Selling From the Heart

By Noah Graff

Selling cookies from the heart.

I’m still a relatively inexperienced salesman, as I’ve been selling machine tools for only two years. But I do believe I have the potential to be a decent one. I’m not afraid to talk to strangers, I think I’m a decent listener, and a lot of people appear to find me worth talking to.

At the Precision Machined Parts Association (PMPA) Management Update in Las Vegas in February, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Ron Karr, a famous sales expert and author who has been on the lecture circuit for 25 years. I was surprised by several things Karr told us, but overall I thought his philosophy made a lot of sense.

I wanted to take advantage of Karr’s expertise as much as I could, so during the lecture I volunteered to do a therapeutic roleplaying exercise in front of the 200 people present.

I went up on stage and Karr asked me to tell him about my business and show him my sales approach. I said that I sold multi-spindle screw machines to machine shops. Then I asked him what type of machines he ran.

He told me that I was “speaking from the head” rather than “speaking from the heart.” I tried again to give my pitch, with more “heart.” I said, “I want to help your business make parts faster and more easily, and help you make more money.” He again said I was still “too much from the head,” but slightly better.

I made several more attempts to speak from the heart as Karr coached me. He eventually instructed me to say something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Noah Graff. The reason I’m here is to share some strategies on how you can make parts more easily and make more money.” He also suggested I open a conversation with customers by asking, “What are the three biggest challenges your business is dealing with?” Karr claims that by asking a question like that it brings the conversation to a higher level, thus making the salesperson into more than just a vendor. I understood the concept behind that, but to me the opener came across as canned and unauthentic, thus ineffective in initiating a conversation. I pictured myself calling a machine shop out of the blue, getting connected to a manager on the shop floor, and giving that spiel right off the bat. I believe he would hang up on me within 15 seconds, and maybe yell at me for wasting his time.

If I knew the customer already, if we already had a rapport, I could see how such an approach could work. I’ve tried to work these types of questions into my sales calls in the last week and a half since the conference, but not as conversation openers. It’s hard to know at this point if it has had a positive impact.

Despite disliking Karr’s conversation openers, I thought some of his concepts were brilliant. He said that a salesperson should focus the conversation around issues brought up by a customer rather than the advantages of the product for sale. He said that only 10-20% of an interaction with a customer should involve explanation or demonstration of the product for sale. He said that humans have the tendency to feel that the more they talk, the more power they have, and that this belief is usually false. According to Karr, talking too much actually diminishes the power of the salesperson because the customer will not have a chance to tell the salesperson what they really need and will feel like his needs are being ignored.

I think the “heart” Karr wanted me to convey is a genuine desire to listen to a customer. If I show “heart” by talking less, I will listen more and sell more — that is, if I can get through the door.

Question: If a sales person called you and the first thing he said was, “What are the three biggest challenges your business is facing?” would you give him the time of day, or would you hang up?

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12 thoughts on “Selling From the Heart

  1. Paul K

    Unless I already had an idea what the salesman was selling and had a reasonable belief in the fit between his solution and my needs, I would end the conversation ASAP. I do not hang up on people unless they fail to agree to end a conversaton after giving them fair warning of my reasoning.

  2. George Newman

    First thing, cold calling today is much more difficult than in the past. Clients will not return email or phone calls unless there is a good reason. A better approach is to “warm” call. Use referrals from present customers, Linkedin and other social media to gain introductions through people you already know. With a referral the client is more likely to listen to you.

    I would guess that Mr. Karr did not tell you to use this approach on a cold phone call. Do a little google research and you will find many good ways to make a cold phone call memorable. However, on a first face-to-face call, his approach is a good one. You want to gain credibility that you have the knowledge to solve a problem that has benefit to the client. Notice I did not say financial benefit because not all clients want to make more money (really!). Asking open ended questions and really listening will help you figure out what the client’s real goals and needs are. But be sure to qualify the account to make sure you are not giving away consultative advice for free.

    Good luck.

