The thing that puzzles me about sales

Here’s something I don’t get – Sales.

Well, that’s misleading. I get Sales as a function, I get Sales as a career, and I get Sales as a necessary part of B2B relationships. What I don’t get are some of the tactics that salespeople all seem to use.

In particular, there has always been one thing that has stood out to me as odd and even when I try and think about the logic, I’m still not sure it’s the best approach.

Salespeople always leave the costs until last.

I sit in a ton of pitches. I’m constantly doing vendor analysis and running RFPs, and I can’t tell you the number of proposals I evaluate in a month. And the one thing, without exception, that all these presentations have in common? The costs are always left until last.

In theory, I get it.

It’s the whole wow with the product, sell the dream, paint the sky blue thing. Make whatever it is you’re selling seem so invaluable that when the costs come at the end, they’ll pay anything. They’ll make the costs work.

That’s a trite oversimplification, but from what I can gather that is the formula.

I can understand not going out with costs in the first round of cold calling. However, it’s when there’s been enough romancing to get everyone in a room together and the costs are still kept until the end that I start to challenge the thinking.

Firstly, and unfortunately, presentations rarely wow nowadays. I’m wary I might sound like a condescending know all with that comment, but from what I’ve seen, it’s true.

I’m not doubting Sales is tough. In fact, I’ve worked in Sales and “tough” is a fairly diluted adjective. It’s a gruelling, exhausting emotional roller coaster – and more often than not, the people you’re trying to sell to are condescending know alls.

But this doesn’t change the fact that it is rare to have a presentation really get you thinking “I would pay anything for this product/service/idea”. And with that, the first half of the ‘costs at the end’ formula is broken.

Secondly, and to me what stands out as the more prevalent thing, salespeople seem to be the only people who employ this tactic.

If you consider nearly every other purchase you make you see the price upfront. Supermarkets, flights, clothing, restaurants, cars – at the same time as your brain registers what it is you’re looking it, you also have a value for it. From there, with this figure in mind, be it a can of peaches or a Canada Goose jacket, you will examine its qualities and determine whether it is indeed worth what you know the cost to be.

And doesn’t this make sense?

I can’t imagine a clothing store with no price tags where you only found out how much things are when you’ve tried everything on.

Actually, that’s a lie, I can imagine that because I had almost that exact experience recently in Florence. I was in the Miu Miu store and tried on a beautiful blouse which happened to be missing its tag. I knew it would be expensive but when I asked the shop assistant how much it was and they replied €1035 I couldn’t get it off fast enough. It was a highly uncomfortable experience.

But for that exact reason, it makes sense to know the cost upfront. Had I seen the price tag and decided that perhaps my desire to try it on anyway was enough to potentially match the cost, at least during the whole time assessing how it looked, I would be benchmarking this against how much it was.

I suppose when it comes to salespeople, it’s a combination of things that keeps them stuck to the current formula. There’s a fear that upfront costs would immediately turn off prospects. In fact, there may even be research to prove that which dismisses my entire theory.

I guess there is a competitive advantage in keeping your costs discreet too. If everyone knew everyone else’s market rate it would just become a race to the bottom – which is never a good business model.

There’s probably an element of ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ too. But here I’m less sympathetic because it may be the worst reason not to try something.

I’m not saying my take on Sales tactics would close deals – it’s one tiny piece of a very complex relationship building and product showcasing exercise. I’m also not saying I know how to be a salesperson. I would like to reiterate one more time that I know this is a hard gig.

But from the other side of the table, what I am saying is there’s reason to think a policy of upfront cost transparency could actually benefit the process. It gives something to think about and judge against throughout the sell.

In truth, as prospective clients we are usually sitting there waiting for the hit at the end anyway. If anything, a blindside on chart one could be a refreshing change.

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