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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

“The Best Sale We Make Is [Sometimes]
No Sale At All”*

"The best sale we make is no sale at all," the late Barry Steinberg*, founder of Direct Tire, advised an over-enthusiastic employee. Steinberg implied that the customer’s needs and the seller’s ability to meet these needs must align for the engagement to succeed. While Steinberg didn't want employees to sell an unnecessary brake replacement, his startling words apply to many other business transactions, as well.

Some projects are not suitable, no matter how badly you want the work. If you undertake projects that are not suitable, neither the customer nor your business will benefit. Here are some factors to consider when you evaluate new projects

  • Project definition. When projects are ill-defined it is best to work to clarify what the client wants or turn down the opportunity. Sometimes a client claims to want one thing to solve a problem or make a decision, but needs to be steered in another, more-productive, direction.
  • Project authorization. Who is the real decision maker? If your contact person wants a project done, but a more senior person behind-the-scenes has not signed off on the project, the project cannot succeed.
  • Skills and experience. Does your company have the technical ability and the resources to execute effectively? Have you completed similar projects in the past, or do you have the time and the ability to learn what is necessary to complete the project? You are not likely to do your best work if the learning curve is too steep. And, the extra time required to get up-to-speed will eat into profits.
  • Time. Can you achieve the desired results in the time specified? Some projects, such as research projects, have a long learning curve. Researchers may have no real results to show for some time. Therefore, cutting off such a project near the beginning usually means disappointing results. Reject projects from bargain hunters looking for short-term projects as they are usually high-risk, as well.
  • One-off or Repeat Project. Evaluate if it is worthwhile to invest in mastering a new skill, understanding a new industry or technology? Will it help you pursue similar opportunities in the future?
  • Limited budget/resources/other constraints. If you cannot hire the expertise you need, or purchase the materials or technology that will help you do the work, it will be hard to complete the project on time and meet your standards.

Ultimately, you want your customers to be satisfied so that they will return and so that they will recommend your company to others. Supposedly, dissatisfied customers will tell nine other people about their dissatisfaction. As Steinberg implied, sellers should carefully assess customers’ real needs. Did his customer’s brakes need replacing, or were they good for another 200 miles? And, finally, is your business equipped to take on the project?

* "Direct Tire founder valued customer, staff relationships," Boston Globe, May 4, 2021.


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Copyright © 6/21 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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