Sales literature is no replacement for sales people

Here’s the story. Bob was preparing for his first appointment with Harry Smith III, senior partner of a law firm – one of the most prestigious firms in Canada.

Into his briefcase went the oversized company brochure and fourteen glorious glossy pages in length, every piece of product and

service material and all twenty-eight pages. He also brought questions and answers from previous clients; all eleven pages in length.

And to top it off, Bob added the complete introductory slide presentation and videotape outlining just how thorough his firm was. “I’m going to knock him dead with this stuff. My first appointment and I’m going to close him.” Bob, it could be said, was confident. Upon arriving at the office, he walked assuredly up to the receptionist and announced in a firm voice that he was here to see Mr. Smith. “Oh dear”, began the receptionist, “Mr.Smith had to cancel your appointment at the last minute. One of the firm’s oldest clients suddenly needed his expertise. He asked if you could leave any material that you brought so that he could review it and get back to you.”

Bob said: “”Yes, I can.”” With that Bob disgorged a truly impressive pile onto the receptionists desk.

“Well”, she responded, “you certainly are thorough. Mr. Smith will appreciate your diligence.” While disappointed that he was unable to meet with Mr. Smith, Bob knew that within a matter of days Mr. Smith would be calling. Bob waited a few days and then he waited a few more. Finally Bob called. “Mr. Smith was reviewing the material and would get back.” After ten phone calls, all with the same result, Bob decided the prospect was a waste of time.

What happened?

The prospect believed that everything he needed to know about Bob, his products and services could be found in that impressive pile sitting on the office sofa, along with all the other stuff that he would finally get around to reading when he had the time. From the prospect’s point of view, he had no reason to ever meet with Bob. Bob spilled his candy in the lobby.

Companies spend thousands of dollars creating, printing, sorting, distributing and delivering thousands of pieces of paper whose goal is to get the prospect to buy whatever is being sold. Prospects do not buy sales literature. Unfortunately, as you saw with Bob and Mr. Smith, the sales literature, regardless of it’s form, is only useful if someone reads it. Mr. Smith will someday probably get around to doing just that, but in the meantime, since in his mind he has everything he needs to make a decision sitting on the sofa, he has absolutely no reason to meet with Bob. A second danger to spilling your candy in the lobby is that you have no idea or control over what is in the mind of the person who finally gets around to reading what you have left. Your product and or service could be exactly what the prospect needs, but because the prospect interprets your literature in a way that is different from what you expect you are summarily tossed into the circular file. You are not there at that moment to correct his mistaken impression.

The right approach

Leaving sales literature or sending sales literature in place of being there yourself is a waste of time and money, except in one situation. If the prospect has told you exactly what he needs as a result of you questioning him, and your sales literature is specifically confined to his need, then send it or leave it. In any other situation, you are wasting your time, your company’s money and perhaps more importantly, keeping yourself from prospecting for those who will buy.

Every salesperson knows that “send me some literature” is a brush off. Yet most salespeople send the literature anyway. Why? If the prospect doesn’t have the time for you, he will not have time for your literature.

Michael Atkinson is the VP of Sales and Strategic Alliances at ProServeIT Corporation in Toronto. ProServeIT is a Global Services Manufacturer that trains it’s partners using the Sandler Training System. To contact Michael Atkinson send him an email at or call 416 953-8374.

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