  3. Eric

    There’s nothing more annoying than a salesman who distracts me from the problem at hand and wastes my time to tell me he can fix problems I’m not dealing with at the time and may never have. Don’t call us, we’ll call you…
    I don’t need a saleperson to be my “buddy” either. I just need him to offer his services when I call.

  4. Kim

    If a call like that made it through our reception (and we have a pretty good gatekeeper), then I would probably answer back with a question of who are you and what are you selling rather than answering the question. I would be much more likely to respond to that kind of question if I already had a relationship with the vendor, but even then I wouldn’t expect that to be the first question. I really don’t like to hang up on callers so I probably wouldn’t do that, but I would find it annoying.

    I also find annoying voice mails that don’t leave enough info to determine who they are and what they want. I may be a little curious, but not that much, so no, I won’t call you back.

  5. Jim Goerges

    Obamacare, retirement plans, and government regulations and taxes. What type of machine do you got for that?

    1. Bryan

      This reminds me of when I was young and being recruited by the military. The Marines called me one day and started out with, ‘This is John, I’m a sargeant at the Marine Recruitment office in Your Town. I saw your ASVAB scores and they are phenominal. I’ve got 3 simple questions for you that could help you find your way in the world doing something that you would enjoy. First, where are you working at now? -McDonald’s That’s a great place to get experience working with people. Do you plan on working there all your life? -Yup Ok, have a nice day… Looking back at this touchy feely way of communication really only left me with one question… What was his third question going to be?

  6. Doug

    Noah, you are absolutely correct, it sounds canned and unauthentic. Unless you made it clear to me in the next few seconds that you did not want to start that way but had a consultant tell you how fantastic it would work, our conversation would be over very quickly. So now my suggestion to you is If, instead, you asked it and immediately sensed this did not go over well, and could then chime in with ” I have to stop attending seminars with pompous sales experts” at least with me, you would have 10 minutes to explain what you do and how you can help. I would likely end our conversation thanking you for turning off the salesman and speaking with me as a human.

    I know a “trainer of all things business” who is full of ways to “sell” and I suspect she has been in the audience of your guru or your guru has been in the audience of one of her seminars. (one thing you will learn in time is most of the world famous experts are nothing other than washed up sales people who pumped up their resume so they can land the occasional big trade show gig as someone world renowned) One of the other things my guru said is people don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people they like; I have to remind her of this when I remind her that I do not like people who use a canned unauthentic opening line.

  7. Dan

    Yes, the world is filling up with hyped up, pumped up “sales experts” and “feel good” talkers. They sing the same old song and collect money from anyone that will listen.

    Why not keep it simple?

    1. My name is ……..
    2. How are you today?
    3. MAY I speak with you for 1 minute about my Machine Tool Company?
    (if no then respect that and try again some other time)
    4 If yes….”I sell screw machines and tooling, and I would like to perhaps someday help you out with parts or a complete machine”
    5. May I send you info on my company?

    Do all of the above in 1-2 minutes (unless THEY want to talk more) and then mention
    “I know you are busy, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time”…..that’s a courteous gesture, and lets them know that YOU know they have better things to do than be distracted by your cold call.

    If you get thru that and they don’t hand up, consider it a successful cold call. Try another…..
    Don’t forget to follow up.

  8. Bill

    It depends on who awnsers the phone. If it is a seasoned manufacturing expert, such as the responders above, then slick sales tactics turn them off. However if it is someone who was promoted from sales then the canned response would get him/her interested listening to the meat of your pitch.
    Just MY .02


  9. Emily

    I think the followup is very important. Even if I don’t know a salesman, if they bug me enough (in a positive way and for specific reasons) I often eventually appreciate their persistence and understanding of what I’m doing and will come to appreciate them and know them. Then when the time is right, they’re in my head and easy to reach out to.

  10. jax thomas

    Ron Karr, a famous sales expert and author who has been on the lecture circuit for 25 years –

    when was the last time he sold something. things have changed slightly in the last 25 years


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