Don’t be a marshmallow: Take the sale on the table now

You may be familiar with the Stanford marshmallow experiment. Psychologist Walter Mischel conducted a study in 1960 to test delayed gratification as it related to success in later life. Hundreds of young children were taken in small groups into a room free of distractions where a single marshmallow sat in front of their chair. The researchers told the children they could either eat the treat as soon as the researchers left the room or, if they were willing to wait 15 minutes without eating the single marshmallow, the researchers would return with an additional marshmallow to be enjoyed by those that hadn’t given in to temptation. These children were followed for the next 40 years, and the study showed that the young children who resisted temptation were the ones who were more successful in later life. Success was measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, BMI, and other life measures. Only one-third of the children were able to delay their gratification to receive the second marshmallow. The researchers concluded that the ability to delay gratification for a greater reward was critical for success in life.

While this is all very interesting from a philosophical perspective, it is obvious to me that the researchers never worked in sales.

Bird in the hand

In the Proverbs of Ahigar from the 6th Century BC, we see the first use of “a sparrow in thy hand is better than a thousand sparrows flying” or, as we would say 2,600 years later, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

When you work in technology sales, the last thing you ever want a salesperson to do is delay the sale for any reason, including delaying the sale because you may receive a larger sale down the track.

The process of selling technology to your clients is complicated. Understanding what the client actually wants for a start can be difficult. Cutting through what the client says they want and what they actually want is the first challenge. Laying out options for your client that encompass their needs and gives them a choice wrapped with some understanding is the next challenge. Then, of course, there is the small matter of them seeing the dollar figure as an investment in productivity rather than a cost to their business so that they are prepared to pay the asking figure. This is not always a quick process. Technology is complicated. If you aren’t dealing with a dedicated CIO, then you are probably having a conversation with someone who deals with this process once every three years — or possibly once a year at best.

Take it — or they might leave it

After you finally go through the process and get to the end point, the last thing you want to do is be like a child in the Stanford marshmallow experiment and delay the gratification. When a client says that they love the solution and everything works for them — and they might consider a few additional items to add on to the solution and come back next week — don’t fall for the delayed gratification. Take the sale now.

This may sound like a high-pressure sales coach telling salespeople all over the world to have the contracts at the ready, and as soon as the client nods their head, shove the contract under their nose with a demand for a signature.

Not at all.

This isn’t about high-pressure sales, as that often leads to buyer’s remorse. Give the client all the time they need to make the decision and give them all of the correct information, and if they need time to think about the options then give them that time as well — but once the client has made their mind up, make sure there is no delay from the sales side. Customers may take minutes, hours, days, or weeks to make up their mind, but once their mind is made up they usually want it today. Actually, yesterday.

You can always add later

The great thing with technology is that you can usually add components onto the sale at a later date. Take the sale on the table today. If the client wants to bring another department on-board or recommend other add-on solutions, then add them on later.

I will give you a very simple example at the low-end of the technology scale. I remember working with a business that was predominantly tasked to sell cellular phones and generate revenue from the commission the carrier paid them. The arrangement was interesting with the carrier. If a client upgraded their contract when they had more than three months left on their contract, the carrier commission was zero. If the contract had less than three months to go, the business received their full carrier commission.

When I first observed this business, I noticed that the sales staff had a process whereby they would delay the sale wherever possible to move into that last three months. At first glance, that may sound logical. The problem was the desire of the client was forgotten about. If a client walked through the door with just over three months left on the contract or just under three months left, the difference for the client was a matter of a few dollars. The business thought they were doing the right thing by delaying the sale but the client would leave the store — and sometimes never return.

Delay is sometimes a zero-sum game

When follow-up calls were made, the client had often upgraded elsewhere — either that day or when it was convenient to them. Remember, this is all about the client. I looked at the profit centers for the business. Carrier commissions, accessories, and the handset — in that order. Obviously, it was better to generate the commission, but if I had the choice of making money on the accessories and phone — or making zero — then I would take the lower profit. It also means I keep the client returning to us. A small change in this process increased sales and, although the per-sale average went down, the overall net profit increased. It seemed obvious that this was a better solution, but the salespeople thought they were doing the right thing by delaying the sale.

So when you have that bird in the hand, hold on to it and leave the two in the bush.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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