Selling Your Products and Services: Questionable Sales Practices

Yesterday my friend Tina called to say, “It’s Time.” I immediately knew what she meant. Her car has more than 185,000 miles and the winter had been a nightmare for her with the car either in the shop or needing to go to the shop. She was worn out with the constant stress of trying to get to where she needed to go. The car had overheated, yet again, and she just didn’t have the energy to go through another round of issues.

I picked her up in the parking lot where she’d let the car cool off and we went car shopping. Fortunately she’d been preparing for this eventuality and knew what make and model she wanted, and, even better, had saved a substantial down payment and would need to finance very little.

While she waited for me to get there she used her phone to search for the car she wanted. There was one at a dealership not far from where we were so off we went.

The Upsell.

At the first dealership she told the salesman what she was looking for and he showed her something much more expensive. He described all the benefits of the top of the line features and insisted that was what she needed. As he spent time with her I walked down the line of cars on the lot reading the sticker on each and learning to understand the price differential for each of the models. I rejoined the two of them and asked if we could see the less expensive model. When he said he didn’t have any on the lot I pointed one out and he acquiesced and we at least got to look at it.

We quickly moved on to the next dealership.

Bait and Switch.

We browsed the lot at the second dealership for some time before seeking help since the car that had been advertised on-line was nowhere to be seen. Our salesman said that since there was no picture perhaps the car was still being certified. We asked if we could look at it anyway and he disappeared to check. He returned back sometime later saying he couldn’t find it and that they’d probably bought it at auction and it hadn’t been delivered yet.

Unexpected Fees.

We suspected we’d been lured in by a ‘bait and switch’ but she’d seen another car she liked, so we went for a test drive. She loved it so we had the salesman write it up. We reviewed the offer, found a $467 dealer preparation charge, and asked what it was for. We were told that was the charge for the dealer getting the car ready for sale and when we asked why it wasn’t included in the sales price weren’t offered a clear explanation.


At that point the salesman asked what he would have to do to earn the sale. We responded that we needed $1,500 off the sales price. He said he might be able to get $750 so we waited while he went to speak with his sales manager.

After a long wait he returned with his sales manager who launched into a tirade as to why he couldn’t reduce the price of a car advertised on the Internet by that much. We stood up and left the dealership.

The Real Price of that Sale.

We did go back the next day and buy the car, but not from that salesman. We made certain to let the manager know how unhappy we were with the process and that we would be contacting the Better Business Bureau and our local watchdogs.

They made the sale, but lost the customer. More than that … you can be sure every time someone admires that car and asks my friend where she bought it, she’ll be certain to tell them the story.

Finding the “Secret Sauce”: Increase Sales by Targeting Your Market

Growing to the level of sales your business needs to be successful is a goal shared among new business owners. What differs for each business is how and where to market your product or service.

Shea Eddins, who founded and ran the successful public relations firm, Dynamic Communications Corporation, ( recommends developing a clear definition of your target market as your first step.

Who is your customer?

Develop a profile that considers the demographic, psychographic, and behavioristic traits of your target market.

  1. Demographic: If your product is intended for consumers, what is the age, gender, profession, education level, income level, and marital status your product or service targets. If your product is intended for corporate customers, what is the number of employees, location of headquarters, types of products and services they provide, annual revenue, number, size, and location of branches, and the year founded of your target customer.
  2. Psychographic: For consumer products or services, what is the family size, hobbies and/or sports, lifestyle, types of entertainment, publications they read, how else they enjoy spending their free time? For business products or services, what growth stage is the company in, type of workforce do they employ, who in the business you’re selling do, department they represent, management level, trade associations they belong to, publications they subscribe to?
  3. Behavioristic: These are the factors that describe the motivation for buying your product or service and influence the decision such as price, quality, brand name recognition, customer service, array of services, staff attitude, discounts and sales, attractiveness of packaging, convenience of location, convenience of product/service use, guarantees, warranties, technical assistance, flexible payment terms.

What triggers your customer’s ‘buy’ decision? Does your product or service satisfy a need or a want? Does your customer go searching for your product or do they buy it because they see it? When and where would someone expect to buy your product or service? Do people typically buy the product because it’s being demonstrated or because it’s available on a shelf?

Once you have a clear picture of your target market and what goes into their decision to buy your product, refine your marketing strategy:

  1. Target Local Media: Members of the media have a job to do and a market to please. Identify members of the local media who are targeting the same market you’re targeting and contact them. Be prepared to tell them how your product or service has value for their market and what the content of an interview or article could contain. Aim to develop long term relationships with them by becoming their ‘go to expert’ in a specialty related to your business. This can seem daunting and you may consider hiring someone like Shea who already has those relationships and who is an expert in marketing businesses.  You can EMAIL her directly at
  2. Hold or participate in events that target your market: Your local paper is a great source to find events where companies like yours market their products and services. Look for events that target your market and attend first to learn what works and what doesn’t, before you make the investment. It’s not always intuitively obvious. Shea did just that and learned that craft fairs were not the best place to show the custom jewelry she designs. (
  3. Read the magazines that target that market. How does your product or service relate to the interests of your target market? What are the trends? Could you contribute an article about a topic the readers would find interesting?
  4. Find companies that share the same target market and collaborate with them. Are there opportunities to sell your products through their storefront r website? Are there reciprocal opportunities?

