Nideknil Marketplace was all hustle and bustle. Colorful signs above the merchant stalls proclaimed the advantages of endless products and services. Businesspeople crowded the aisles, picking up samples and literature and talking to the vendors. The pitch-trolls were out in force as usual.
Joseph, one of the older and more experienced merchants sat quietly in his booth. He smiled and nodded at prospective customers, but gave them space and time to consider whether or not it made sense to strike up a business relationship with him. After a while, he’d ask, “Do you have any questions?” or gently offer to listen and learn about their business challenges. He understood that the best clients—the smart ones—knew what they needed, had come to visit his store because they were curious, and would respond better to not being pressured.
Other sellers were more flamboyant. Their booths were colorful and they offered loud, ongoing testament to the power and importance of their offerings. “Supplies are limited,” they cried. “Don’t miss this one-time offer! Special pricing ends today!”
Joseph shook his head. Do people actually fall for that crap? he wondered. I’m not even sure what they’re selling!
Doing business at the Nideknil Market had always been a pleasure, but lately, Joseph had found himself questioning whether he wanted to keep his booth there.
As if on cue, a young man wearing a sharp suit and a sly smile approached him. “Hey, I’m Nick. You sure have an interesting business. Thought I’d come over and say hello.”
Joseph took a deep breath. “What interests you about my business?” he asked Nick, trying to conceal his cynicism. Lately his booth had been besieged by Nicks and Janets and Mariannes and Daniels, all feigning knowledge of his business and hoping to use compliments and friendly smiles to sell him something. Joseph glanced at his signs and brochures. It’s not as if his offerings were a secret—and his bright red “NO SOLICITORS!” sign was hardly invisible.
“Well, sir, you clearly have a very professional presence here at the market. I help serious business owners like you get better exposure, close more sales, and grow their businesses. I’d love to tell you about our exclusive program and see if…”
Joseph interrupted. “You don’t really know what I do, do you?”
“Well…,” said the young man awkwardly. “I thought that if…”
“Someone taught you that sales is a numbers game; that every time you get rejected, you’re one person closer to a ‘yes.’ You probably think that because I rent a booth here, I’m a ‘fish in a barrel’ for ‘shooters’ who want to sell from the aisles.”
Nick looked down awkwardly.
Joseph registered the inexperience on Nick’s faced and lightened up. “Look, Nick,” he said, “I’m sorry to be hard on you, but you’re literally the ninth person today who’s come up to me trying to sell me something. I used to love doing business here, but my real customers are getting crowded out by the pitch trolls. You can run away if you want, but if you’ll let me lead by example, I’ll give you some business advice you can use.”
Nick took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay … but what’s a pitch-troll?”
A sigh escaped Joseph’s lips. “A troll is either a type of monster that harasses people when they’re trying to cross a bridge, or it’s someone who’s trolling—dragging their line through the water hoping to catch a fish. A “pitch-troll” is a bit of both. Pitch-trolls harass everyone who passes by with a sales pitch. Pitch-trolls start off with some variation on “let’s be friends” and then move quickly into “how about you buy something from me?”
Nick crossed his arms and waited for Joseph to continue.
“First of all, most business people know what they’re looking for. It isn’t like they’re fumbling aimlessly around in the dark and you’re going to come along, show them a flashlight, and they’ll have this Eureka! moment and wonder how they survived without being able to see for so long. Sure, you might have a useful solution they don’t know about, but until you know what their problem is and have a conversation about them, there’s no point in trying to sell anything to anyone. The most important sales skill is listening. People who lead by talking about themselves and their products and services are just annoying.”
“I’m not sure I buy it,” said Nick. “How are you going to close a sale if you don’t make an offer?”
“It’s interesting that you said you don’t ‘buy it,’” replied Joseph. “I wanted to sell you on an idea—on a sales philosophy. I gave you permission to run away, but offered to give you ‘advice you could use.’ I made the conversation about you; I offered to give you value. I didn’t read you a sales script or try to close a transaction … and now you’re here hoping to get that value.”
“Okay,” said Nick. “Maybe you got me.”
“Not my goal,” said Joseph, “but when you come to my shop and try to sell me something before you demonstrate value—cleverness, credibility, expertise, a willingness to listen and learn—you’ve put my time to work for your sale. How do you think that makes customers feel?”
“I never thought about it,” said Nick. “Taken advantage of, I guess.”
“Look. I’m a polite and friendly guy by nature—I hope you can see that—but I’m here trying to do some legitimate business and every day, I have to fend off an army of consultants and coaches and scorpions and roaches selling business tools. They all seem to think I’m struggling without whatever magic powder they have to offer. They must think I’m stupid and incompetent, too, even though I started my business before many of them were born. When I need something or have a question, they assume I have no one to talk to, nobody to ask for help, that after decades of growing my business, they’re going to walk up, offer a few flattering words, and become my trusted advisor. Don’t you think that’s insulting—this notion that after all this time, I have no idea what I need and nobody to run to when I need it? I mean … if I needed a business coach or a sales consultant and didn’t want to work with any of my experienced connections, don’t you think I could locate someone, check their references, and start the conversation in a matter of seconds?””
Nick took a deep breath. “I never thought about it like that.”
“So tell me Nick, what do you actually offer and going forward, how are you going to demonstrate real value so someone might actually want to buy from you?”
“Well, before we had this conversation, I thought I could help people with sales, but…”
“That’s okay,” Joseph encouraged. “You probably can. Sales is something you keep learning and getting better at, not something you put in a box and sell like candy. I’m sure you’re better at it than someone. You wouldn’t be getting up everyone’s backside if you had nothing at all to sell.”
Nick thought for a moment.
“I love to write,” said Nick as his eyes lit up. “Maybe I could write some articles about sales strategies. Instead of interrupting people, I’ll just drop copies off at each booth. I won’t ask for anything. I won’t sell anything. I’ll just try to offer some worthwhile advice once a week.”
“I like it,” said Joseph. “And the people who like your articles, they’ll…”
“They’ll stop me for a chat when I make my weekly rounds,” interrupted Nick with enthusiasm, “and the ones who aren’t interested will either not respond or ask me to stop showing up.”
“And how will you handle them?” prompted Joseph.
Nick paused. “I guess I won’t worry about them. If they’re not interested, that’s okay. The people who want more information…”
“Are your ideal clients!” Joseph smiled.
Nick looked confident and empowered.
“So Nick, no more ‘pitch troll’ sales tactics?”
“Nope. I’m done with that.”
“Great,” said Joseph with a nod.
“I have a question,” said Nick.
“Sure,” replied Joseph. “Let’s hear it.”
“I know I should have asked up-front, Joseph, but what do you actually do?”
Joseph smiled. “I’m a sales consultant.”
Nick laughed. “Oops! Now I really feel like an idiot. I probably should have read your sign.”
Joseph smiled and shook Nick’s hand. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask a favor.”
“Can you have your own version of our conversation with the next pitch-troll sales jerk you meet? If you can pay this forward, we can make a difference and try to make this market a fun place to work again.”
“I’d be happy to,” agreed Nick. “And my first article will be about a fictitious marketplace much like the Nideknil Market; I wonder what I’ll call it.”
“Just reverse the letters,” suggested Joseph. “People will figure it out.”