How Important Are “Techniques” To Sales?


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The other day, I wrote a piece, What Are The 3 Characteristics That Set Great Sales People Apart?  It stimulated quite a reaction as people started suggesting their ideas.  I was surprised by the focus of a number of people on the “right techniques.”  These comments started to make me wonder about my own belief system and biases.

I guess I have a very negative reaction to the concept of sales techniques.  When I think of these techniques, I think of sales tricks and manipulation.  I did a little research:

  • Persuasion techniques like, “the art of repetition,” “the foot in the door,” “the bait and switch,” “low-ball,”that’s not all,” and the lists of techniques for persuading people can go on.
  • Closing techniques like, “the assumptive close,” “the puppy dog close,” “fire sales close,” “thermometer close”, “the ultimatum close.”  I actually found a site listing 68 closing techniques!
  • Objection handling like, “the boomerang,” “pushback,” “deflection.”

I could go on with list after list of techniques I found in researching “sales techniques.”  I went to the dictionary to look up the definition:

tech-nique  [tek-neek]  1.  The manner and ability with which an artist, writer, dancer, athlete, or the like employs the technical skills of a particular art or field of endeavor.  2.  The body of specialized procedures and methods used in any specific field, esp. in the area of applied science.  3.  Method of performance ; way of accomplishing.  4.  Technical skill; ability to apply procedures or methods so as to effect a desired result.

After reading the definition, I started to think, much of the “advice” I and others I respect offer are “techniques” — or methods — or processes.  After all, I’ve written a lot about effective questioning, listening, qualification, developing and communicating value.  I present tools (techniques) people can use to make them more effective in connecting with and engaging customers.  Likewise, there are a large number of other consultants and bloggers that offer great approaches that create real value for customers, sales professionals and others.

So why do I have such a negative reaction to “sales techniques?”  I think I my negative reaction to “techniques” is not the techniques themselves (though I saw very little redeeming in the list of 68 closing techniques), but the intent or use of the technique.

So often, underlying the use of technique is an intent to manipulate, trick, or deceive.  Anytime the person(s) on the receiving side of a sales person using “techniques” in these ways, everything sours.  What may have been good suddenly turns distasteful. 

On the other hand, techniques can be important to gaining insight and understanding about the customer.  They can help you engage the customer in a conversation about their problems, dreams and goals.  Techniques can be important in communicating complex ideas.  They can help people understand, they can serve to simplify.  Techniques can be important in helping facilitate the customer’s buying process, in helping present value, in helping manage change.  They provide structure for us to work with customers, improving the way we engage them.

I suppose any tool, tip, process, methodology, and, yes, technique can be abused.  Their use can be manipulative and misleading.  Yet we do need techniques.

I’ll have to mull this over a little while, I’m still uncomfortable.  I’m trying to talk myself into believing that techniques are good.  However, I just can’t help it, whenever I hear the term “sales technique,” I immediately think of scenes from movies like Boiler-room.  I think of sleazy sales people doing the “bait and switch,”  followed by the “boomerang” objection handling technique, capped off by the “puppy dog close.”  They trigger the worst examples of sales I can imagine.

Am I wrong on these sales techniques? Can any of you offer advice that can make me more comfortable?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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