When Change Is Counterproductive: The Exception vs. The Rule

Teaching “The Close”

Training sales people was one of the most rewarding parts of my job at the furniture company. Every six weeks (or so) I would receive a fresh batch of hires needing to learn how to sell furniture. If they didn’t sell, they didn’t earn a paycheck. Because of this unforgiving logic, I considered my time with them imperative.

Furniture University (FU for short) was often filled with people who had never sold anything for money. They had been on the job for a few days or, at best, a few weeks learning the processes and products. The ones who “got it” ate up the material. The ones fearful of rejection found an excuse for everything I taught.

The process that I focused on was one of specific dialogue. It was wrought with one-liners, questions, and strategy (I can’t take credit for the sales process, that came from my teacher/employer/mentor; the real salesman). The coup de grâce of this sales process was the closing question:

“The list price is $1,099. It’s been marked down to $675. If I could knock off another $366 and do the mattress and box, new in the plastic with warranty for $309, would you get it?”

That may sound a bit unprofessional, but that’s what we were going for. We considered ourselves the “anti-box store.” And it worked like you wouldn’t believe.

Objections To Making Money

Inevitably, in every class, I would have someone tell me how that line was offensive or confusing or that it wouldn’t work in their market. My favorite, though, was when someone would argue that they didn’t want to ask that because it sounded, “too aggressive.” Sure enough, these newbies would come up with a story about a customer who has or, more often, may be offended by that type of frankness.

I won’t lie to you, it was my goal to produce aggressive sales people. Not Dwight Schrute aggressive, like this video, but aggressive in that they were taught how to stand their ground and even challenge people. Because the program was solid and salespeople were taught to qualify, they had closing ratios that were often in the 80’s – a number unheard of in most industries.

When new hires asked me about that single person who was or may be offended by that close, I answered their question with one of my own:

  1. “How many times has that happened out of the ‘x’ number of appointments you’ve taken?”

If I actually had someone answer yes, their answer was nearly always “once out of 20/50/100.” They were willing to throw away 19/20 or 49/50 or 99/100 potential sales because one person might have been offended.

You don’t change your program for the exception. You change your program for the rule.

To be clear, what these sales people were wanting to do was to change our entire proven, successful, efficient program to accommodate >5% of potential customers. On the low end, they were willing to let 16 (statistically) sure customers slip through their fingers so they didn’t potentially offend one.

Start Offending People

You cannot please everyone. That fact has been around as long as commerce itself. When you cater to one end of the spectrum, by definition, you alienate the opposite end. But that’s a small segment – an exception or a minority. And in some cases, that minority may not include enough potential customers to make you profitable. When you cater to the majority, you end up alienating both extreme ends of the spectrum. But when you do that, you have a larger pool of potential customers.

Keep in mind some people will be offended no matter what you do.

I am a firm believer that you don’t change the rule for an exception unless that exception is being damaged in some way. Having a small sect of people get offended by a question that is applicable, and even expected, in a sales situation is not a reason to change your program. If they didn’t want to be asked to buy something, they shouldn’t have gone shopping.

A societal example of this would be the civil rights movement in which America was injuring a portion of its citizens with degrading rules. The minority called for change because they were being injured, not just offended or alienated. We changed because our norm was damaging and hurtful. Comparing the civil rights movement to a furniture store is a stretch, but it illustrates my point: There has to be a legitimate reason for change. If you uproot how you operate for a few exceptions, you may lose the majority of your business.

When you make decisions, you will offend someone.

That’s okay. If you make decisions and hurt someone, that’s not okay. When you change for the exception, instead of the rule, you end up trying to satisfy everyone. And when you try to please everyone, you please no one.