Get Real

Ditch the tricks and put puffery aside. According to sales expert Jacques Werth, honesty really is the best policy.

In his 40-plus years of selling everything from fork lifts and cars to machines used in making silicon chips, Jacques Werth has accomplished at least two things: He's made a lot of money and learned a lot about sales--enough, in fact, to write a book entitled High Probability Selling (Abba Publishing). But it's not just Werth's experience that makes him noteworthy; it's his revolutionary view of selling, which downplays aggressiveness, has little use for motivation and disdains even the modest use of puffery.

Following is an interview with Werth, who, for the past nine years, has run High Probability Selling, a sales and marketing consulting firm in Dresher, Pensylvania.

Bill Kelley: What is the biggest misconception concerning sales?

Jacques Werth: Most people think it's important to be aggressive in sales, but the opposite is true. Aggressive salespeople don't deal with the world the way it is; they try to force their way on the world. These salespeople try to convince others they want their product, and that whole proposition is flawed.

Kelley: Why? Most salespeople feel convincing prospects is crucial.

Werth: It's flawed because the vast majority of people resist being persuaded or manipulated. In fact, they resent it. It's far more effective to find consumers who want to buy what you're selling and do business on the basis of mutual agreement.

Kelley: How do you do that?

Werth: By qualifying your prospects, you can quickly find out who isn't going to buy and move on, instead of trying to persuade them.

Kelley: You feel most salespeople do a poor job of prospecting. What are they doing wrong?

Werth: They start with the wrong objective: To find people who are interested, get appointments and try to turn that interest into a need or a want. But prospects who are merely interested are the worst ones to have. Having an interest in a product is no indication that someone is going to buy it.

Kelley: You mean if I walk into a car dealership and say I'm interested in a certain car, that's not a good clue?

Werth: It's a good clue to the salesperson who's been trained to persuade people. To him, you're a hot prospect, yet you haven't said you were going to buy a thing. You just said you were interested.

Kelley: In that case, according to your theory of selling, what should a salesperson do?

Werth: Just flat out ask them if they're going to buy. I used to own a car dealership. Typically, I'd say, "Hi, I'm Jacques Werth. I'm a salesperson here. If you want me to show you anything in particular, that's fine. If you'd rather look around and have us leave you alone, that's OK, too."

Interested prospects would say, "We're just looking." Prospects who wanted to buy would say, "Well, I want this or that," and we'd continue.

Kelley: Isn't there any room in sales for persuasion or puffery?

Werth: No. We advocate "radically honest selling." Tell them the truth. Anything else, and you're manipulating people. It's like telling a prospect you can help grow his or her business. That may be an off-shoot of the sale, but the reason you want someone to buy from you is to [make money]. There's nothing wrong with that.

So many sales techniques and tricks turn people off. For example, a salesman recently called me and used my name 22 times in about 10 minutes. In real life, who does that? It's fake.

Kelley: Entrepreneurs are usually pretty aggressive types. Are they in danger of hiring the type of aggressive salespeople you feel aren't as effective?

Werth: Yes, because [people] generally view salespeople as aggressive or obnoxious, and when it comes time to hire one, if they don't know any better, that's the type they look for. Entrepreneurs could be in more danger if they're new to sales. They may feel they have to get those really aggressive types because they're just staring out.

Kelley: So what should an entrepreneur look for in a salesperson?

Werth: Honest, confident people who know how to listen. They may be ebullient or quiet. It doesn't matter, if they know how to be truthful.

Bill Kelley is an Arcadia, California, business writer and former editor of Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Real.

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