Held Back Sales and Marketing

The best sales and marketing is less about promoting and more about holding back.

As strange as it sounds, in order to keep a customer engaged – especially early on as you strive to build a relationship and trust – the best thing to do is to not give them what they want. Instead, stimulate interaction by giving your customer some of what they ask for while delivering a complete experience in successive stages.

Your goal is to engage your customer in a number of ongoing conversations and interactions instead of just one and you do this by providing breadcrumbs for them to follow you down the path of mutual benefit. To that end, here are Don’ts and Do’s for engaging in what I call “Held Back” Sales and Marketing:


(1) Don’t talk about your product… unless you have no other option! Bad sales and marketing is about incessantly pitching your product. Good sales and marketing is about uncovering need and developing relationships

(2) Don’t answer every question: There are 2 problems with answering every question a customer asks. First, it gives them control of the conversation. Second, if they have all their questions answered they no longer need you. Instead, create suspense and next steps

(3) Don’t provide all information: This follows from point (2) and is also contrary to traditional sales and marketing approaches. The fact is that if you provide a customer will all the information they are looking for – especially in a complex, multi-step sale – then they often go off and make their mind up by themselves

(4) Don’t suggest solutions: Going back to point (1) we need to keep in mind to let customers “discover” the solution by themselves – your solution. Your job is to listen and lay breadcrumbs based on what they are saying. Try not to jump ahead but instead lead the way


(1) Do engage and listen: If there is one thing that most sales and marketing professionals are not as good at as they should be, it is listening. We like to proclaim and explain whereas we should rather develop a talent for creating and managing discussions with customers

(2) Do ask questions: Remember that a person asking the questions and listening is the one in control of the conversation. Rather than give in to the temptation to lapse into sales-and-marketing-speak, use thoughtful pauses in the conversation to ask more questions

(3) Do build trust and rapport: A common misconception in sales and marketing is that your job is to talk about your company, products and services. While this certainly is the endpoint of a customer discussion, the starting point is building a relationship

(4) Do book the next step: Once you have built sufficient credibility with the customer through your professional empathy you may take on the role of guide. Your job is to engage customers on a journey, step by step, to a mutually beneficial desired outcome

Rather than trying to push customers forward, hold back and create a sales and marketing “pull” instead!

Kicking Your Own Tail in Sales and Marketing

I have to admit — one of my favorite “reality” shows for sales and marketing is “Tapout”.

I don’t usually watch reality shows. In fact, I think most are pretty stupid.

But I’m a BIG Tapout fan.

The show is about three guys who travel the country, constantly looking for up-and-coming mixed martial arts fighters to sponsor and wear their clothes. And it contains lots of cool “real-world” lessons on what it takes to win, succeed and dominate not only in professional fighting — but in all life.

Anyway, I can’t get enough of the adventures (and misadventures) of Punkass, Skyscrape and Mask. (The three amigos who star in the show).

And if you are into martial arts or UFC or anything that has anything to do with guys trying to kick the crap out of each other… you will probably love this show, too.

So what does this have to do with your selling efforts?

Why should you care?

Because during the last show I watched, I couldn’t help but see all the ways martial arts relates to marketing, selling and business.

See, I think learning sales is a LOT like learning martial arts.

For example, in some martial arts (not all), they teach you to fall before teaching you how to fight. And it’s not a bad idea in sales, too — i.e. learning what NOT to do, first.

Here are a few of the more common “blunders” many of us make at one time or another (I know I have!). Just making sure you DON’T do these can go a long way towards ratcheting up your profits:

1. Being boring
2. Refusing to offend anyone
3. Relying on “tricks” and “tactics” instead of strategy
4. Not respecting your prospect
5. Bragging
6. Trying to create demand… instead of VISION
7. “Convincing” instead of persuading

If you’re committing any of these selling mistakes — STOP. Because you’re basically like a fighter kicking his own tail:

Even if your “technique” is good, you still hurt yourself.

Why Can’t Sales and Marketing Just Get Along?

The sales and marketing disconnect has been going on as long as they both exist – marketing creates targeted campaigns and complains that sales don’t follow up on leads. Sales complain that they aren’t getting “quality” leads (depending on the organization, quality seems to be a moving target). Marketing develops their interpretation of messaging for the collateral (brochures, videos, direct mail etc…) and sales presentations and sales creates their own sales presentations with different messaging. Different branding by the two departments for the same product confuses the customer. The dialog goes back and forth until management sits everyone down at the same table. Sound familiar?

At the end of the day, sales and marketing have to come together to deliver a clear and consistent value proposition that enables prospects to develop a coherent brand image of the company and its products. Forrester Research recently reported similar findings in “B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment Starts with the Customer.” Only six of the sixty-six marketing and sales leaders who responded to Forrester’s survey, reported that the two groups worked closely together. Now those are some alarming statistics. The study confirms that sales and marketing have been working to a great extent in different silos. In larger organizations and the government this might not be detrimental but in small to medium sized businesses this could be fatal.

So how can we get everyone on the same page? It starts with agreeing on the ideal customer profile or the different buying personas. Persona’s are extremely useful in determining the buying behaviour of market segments and help guide product development and branding decisions. Persona’s put a face on who’s buying your products and or services.

Then you have to decide on the best channels to reach your customers. If you were a bottling machinery manufacturer, your marketing resources would be put to better use if you ran a banner ad on Globalspec, an engineering search and industrial catalogs website, than designing a Facebook landing page.

In most cases, the corporate resource with the least amount of contact with the buyer, the CMO or Chief Marketing Officer, usually leads the process. In my opinion a truly representative alignment would include the buyer in some capacity (the personas developed through marketing research & research and development) and the Sales Director. And by this, I mean a stand-in from another department would give his/her opinion. It might take longer to develop consensus, but all parties have a vested interest that this works.

Whichever opinion that you may be of, bridging the divide will mean that sales and marketing will have to spend more time communicating with each other and not talking “at” one another. Who knows, maybe going to lunch with the marketing guy or going fishing with the sales guy isn’t such a bad thing after all.