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By Troy Harrison

These days, it seems that “walls” are all the rage in the news. Where will it be built? Who will build it? And of course, who’s going to pay for it? This started me thinking about the most common wall we all deal with in our sales lives. And before we discuss it, let’s answer those three questions:

Where will it be built? Between you and your customer.

Who will build it? You and your customer.

Who pays for it? YOU – in terms of lost sales and relationships.

By now, you’ve figured out that the wall I’m talking about is the imaginary wall between you and your customer; the one that prevents you from getting a sale. This wall can be the biggest, most impenetrable, and toughest you’ll ever face – and you probably have a hand in building it. What I want to do in this column is help you recognize some of the ways and times that salespeople either build the wall, or cause the customer to build the wall, so you can avoid them.

We should also recognize that a wall is the common and normal reaction to dealing with a salesperson. People (your customers) have been conditioned to think of salespeople as their adversaries (probably by the salespeople that came before you). So, the natural state of the customer, when dealing with a salesperson, is to start with a little bit of a wall already built. Think of a cinder-block wall, each block about a foot high. Most people are going to begin their interaction with you with about one or two rows of cinderblocks. That’s not bad. It’s easy to reach across, step over, or even dismantle if the customer decides to. The question is – when we talk to our customers, are we adding or removing blocks?

Once a wall is built, there aren’t many ways to get to the other side. You can try to go over (difficult), tunnel under (more difficult), or blast through (unfortunately, the technique too many salespeople use). None are effective in sales. Let’s take it from the top; where do walls get built?

On the prospecting call: Walls can be built, faster and quicker, on the prospecting call than any other place. Your objective, when you make a prospecting call, is to quickly grab the customer’s interest without adding blocks to the wall. However, here’s what most salespeople do: Hi, Mr. Customer. HOW ARE YOU TODAY? Good grief. There is no bigger call-killer than “Duuuhhhh….how are you today?” to someone you don’t know. Normally, you hear a pause followed by a hesitant, “Uh, fine. How can I help you?” Or something of that nature. Meanwhile, the customer is slapping blocks on top of his wall as fast as he can to defend himself from you. A better approach is to quickly engage the customer with a value statement about how you can help, ask a question, and get a sales call moving BEFORE they can build a wall.

Opening the first meeting: One of the most offensive, and quickest wall-building techniques, is called the “Up Front Contract.” It’s designed as a way to ‘qualify’ prospects for seriousness, and it works something like this: “If you like what I show you today, we can go forward with a purchase, correct?” That’s a much simplified way of putting it but the idea is to introduce yourself to your brand new customer and then ask if he’s serious about having you there. This, it is said, gives you “control” over the process. If you’ve read my work in the past, you know that “control” is an illusion at best. What this technique really does is have the customer putting up blocks and mortaring them in place as quickly as possible. Worse, you’re handing him the blocks.

Leading Questions: Leading questions are the salesperson’s stock in trade….in the 1960s. One of the classics is the old “If I could, would you?” question, designed to get the customer to commit to what is (usually) an unrealistic scenario and then ‘negotiate’ from there. An example was when I was shopping recently for a new motorcycle and the sales manager (who fancied himself quite the closer) said, “Well, if I could give you double book value on your trade-in, you’d be interested in that, right?” I walked. I don’t have time for nonsense, and these days, neither do your customers. Once upon a time, this was an effective technique, but generations of salespeople have trained their customers to spot it. Now? It’s a signal to build the wall. Depending on the question and timing, this will add anywhere from one to five rows of blocks.

Always answer a question with a question: Good grief. If there’s anything that drives a customer nuts, it’s a person who won’t give a straight answer to a question. For instance, a politican might ask a salesperson, “Does this paper shredder have a subpoena speed setting?” And the eager salesperson might respond with, “Is subpoena speed important to you?” or “Why do you want subpoena speed?” A few repetitions of this during a sales call, and not only is the customer’s wall fully built, you’ve been asked to leave. I do understand the need to clarify questions, but a better technique is to answer the question. “Yes, this model does have subpoena speed, but the model below doesn’t. Will that be a big factor in the purchase?”

In today’s Internet driven world of selling, straightforward communication is your friend. Customers nowadays are much more streetwise than in the past. They understand doublespeak, “sales words,” and other techniques designed to put them on the defensive. Once upon a time, they had to put up with it; now they can simply get what they need through the Internet if salespeople are inconvenient. Avoid wall building techniques, and you won’t be one of those salespeople that are cut out of the process.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly e-zine, call (913) 645-3603, email, or visit


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