This blog is posted in conjunction with our The Hard Sell podcast,
Most entrepreneurs would love to make customers “an offer
they can’t refuse”.
The first offer so described was made by Don Vito Corleone
in The Godfather. He had his heavyset
associate, Luca Brasi, hold a pistol to the head of a bandleader who was
proving difficult in negotiations, and assured the bandleader that either his
signature or his brains would be on the contract.
Of course, few of us would really want to resort to the
threat of murder in order to seal a deal, but most of us have surely
fantasised, in the middle of some excruciatingly drawn out negotiations, that
we could do something to expedite the process.
Most big sales are difficult – if they were easy, everyone
would be rich. People are usually prepared to hand over relatively small sums
with very little thought, but the effort required to separate them from their
hard-earned cash increases in proportion to the amounts involved.
The best tactic if selling something cheap is a hit-and-run
raid – do not give the customer time to react before you are away with his
money. Move immediately on to the next customer. “Stack them high, sell them
quick.” It sounds undignified but a lot of multi-millionaires started out that
However, for a business-owner or chief executive, negotiating
the big order or commission which can really make a business has more in common
with a medieval siege. Such sieges could take months, even years. They
developed a ritual of their own. There were established procedures on both
sides, distinct phases, and standard moves and counter-moves. The whole bloody
business was often – although by no means always – carried on with exquisite
courtesy, according to an accepted etiquette, an elaborate mask for bluff and
...just like business negotiations today.
So it is not surprising that many are tempted by seminars
offered by “super salesmen”, who claim that they can cut through the
prevarication of reluctant customers. The “super salesmen” imply that they can
sell anything to anyone under any circumstances. They call themselves “closers”
because they focus on closing the deal – and the opposite of a closer is a
Of course, no one is so good that they sell every time. Exaggeration
is one of their basic tools and they apply it to themselves. Yet it cannot be
denied that there are indeed some impressive closers out there, who seal the
deal when most of us would not simply because they have the sheer nerve to keep
pushing when most of us would back off.
The real issue is not whether such people, and their
techniques, can increase sales – they can – but whether the business wants to
pay the price for those increased sales.
Focus on short-term sales and you will probably increase
short-term sales, but focus on anything means, by definition, ignoring
everything else. A focus on short-term sales implies a neglect of the
longer-term development and reputation of the company.
Those who say they can have it all, that they can somehow “focus
on everything”, are fooling themselves. “Focus on everything” is a
contradiction in terms. In practice, it usually means focus on nothing.
So if a “super salesman” claims he can transform your
business, remember what happened to the author of the original “offer you can’t
refuse”. Don Vito was shot by people using his own business methods against
him. Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and a business that lives by
a focus on short-term sales will be destroyed by it.