You’re the worst! 15 lessons I’ve learned from bad salespeople

Having to endure awful sales experiences reminds us what not to do when trying to land new business

Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.

I can’t think of anything I like less than listening to sales pitches from home improvement company sales representatives: They force us to sit through pre-written scripts that rarely answer any questions I actually have and go on for way too long.

Yet, I’ve had to sit through them because I live in a very old house. Calling it a money pit might be an understatement. It is accurate to say that there is always something broken on the property. Parts of the house are falling off. Last winter, it rained in one of the bedrooms.

Over the years we have had just about everything replaced or rebuilt. Some of it we did ourselves, but much of it was done by professionals. (In some cases, we might have been better off paying them to not do the work. Our front porch has one step with a riser that is an inch higher than the rest. Everyone who comes up the front door trips.)

The company I hired this spring to remove some bushes and trim some others did an amazing job, but the second they were done, they sent a survey. I was very busy that day, and by the end of the day, I’d received three reminders about the survey.

Some surveys are way too long, and sometimes companies send surveys before they even finish the work. Now I ask about surveys before I hire. If I don’t like the process, I won’t hire the company. That might seem silly, but I get no benefit from filling out a survey.

Some of the salespeople I have talked with this summer left me with a feeling of hopelessness about getting the job done right. One salesperson made me angry. Half of the companies I contacted never provided a bid, even though they said they would.

One sales rep was so into his script that if I had died during it or if the dining room table had caught on fire, he would have kept going without missing a beat.

The “mansplained” script was the worst. As soon as he left, my husband said, “no way” before I even had the chance to.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when a contractor we just hired sent us a roofer who left the sales pitch out. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, not business casual or formal, and he simply answered all of our questions — even the ones that we didn’t know to ask.

We had a real, human conversation with him about our roof. He did ask for our business, and he left us a booklet about shingles and emailed a detailed bid a couple of days later, but his humanity and sincerity — and the lack of a robotic canned presentation — left us feeling confident about his company and his ability to be responsive to our needs.

It is an honor and a privilege to be invited into someone’s home. I always keep that in mind when I go on appointments. So don’t abuse the opportunity.

Through the years, I’ve learned how not to conduct an in-home appointment with prospective clients from the worst salespeople who have visited my home.

15 lessons I have learned from the very worst

  1. Scripts are wonderful, but if you cannot go off the script when asked to answer a question, you shouldn’t be in a sales job. I want a conversation not a presentation.
  2. Never badmouth a competitor. Companies that badmouth the competition only make themselves look bad.
  3. Do not tell prospects how the other companies operate. They want to know how your company operates.
  4. Spend far more time listening than talking. Too much talking is how some contractors talk their way out of the work at my house before they give us an estimate.
  5. Never make threats about what might happen if the homeowners choose someone else.
  6. Do not ask if you can just wait on the front porch while the homeowners talk amongst themselves and make a decision on the spot.
  7. Never tell prospective clients that your hands-on approach is better when they ask for electronic communication or signatures instead of in-person visits.
  8. The phrase “would it be OK if we … ” can sound very stilted and unnatural when used at the wrong time, too many times and presumptive.
  9. Never leave the homeowner feeling worse about their situation. Emphasize the positive.
  10. Never suggest that the homeowner is unethical, or stupid, or someone who makes poor choices.
  11. Avoid “mansplaining,” talking down to people or making eye contact with one homeowner (but not with the one who is asking the questions).
  12. Know your product or service well, and be able to answer questions.
  13. Never assume that the transaction is just about price.
  14. If you say that you are giving a free no-obligation estimate, make sure that you mean it and that you honor it.
  15. Don’t cross the line between asking for the work and harassing the homeowner.

The house is the reason we can’t have expensive things, but it has also been an experience and a wonderful teacher.

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