No features, no benefits … sold!
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No features, no benefits … sold!

Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Here, sales consultant Dan Seidman recalls an earlier time in his career, when he was selling an especially challenging “product”: other salespeople!

When I was an executive recruiter, it was my job to pitch outstanding candidates to employers looking for salespeople. My calls often sounded like this:

Me: Hello, I hear you’re looking for a salesperson. I have a woman, trained at a Fortune 500 tech firm, who hit 150% of her quota the past three years.
Decision maker: We don’t use headhunters, we require a college degree and we only take people with 10 years’ experience in our industry. If she’s so great, why’s she looking?

Thus began a verbal arm-wrestling match. Selling this way was exhausting.

A much better way
One day, I realized I’d been pitching features and benefits – “trained by Fortune 500, hit 150% of quota” – and getting nowhere. So I tried a new tack.

On my next call, I decided not to mention these things at all. I resolved to focus on only one thing: the consequences of not buying from me.

Here’s how the conversation went with the first sales manager I reached. I’ll call him John:

Me: Hi, I heard you had an open territory. How’s it going?”
John: Well, I’m very busy interviewing people now (of course, he was setting me up to get off the phone with the “very busy” comment).
Me: So who’s covering that open territory?
John: I am.
Me: In addition to all your other work?
John: Yes.
Me: That must be taking some extra time from your day, huh?
John: No, it’s not really affecting my days. I just work into the evening (he laughed).
Me: Must be tough on your family.
John: I haven’t been home for dinner in two weeks. And my wife is a great cook!

More consequences
I continued asking other consequence questions: “Do your competitors know these accounts aren’t being visited? Is the missing person costing the company much money? Is this costing you money?”

I’d framed the call around the consequences of the missing sales rep. Five minutes in, John asked if I had anyone for him to see.

Imagine that! I hadn’t mentioned my “product.” Nor had I presented any benefits I could offer. There wasn’t even a hint that I had a solution for this problem.

But John knew one thing about me: I understood his personal experience. So who was better qualified to help him – me, or the other pushy salesperson calling to “present” candidates for the job?

This was my Greatest Sale because it taught me the value of focusing on consequences instead of benefits. I’ve used this strategy ever since. It’s a powerful way to get the buyer focused on what he or she needs instead of what you sell.

Dan Seidman is a sales consultant, trainer, and author of Sales Autopsy (Kaplan Publishing) and The Ultimate Sales Training Book. His web site is

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