If you’d like to read more about marketing your business, $1,000 Start-Ups contains marketing plans for 60 businesses, a tutorial on developing a marketing plan, and hundreds of resources where you can learn more.

Start Your Business without Leaving Your Job: The Siren’s Song of Entrepreneurship

If you’re currently employed but ready to start your own business, quitting your job to devote your time exclusively to the business shouldn’t be done in haste. You’re probably thinking that this is intuitively obvious, but the siren’s song of entrepreneurship is seductive.

It’s even more difficult to stay at your current job if you’re unhappy there. You begin to visualize how great it would be to spend all day everyday working at your new business. This is particularly true if you’ve made some sales.

Being financially dependent on your new business right out of the gate often causes business owners to panic, particularly when you’re working at it day after day and the money doesn’t seem to be coming in fast enough. We all have been or know someone who’s been in this situation. Desperation shows and runs off potential customers.

While it’s true you could probably sell more of your product or service if you had more time to devote to it, taking the time to build a solid customer base and a demand for your product/service before you’re counting on those sales is a wise decision.

Take the time to do the math:

  1. What profit do you make for each item/service that you sell?
  2. How many are you currently selling a month?
  3. What are your monthly business expenses?
  4. How many items/services do you have to sell to pay your monthly business expenses?
  5. What are your monthly living expenses?
  6. How many items/services do you need to sell to pay your monthly living expenses?
  7. Can you produce that much inventory or sell that many services without making additional investment?

Give yourself and your new business the time it needs to grow a solid base.

If the siren’s song already seduced you or you had no choice:

  1. Find a job to pay your living expenses – part time, if possible.
  2. Develop a plan to support your current customers in the time you have available and communicate with them.
  3. Limit your investment in your business to what you earn from the business.

Many business owners get in this situation. Don’t let a temporary set-back cause you to give up your dream. Make a plan and work your way through it.

Find more ideas on how to limit your business investment in $1,000 Start-Ups.

Staying the Course: Stick to Your Knitting

When you launch a new business you’re fueled by passion and belief in your concept. Your excitement in the new venture continues as you complete the start-up activities and develop your product or service. Your resolve is strong as you sort through and select options for marketing your product. You’re building momentum during your first round of sales to your family and friends.

Then things get quiet. New sales are s-l-o-w. You examine everything you’re doing and vow to do more. You increase your hours in a flurry of activity. One more blog entry a week, one more article submission, one more EMAIL campaign, ten more Linkedin connections, but sales aren’t growing.

Fear starts to set in as your imagination starts to work overtime. It’s at this stage so many entrepreneurs start down the path to failure. Panic sets in and they find themselves:

    1. Throwing money at it
    2. Spending more hours doing it
    3. Spending most of the day churning
    4. Building another product or adding another service
    5. Starting another business
    6. Giving up

Taking any of those actions while you’re in that state of mind isn’t a good idea. Before you do anything or give in to panic take a deep breath and write out the worst case scenario.

Most often the fear is related to money. If that’s the case, address it right now.  If you were depending on sales from this business to support you at this stage, perhaps you need to get a part-time job or reduce your living expenses.

If you need more money than what you put in your business plan, but crowdsourcing isn’t an option, and you’re considering taking on debt, taking it out of your savings or 401K – please talk to a trusted advisor first.  If you’ve set up an advisory board of people who want you to succeed and who will tell you what they think and not what you want to hear, go talk to one of them. If you haven’t, it’s a great time to start one. The US Small Business Administration,, operates SCORE, a volunteer force of retired business owners and former executives who are willing to help.

Figure out your ONE next step. What do you need to do today to address your worse case scenario and keep your business open?  Focus on doing just that.

We all have moments of doubt and I dare say that most entrepreneurs have experienced moments of crippling fear. Just get past the moment. You might not realize it but you’ve done the hard part, now just “stick to your knitting” and when you drop a stitch, pick it up and keep going.

You CAN do this.

Selling Your Products and Services: Don’t Kill the Deal

Have you even been on the buyer’s side of a business transaction and had the salesman say something that killed the deal? Something so ridiculous or rude that you stopped listening to what he was saying and looked for an exit?

We all have. I don’t know if hubris, prejudice, or just a complete lack of understanding regarding how someone will process what they’re saying causes someone to do that.

Let me share an example. A salesman from a prominent contracting firm was in my home to bid on several remodeling projects. I showed him what I wanted to have done and asked him to please break up the bid into sections as I wasn’t sure if I was going to do one, several, or parts of each and do the painting myself. (I love to paint.)

He responded condescendingly that bids weren’t prepared that way, then went on to say that painting would be a lot of work and it probably wasn’t smart “at our age” to be up on ladders.

Quick show of hands … would you have hired that contractor?

The words you select, your tone of voice, how well you listen, are all indicators of your opinion of your customer.

One method of insuring you never do this unconsciously is to write out a short statement describing how you intend to think of your customers and reviewing it every day when you ‘open’ for business.  Here’s the one I use:

“My customer was smart enough to find my business because he needs my products/ services.  By listening carefully to what he’s saying I can improve my response and increase the opportunity for us both to benefit.  I will show him the respect he deserves.”

By the way … I never told that contractor why he didn’t get the deal.