Confession: at our house, we watch a LOT of reality TV. One of our favorite series – and one of the few reality shows that’s also family-friendly – is ABC’s Shark Tank. I love the brash personalities, the high-stakes negotiation, and seeing entrepreneurs achieve their life’s dream. Our children love the banter, the friendly insults, and watching people get rich.
But there’s another side of Shark Tank that I appreciate, and that is: it’s great sales training. The entrepreneurs who appear on the show are all pitching a product, a service, the Next Big Thing. Some of them are good at it (selling, that is), and some are well, just plain awful. As someone who’s attended a few sales training classes in my day, I have yelled advice at the TV a few times during the show (often along the lines of “TAKE THE DEAL FOR PETE’S SAKE”), much to my kids’ embarrassment.
Here are the top 5 sales tips my kids have learned from those outbursts:
1. Know your facts.
There are two things that impress the sharks. One is sales (revenue). The other is someone who knows their numbers – revenue, margins, manufacturing cost, cost of customer acquisition. Even the greatest salesperson in the world can’t close if he/she doesn’t know the facts. And nothing deflates buyer confidence more than a lack of knowledge. It sounds like you’re just making stuff up.
2. Know when to shut up.
In my first ever sales job, I remember a training class in which we were to ask the “buyer” (in this case, a sales trainer) for the sale and then wait for a response. And wait. And wait some more. If you broke the silence, you failed. The lesson was patience, and the ability to withstand an awkward silence. Entrepreneurs on Shark Tank will often whittle down to one remaining shark, that shark will sit silent, pondering a decision, and then the begging begins. (“Barbara, PLEEEEEEASE ….”) It’s called desperation, and it’s the quickest way to trigger hesitation in the mind of the buyer.
3. Save some ammo.
Typical Shark Tank Scenario #2: a shark will complain that the product is too big, and that the entrepreneur should consider making a smaller, cheaper version. Instantly, the entrepreneur presents them with a prototype of that very product. But why did she hold back? Because the most winning sales message is one that addresses a specific buyer need or objection. And conversely, the least effective message is one that’s irrelevant to the buyer. Bide your time. Wait for the expressed need. Then pounce.
4. Always counter.
On Shark Tank, it’s rare that a shark will offer the precise terms that an entrepreneur requested. And most entrepreneurs grossly inflate the value of their business because they know they’re going to be low-balled. But when that low-ball offer comes, why would you ever take it without making a counter offer? Sure, the buyer may not accept that price either. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
5. Be prepared to say no.
If you’re willing to sell at any cost, you’re guaranteed to only get the lowest price. Sharks can smell desperation. And most buyers can too. Maybe it’s the end of the quarter and you need that one sale to make quota. Maybe in your business, any sale is better than no sale. However, in most companies, there are good customers and bad customers, good margins and bad margins, relationships that will build your brand and improve your reputation, and others that are doomed to fail. Know your limits. Be prepared to walk away. Sometimes saying “no” makes you a more valuable proposition.