and wrong for today’s customer. All I had to do was bring up a few bad reviews and it fell to pieces.
I’m sure it still works to a degree because they wouldn’t be in business if it didn’t.
But how much greater would their sales conversions be, their time spent more efficient, their sales people better at managing difficult customers, and their customers themselves perhaps more patient with installation issues, if this company's sales approach – and probably their support and supply processes too I shouldn’t wonder – was more refined and more customer-focused? Reading their reviews it seems their after-sales experience finds itself just as lacking as their front end. And I suspect they're not the only company that needs to re-think the way they market and sell their products and services.
In my opinion this shambles of a sales process should be thrown to the wolves.
Incidentally, whilst writing this piece I’ve just had someone try to sell me something on the phone and you wouldn’t believe how that went. Is it just me? Frankly I’m staggered by how awful it was.
I’ll tell you about it in another piece, later.
But let me know what you think. Are these 'hardcore' selling techniques still effective?