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I grew up in a wonderful, traditional military family with one of those strict “no phone calls during dinner” policies. And, like most rules, that rule was tested on a nightly basis. 

There’s one night in particular that I recall. My father was heading to the dinner table following his nightly ritual of watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Just as he was about to sit in “his” chair, the phone rang. On this night, something strange happened: My father, “The Colonel,” answered it! It was a night I will never forget… 

We witnessed his irritated pause when the telemarketer announced, “You’ve just won two free dance tickets!” Needless to say, our whole family was already in shock that he’d even answered the phone. We stared in silence – mom with her hands on her hips, focused intensely on that phone. The Colonel bellowed a defiant “we’re not interested!” to the salesman on the other end of the line .We all looked at each other, silently forgiving the telemarketer for his interruption. 

But that telemarketer was not defeated. I imagine he looked at the script in his programmed response binder under the objection called “not interested.” “Maybe that’s because you and your wife haven’t had any quality time together lately.” You could hear forks drop  in shock. Even our dog Sammy was bewildered, ignoring the flank steak that had fallen beside him on the floor.

“I told you, we are not interested. And don’t call here again!” Dad grunted. There was a growl. – and to this day we swear it came from Dad, not Sammy.

Holding on to hope, the Telemarketer tried again. “What if you had more time alone with your wife, wouldn’t that make things better?”

Well, that did it. The Colonel had had enough. With one loud gasp, my father roared, “I ONLY HAVE ONE LEG, AND I CAN’T DANCE!” 

The next thing we heard was a short “have a nice day” followed by a distant dial tone. Wow! Dad won, I thought. He sat down proudly for dinner with a satisfied smirk that said, “victory!” 

But not so fast. My mother’s face was sad, shocked and pale. Shaking, she spoke. “Ken, how could you?. How could you LIE to that salesman? It’s just wrong to teach our children that,” she gasped.  

You would think the Colonel’s victory was short-lived, that he’d agree with Mom and offer the family an apology for setting a bad example. But he didn’t. No, on that day, Dad stood up and taught us a lesson that we would pass on for generations to come. He smiled and said reassuringly, “Honey it’s okay. You can lie to a salesman and still get into heaven.”

The takeaway? Customers are wonderful people, but over the years they’ve developed a system for dealing with “salespeople.” Oftentimes, this system outsmarts the traditionally trained salesperson, who relies on a features-and-benefits “my product is the best” approach. 

But can you blame the customer? What comes to mind when most people think of a “salesperson?”  Nine times out of 10, it’s not a very flattering picture. Most prospects feel defensive, lied to – that the sale is not about them, but about the salesperson's commission. So they’ve developed systems that keep them from “losing control” to salespeople.

Still, 90 percent of salespeople stick with the old methods, not truly understanding why people buy. They continue to perpetuate those negative salesperson perceptions over and over again. But people can’t change until they admit that there’s a problem, first. Then, they must have the conviction to learn a new way of engaging the buyer that results in a win-win interaction.

The person who leads the dance is in control. Salespeople who don’t understand their “dance partner” or refuse to practice their dance will never be in control. Instead, the customer will take the lead and control them. And these salespeople will keep accepting the “I need to think it over” or “send me some literature” customer shut-downs.

But if you’re ready to take the lead in the buyer-seller dance, let me know. I’ll be happy to teach you some dance lessons. 


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