Dealing with salespeople at work

Dealing with salespeople at work

One of the less enjoyable parts of my role heading up marketing and PR at Medway Council is the endless stream of salespeople who want a slice of my time.

I think there must be a general sense among salesforces that local authorities are a soft touch – all you need to do is pitch up and an easy-going council officer will just get out the council’s chequebook.

I probably receive three or four phonecalls each day from people trying to sell me something at work. The most common sales calls are for advertising, printing services, graphic design and merchandise.

Each salesperson invariably asks if they could “just pop in and see me for half an hour because they’re sure I’ll be interested”. I’m quite regularly told this before they’ve even asked me about our needs and how they relate to what’s being sold. I just don’t have the time to spend in these meetings, even if I wanted to.

Here are the big mistakes that people make when trying to sell to me at work:

  • get my name wrong – sometimes people call asking for my predecessor by name. He left more than three years ago. I particularly enjoy these calls when they’re from direct marketing agencies or list brokers. These usually end pretty quickly when I suggest they need to sort out their own contacts before trying to sell me direct marketing.
  • not knowing what we do – I work for a council, so don’t bother with sales patter about increasing profits and generating shareholder value – it just makes it really obvious that the salesperson hasn’t done the most basic thinking about what I do at work. Have a look at our website, Google me or my organisation – even the most basic research will reveal more about us than most salespeople know when they call. 
  • assuming I’m interested– unless I’ve been asked and I’ve told the salesperson what I’m working on, they shouldn’t assume they know. Why do so many seem to think they know better than me what products or services I need right now?
  • not taking a hint – if I’m not interested I’ll tell the salesperson politely. I wish they’d take the hint and not fire a list of alternative sales pitches at me in case one sticks.
  • pestering me – if what I’m being sold sounds interesting, but isn’t relevant right now, I’ll probably ask the salesperson to email me details for my files. If ask I for an email that doesn’t mean I want you to email then phone me again, and it doesn’t mean I want a glossy folder or information pack – it’ll go straight in the bin.
  • jumping straight into budget – I get this less frequently now, but it still happens, usually with “old-school” salespeople. If the first, second or third question I’m asked is about how much I want to spend, then the conversation usually stops there. Unless I’ve actually indicated I want to buy, I don’t want to be asked what my budget is – it’s none of their business and I wouldn’t tell them anyway.
  • selling on features not benefits – I’m only briefly interested in what your company, product or service does, and who else it does it for. I’m more interested in how it will help me achieve what I need to do, and to do this you need to understand more about what I’m doing.

Very occasionally I end up dealing with a salesperson who’s a pleasure to deal with. They listen more than talk, don’t pressure me, take the time to understand the marketing and PR objectives I have, and then articulate the benefits of their product against what I want to achieve.

People like this are a pleasure to deal with, and are often from the companies that we end up using over the longer term.

So, am I being unfair on our colleagues in sales or is my experience typical? Do you have any sales experiences or tricks that you’d like to add?

[tags]selling, sales, sales+people, salesman, sales+strategy, sales+tips, adsales[/tags]


I work with technology-centric businesses as an interim Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I created the B3 framework® for scaling technology businesses and I write a newsletter called Build for leaders who are building brilliant companies.