Slow Selling

Too much emphasis is placed on making agreements on the phone. The world is too complex for that.

By “slow selling”, I don’t mean “sales are slow”. Instead, I mean taking whatever time you need when it comes to buying and selling decisions. And controlling the timing.

When do you know for certain what you think or want?

Not on a live phone conversation. At least not for me, and maybe not for some of you.

So why this outdated, 20th-Century notion of inking deals on the fly? (“That work for you?”. “Yep, that’ll work!”. “Great!”.)

Maybe because business deals were simpler back in the 1950s or 60s when this meme took hold? 

Here’s the thing – there is no, “let’s just simplify this” when it comes to complex services agreements that call on technology, creative, marketing, and consultative expertise. It’s never a simple deal, it’s just a smaller or bigger one.

In his amalgam of essays titled Hell Yeah or No, which is webpage-readable in the tradition of Getting Real, Derek Sivers has an entry called I’m a Very Slow Thinker.

People say that your first reaction is the most honest, but I disagree. Your first reaction is usually outdated. Either it’s an answer you came up with long ago and now use instead of thinking, or it’s a knee-jerk emotional response to something in your past.

… Someone asks you a question. You don’t need to answer. You can say, “I don’t know,” and take your time to answer after thinking. Things happen. Someone expects you to respond. But you can say, “We’ll see.”

One more thing I’d add: hold your ground.

Because people “good at” sales will react to your “we’ll see” with more pressure.

But “good at” in this context usually means pressing for terms that benefit them. And wearing the other party down with more net energy, delivered in the aggressive packaging of charm.

But most people aren’t like this, at least not always. Derek also says:

“When someone wants to interview me for their show, I ask them to send me some questions a week in advance. I spend hours writing down answers from different perspectives, before choosing the most interesting one.”

That’s how to say just what you want during a live conversation. But here the context is preparing for a podcast; the stakes can be higher when you’re preparing to talk about a complex business deal.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have a drive-fast personality, then you shouldn’t drive fast. If you aren’t given to thinking fast, don’t try.

(And if you really detest making contractual decisions during conversation, fast or slow, then consider productizing your services.)

In business you will inevitably encounter people who are faster thinkers than you. It doesn’t mean they are smarter. And even if they are, so what?

The thing to be aware of is that such people will be present offers and counter offers more quickly than you. Your responses shouldn’t just be, “I don’t know”. Instead, proactively assert yourself: “I don’t know and I won’t know on this call, but I probably will tomorrow; I’ll let you know in writing”.

In the mean time, offer back questions, information, ideas, objections, and context. Just no agreements to terms.

To help you along this path, use the two phrases that Derek Sivers gives us, as starting points at least:

  • “I don’t know”
  • “We’ll see”

Good advice is to reframe problems and solutions for others; better advice is to reframe them for others and for yourself. So reframe for yourself what buying and selling complexity is supposed to be: a series of conversations where deals are discussed, punctuated by periods of solitary reflection in which deals are decided upon.

That’s slow selling.

My best