Will a Slow Sales Movement Save Us from Ourselves?


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“Sell more, with fewer resources, faster. Oh, while you’re at it, bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.”

How’s that for a quartet of challenges? Yet, most of us have achieved at least three of them–somehow.

Before the banking meltdown, the bad economy, credit crunches, and tech bubbles, we responded. We absorbed higher sales quotas, targeted prospects better, made our lead generation more efficient, and shortened sales cycles.

But time and again, we learn that our sales efforts have a negative impact on customer relationships. Our prospective customers often don’t trust salespeople, don’t like them, and don’t want to communicate with them. Are we pushing too hard? Should we cool our jets? Maybe the time has come for a Slow Sales movement.

Decades of Fast Sales dictums have yielded tactics that clash with long-term strategic goals:

“Close the Sale” versus “Build a Relationship”

“Ramp up sales quickly!” versus “Gain customer loyalty”

“Be the top regional revenue producer” (and hoard tacit knowledge) versus “share knowledge so the entire sales organization can benefit”

“Make the quarterly revenue goal” versus “maximize the total value of the customer”

The Slow ideal has found a growing audience willing to question whether our obsession with expediting everything serves our longer-term interests. The Slow Food Movement began as a counter-force to government and commercial entities that promoted convenience food and economies of scale without regard for sound nutritional and environmental practices. Educators have recognized a parallel danger. Peggy Orenstein wrote in The New York Times (Kindergarten Cram, May 3, 2009) “maybe the current economic retrenchment will trigger a new perspective on early education . . . Call it Slow Schools. After all, part of what got us into this mess was valuing achievement, speed and results over ethics, thoughtfulness and responsibility.” In education, it takes a brave person to question outcomes that are sacrosanct to many. But Ms. Orenstein reframed the question: it’s not about how can a child’s development be sped up, it’s “why are we so hellbent on doing so?”

Similarly, in sales, we must change the overarching questions we’re asking. The problem is, “how do we sell more, better, faster?” sounds better at the Achiever’s Club golf outing than another question I recently heard, “what steps do we need to take with each prospect and when should we take them based on the natural progression of our prospect’s purchase process?” That long-winded question sounds way too kind, and many sales executives would feel silly asking it. But by asking and answering that question we’re possibly more likely to achieve strategic sales success than by relentlessly pursuing tactics to satisfy the first one. Fast Sales rarely comes without high pressure and customer pain—two conditions that damage, rather than improve, financial results.

The promoters of the Slow Food movement exposed exploitation after recognizing a long-simmering win-lose relationship between top producers and end consumers. Large food manufacturers such as Monsanto, ConAgra, and Archer Daniels Midland could meet their financial objectives while at the consumer end of the value chain, people became overweight and undernourished. But Slow Food and Slow Sales are an imperfect comparison. The Slow Food movement encompasses ideals I haven’t seen on the white board for any sales planning meeting I’ve attended: equitable distribution of products and resources, and responsible stewardship of the planet.

Not that we’re unconcerned and mercenary, but in sales, one simple financial reality explains our preoccupation with speed: Net Present Value. Assuming the cost of capital is constant, the present value of a dollar in revenue today is worth more than in any future period. That cold fact drives strategic decisions. Sometimes customers benefit—sometimes they don’t. So through the Net Present Value lens, the juxtaposition of “slow” and “sales” might mean a situation to avoid rather than an inspirational movement.

But the same way fast food brings us Type II diabetes, and high-achieving preschoolers bring us win-at-any-cost adults, tactics to secure short-term revenue bring unwanted side effects that could take more than one generation to fix. Some progressive companies understand this, and not surprisingly, have embedded Slow Sales ideals into their brand. For example, “At Oboz we build shoes for outdoor use—shoes with meaningful innovation, solid performance and recognizable quality. We are also stewards of our rich natural heritage and believe that a business should contribute to the greater common good.”

If that lofty goal conjures up images of American consumers (who want affordable quality footwear, available in local retail outlets) holding hands in the woods with citizens of producing countries (who want jobs, unpolluted air, and clean lakes), it’s probably a mirage. Would Oboz voluntarily curtail sales growth to avoid sourcing materials from non-compliant vendors (a common dilemma in eco-manufacturing)? There are no easy answers, and tradeoffs must be made. But kudos to Oboz! At least I sense this issue has a spot on the white board in the company board room.

Like other Slow movements, Slow Sales requires taking some unpopular stances, and asking uncomfortable questions that put tried-and-true in the cross hairs of change. For some companies, that means looking at selling in a fundamentally different way by regarding a purchase transaction as a point on a timeline, rather than the end-game of a sales process.

Slow Sales won’t work for every company. It requires a long-term planning horizon, and companies that don’t have the resources to go the distance will trade one set of risks for another. But as with food and education, Slow might provide the best way to deliver value that can sustain both producer and consumer now, and in the future.


  1. Andy, Will slow sales save us from ourselves? For some yes, for others, no. Business, you see, is a lot like traffic on the highway. We want to go fast . . . faster than the car ahead of us . . and then faster than the car in front of the next car, etc. At some place, traffic slows for no logical reason. So, we change lanes hoping that the new lane will open up more space to pass these cars . . and more times than not, it works.

    In business, projecting sales, sales are pushed upwards and upwards to show progress. To project or plan for slower progress is not the norm until one the road is blocked by things the business cannot control. Then it is too late to change lanes to see if that works. Had the driver planned that traffic might one day be slower, the driver would planned to start earlier. When business is moving forward fast, why even think about starting earlier?

    One of my uncles, Harry Zell, when cars with automatic gearshifts became very popular, had a favorite adage he used when talking about why new salespeople don’t seem to know how to listen to customers and react accordingly. It was, “The problem with salespeople today is that everyone wants to put the car in Drive and if it calls for shifting gears.” . Cars, he said, with gearshifts and clutches called for planning . . . looking ahead for hills and curves. In business, hills are economic times, curves to navigate are customers. Has the computer, the automatic gearshift of today’s business, caused business people to forget that there are hills and curves coming that if not planned for, one could go off the road?

    In my volunteer consulting with SCORE, we went through a time when everyone wanted to be an entrepreneur and open their own business. “Going into business for yourself” was the mantra of the times. People went into business without a business plan or, if they did one, they never looked at their road map to see where they were in relation to where they thought they would/should be. Eventually, some ended up at a dead end and had to stop. Others found that they route had changed and they ran out of gas.

    While this tale of woe relates to small or micro businesses, it can be applied to larger ones also. The difference is the size of the numbers of dollars and people and customers, the road is steeper and curves curvier. What larger business have going for them is that their cars are sturdier and the gas tanks are larger . . . but being larger and heavier, also means it takes more shifting mor often and, since this is the downside of the hill they had previously reached, it calls for using compression and a lighter touch on the brakes. Using all brakes means the brakes may fail and there is a fatal crash (business loses customers and sales, investors loose their money, employees their jobs, suppliers their customers), everyone loses.

    There are many reasons why a slowing business environment may have a positive effect. The road is safer because It takes people off the road who shouldn’t have been given a driver’s license in the first place. They will now have to go back to start on the road again but before leaving the hous,, take new driver’s tests, plan for the road with hills and curves that lay ahead.


    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Sellingm offers consulting, workshops, speaking on all business topics that affect sales. He can be reached at [email protected] For more information, please visit his website, http://www.sellingselling.com Mr. Zell is the recipient of the the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence, He is a member of PNW Sales & Marketing Group, Institute of Management Consultants, and Linkedin.com


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