Did I send some message into the universe that attracts bad sales people? Is there a rehab centre nearby for under-performers? Have suppliers everywhere been forced to hire chipmunks and voles instead of real Sales Squirrels?

I’m in a new role these days, one that spends more than the old role. Plus I’ve been pretty fast and loose with my business card at trade shows recently, so it’s not really a surprise that I am sitting through more than my usual number of pitches lately.

What is new is how absolutely atrocious they are. Unprepared, inarticulate, unprofessional, unrealistic and just plain bad sales meetings are sad and unnecessary. If you are selling something, or supporting the people who sell something, here are some basics for not sucking at this.

1. It’s spelled G-O-O-G-L-E
And when you go there the day before your sales meeting, it will tell you things about your prospective customer. Things like what they do, how they make their money, who they sell things to, their history, their products and ever so much more. Armed with this information, you can sound like you tried and you can avoid wasting the meeting asking dumb questions or making insulting generalizations.

2. That’s LinkedIn, all one word
Why would you even think of meeting with someone you hadn’t previously checked out on LinkedIn? This nifty tool will help you understand the buyer’s background, so you needn’t waste precious meeting time patiently explaining how, say, newswires work to someone with 20 years of experience in PR. If they aren’t on LinkedIn, try that Google thing. If you aren’t on LinkedIn, you are either eleven or you need a new line of work.

3. The Thing About Different is that It’s Not the Same
Here are some things that were offered up to me recently as competitive differentiators:

  • we have a form our clients fill out before we work on a project
  • our creative people talk to each other
  • we write things down
  • our creative department has its own air hockey table
  • we take the time to get to know our clients
  • we have been in the same location for 14 years
  • we have cases of awards (and, no doubt, binders full of women)

This sad list isn’t a symptom of stupid sales people; it’s all about lazy marketers.

4. Bring Your Shoes
I have complained about the shoemaker’s children thing in the past, and I still think it’s ridiculous when design companies work in ugly offices, creative agencies have terrible websites and printers don’t have business cards. This week, I had a pitch from a video production company during which we viewed not a single video. But there was a lovely pocket folder with a brochure in it. Even the follow up email managed not to include links to their work, though it helpfully included the form (see stunning differentiator above) and a suggestion to just go ahead and fill that in if I need some work done.

The very next day I sat through a printed out PowerPoint that purported to come from a top digital agency ( I know they’re a top agency on account of the two slides with all their awards on them). One of their claims to fame was building fancy interactive sales tools that work on iPads. I wondered, out loud, why I was looking at a PowerPoint on paper instead of a fancy demo on an iPad. I don’t recall the answer but he took the printout when he left. He should be mad at his marketing department for sending him out with that piece of crap.

5. That Thing About Open-Ended Questions? That’s a Real Thing
I deliberately book only 30 minutes when I’m meeting a squirrel for the first time. This is partly because I’m busy but mostly because I’m mean and I want to see what they do with 30 minutes. The ones who practice have no trouble. They do five minutes of business cards, hockey and social fishing then ask me things for ten minutes, then tell me things for ten minutes and, if they are any good, they ask me for a next step, shake my hand and go away.

The bad ones, like the dude I had last week, talk and talk and talk about their business and then ask which of the 300 things they do seem like a nice idea. I like to flip it back to them, like the steaming biomass it is, by asking which of our products they feel has the most resonance with our target markets. I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, I have never pulled the wings off anything that wasn’t first trussed and roasted.

6. Eagerness is not a KPI
It should be but then all those interns would get ideas. My boss recently scraped a squirrel off his plate and onto mine by email. That rep sent an email about ten seconds later. Then he called. Then he called again. Then he sent another email. Darn. Must have accidentally deleted all those messages because it me took a week to reply. Can’t think why.

Then there is the lady who really, really wants to talk to me. Like in ten minutes. It’s very nice that she set up a Webex, sent me the link, called me four times and then sent me a text message and a LinkedIn request all between 10 and 10:08. I’m not sure why she sounded so surprised that i was otherwise occupied at 10am on a Tuesday morning.

And don’t get me started on the follow up notes. Seriously. Or I won’t have anything to write about next week.