The Problem with Green Eggs & Ham

I want to talk about a business book that has had far too much influence over how we conduct sales.  

That’s right, I’m referring to Dr. Seuss’s classic, Green Eggs and Ham. For those of you who haven’t read it lately, the protagonist is Sam I Am, a Green Eggs and Ham salesperson who chases, cajoles, begs, threatens, and stalks his prospect at great personal expense and risk.  The end of the book vindicates this approach as the prospect finally tastes the Green Eggs and Ham and proclaims, "I like Green Eggs and Ham, Sam I Am!"

From this ending, generations of future salespeople have learned three lessons:

1. Persistence pays off;
2. "No" doesn’t mean "no," and;
3. The prospect has no idea what’s good for them.

Let’s evaluate each of these in turn.

1. Persistence pays off

What’s missing from the story, of course, is the opportunity cost of Sam I Am’s strategy.  We don’t know how long it takes Sam I Am to make the sale. Could be a couple of hours, could be months.  Dr. Seuss doesn’t say.  

What is clear, though, is that Sam I Am is ignoring all other sales and marketing opportunities in favor of this tough prospect, this "high hanging fruit." How many sales could Sam I Am have made to willing prospects, people who were looking for unusually verdant breakfast options, during the same time?

I completely agree that persistence in sales is a virtue. But as Tony Robbins puts it, running east all day looking for a sunset shows persistence; it’s also really stupid. Persisting ineffectively is worse than giving up a useless strategy and looking for a better one.

2. "No" doesn’t mean "no"

Sometimes "no" means, "I don’t want to be bothered right now, I just spilled coffee on my laptop."  Sometimes it means, "I’m too darn proud to admit I made a mistake when I said no last year."  Sometimes it means, "Convince me."  But sometimes, of course, "no" does mean "no."  So what’s Sam I Am to do?

The first thing to do is use lead generation marketing to fill your funnel with people predisposed to say yes.  (My lead generation system, Leads into Gold, teaches you how to do this:

Once you’re in front of a prospect who says "no," you’ve got to become a consultant.  Your goal is not to cram Green Eggs and Ham down their throats, but to help them discover what they need.  

Ask questions:
"What are you looking for in a breakfast combination?"  
"What colors of eggs have worked for you in the past?"  
"Please describe any dietary restrictions that I need to be aware of to find you a solution that meets your needs."  
"What about your current diet do you want to change?"

Once you’ve moved away from convincing and toward understanding, there’s no place for "no" in the conversation.  You and the prospect are now sitting on the same side of the table, exploring options, rather than sitting opposite from one another arm wrestling.

3. The prospect has no idea what’s good for them

This assumption is a recipe for treating prospects like young children. In fact, I’ve found it’s a pretty ineffective way to treat young children.  It creates a dynamic of opposition and resistance that kills sales instantly.

In order to get rid of this assumption, it helps to know where it comes from: the gap between what we know and what our prospect knows.  Naturally, we are experts on our own products.  We know how great they are.  We know how many people they’ve helped.  We are positive that our product is just the thing our prospect needs.  

Why can’t they see it? Why are they being so stubborn?  Why are they acting against their own best interests?

They must be really thick.  They just don’t know what’s good for them!

What’s a better way of coming at this?  I’d like to suggest two alternate approaches to the knowledge gap.

First, let’s be humble.  There are a lot of things we don’t know about our prospect’s business.  What can they afford? What have they tried already?  What are their top priorities?  What are their criteria for our product?  What are the political issues that will impact the sales process?

Once we recognize that we are as ignorant about our prospect as our prospect is about our product, we can move into the questioning mode.  The more willing we are to ask questions, the more willing our prospect will be to do the same.  If they feel judged, they’ll clam up to avoid looking stupid. If they see us being curious, they’ll naturally tend to do the same.

Second, let’s remember that our most important role as salespeople is "decision consultant."  Most people don’t know how to make decisions. We never learn a decision-making methodology, so the more important the decision, the more nervous and clueless and dysfunctional we get, and the worse the decision.

If we accept that our goal is not to make the sale, but to help the client make the right decision, we come from an entirely different place.  And paradoxically, the more we focus on helping the client decide, the more valuable we become in their eyes.  And that gives us a huge advantage in the sales process.



Definition of diplomacy: The art of letting someone else have your way.
– Anonymous

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.
– Oscar Wilde


Marketing Motivators on Respectful Selling

1. Remember that the act of selling is also the act of market research.  You learn something from every sales conversation that helps you sell better the next time, if you’re willing to be open and attentive.  The next time you’re preparing for a sales call, give yourself a learning goal. Decide that you will discover one new thing about your market and their needs, and make that more important than winning the sale.  Paradoxically, that attitude will make you a much more effective salesperson.

2. The next time someone says no to your offer, imagine yourself as their paid consultant.  Find out what they’re looking for, and what their criteria are, and help them find it.  You may not win the sale, but you’ve separated yourself from the army of salespeople who swarm over them daily.  You are now to be trusted.

3. The next time someone is trying to sell you something, notice your own responses to their efforts.  What are they doing that brings you closer to buying, and what drives you further away?

4. Practice listening once a day.  For five minutes every day, really listen to someone else.  Forget about all that "active listening" crap that you learned at some seminar. Techniques will not make you a great listener. Curiosity will.  Train yourself to become deeply interested in what other people have to say, and you will shine as a salesperson.

Be Sociable, Share!