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Selling Is Okay

I used to feel morally and physically uncomfortable—even sleazy—when I would try to sell people something. It seemed that, by selling to them, I was intruding on their right of privacy, their own pursuit of happiness, and their right to decide for themselves. I hated it when salespeople telephoned me, and I didn’t want to be involved with that aspect of doing business. It wasn’t until one day when I went to buy a used car that my way of thinking changed, as the following true story illustrates.

A True Story

For years I dreamed of owning a Mercedes-Benz 450 SL, a luxury sports car. I knew I’d probably never be able to afford a brand-new car, but I had convinced myself that the 450 SL would run great for 300,000 miles, and that a used Mercedes would be a sound purchase. I headed to the nearest Mercedes dealership, looking for a well-used car, and was greeted by Rick, the salesman on duty when I arrived.

I told Rick exactly what I was looking for, but instead of showing me the 450 SL’s he had for sale, he invited me into his office to talk more about what I wanted in my dream car. I admitted that I wanted the status of driving a luxury sports car, but that I also wanted the safety for which Mercedes-Benz is well known. I described how I needed a car that could carry my drums, and that I also needed dependability. I told Rick I wanted the performance of the sports car, but conceded that I most likely would never put the top down.

Armed with this information about my driving needs, Rick proceeded to convince me that I was looking for the wrong car. With great mastery, he helped me discover that I really wanted to buy a used Mercedes 190 sedan. I learned from him that the 190 had newer safety technology than the 450 SL, and that the 190 would be able to carry my drums, would be reliable, and had a performance option that would satisfy my dreams—oh, and by the way, it was a good bit cheaper.

I left the car lot impressed with the notion that Rick was not trying to “sell” me, but rather that he was interested in helping me make the right decision for me. Signing the sales papers on the 190 several days later, I mentioned to Rick and his manager how much I appreciated that, instead of selling me “a car,” Rick decided to help me find the car that was perfect for me.

They both smiled and Rick quietly replied, “The business of selling, at its best, is nothing more than helping the customer make the right choice.” Suddenly I realized that selling, when the customer’s best interest is the prime focus, can be a virtuous activity.

If you truly believe that a retrospective event is in a group’s best interest, why not say it? Why not say it several ways, and say it over time? Why not think of ways you can help your customer make a decision that he or she will deeply appreciate for years to come? Don’t be afraid of helping a customer make the right decision—“selling” to him or her is not done for your own gain, but for the customer’s greater good. If you don’t believe a retrospective is right for a customer, then don’t sell it; but if it is right, then you do a disservice by not speaking up.

“Qualify” the Customer

When talking with a person who expresses interest in holding a retrospective, you need to “qualify” that person early in the discussion. Is he or she the person who will decide whether to hold the retrospective? If you can determine that you are talking with a qualified buyer, keep going. If not, you are talking to someone who perhaps would like to have a retrospective, but who, at best, will be your contact person. Ask this contact person to help you understand who the qualified buyer is and have him or her arrange a meeting between you and the decision-maker. Bring the contact person along if doing so makes sense, but realize that no sale will occur until you talk to the decision-maker.

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