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Sales 101: Lao Tzu on Selling

Updated on September 4, 2014

Ye Olde Sales Weapon

Lau Tzu stone image
Lau Tzu stone image | Source

Ancient Chinese philosophy

The Ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism incorporates many beliefs of the Old Master, Lao Tzu. In the “Classic of the Way of Power,” Tao Te Ching, he tells us, “The conquest of the world comes invariably from doing nothing.” It is the ultimate statement for Patience, the ability to suppress annoyance in waiting. Said another way, “Have patience and the world will be yours to command.” This is not a statement advocating sitting on your duff, although it may sound that way at first. Instead, I find it an exciting philosophy on the use of time. Since none of us will live long enough to take over the world, what does Lao Tzu and ancient mysticism have to do with modern selling techniques? Have patience and I will illuminate!

First let me say that I define all employees of any company as salespeople. Perhaps the biggest mistake we salespeople make is being impatient: impatient with sales progress, impatient to make higher commissions, and worst of all, impatient with customers. Our American society has the ingrained need for immediate satisfaction of personal desires, especially with the advent of the “smart” phone. Salespeople must learn to resist the constant use of their thumbs on tiny screens in order to rediscover the Virtue of Patience. For some this may be a weaning process, but it must be done! Live customers deserve our complete attention, not our thumbs.

What Patience is not

A good first step is to learn what Patience is not. By definition, lack of patience is called Impatience. Impatience manifests itself in a variety of negative ways:

  1. The prospective buyer is talking and the salesperson interrupts rudely to hit the silence button on the cell phone, or starts texting. (Yes, I’ve seen it done!)
  2. The salesperson shows thoughtlessness by arriving to an appointment early, late, or not at all. (Happens all the time.)
  3. The salesperson harasses a prospect over a quote, appointment, demonstration, order, et cetera, many times using text messages. (Every single workday.)
  4. Follow-ups on quotes, demonstrations, problems, needs, and questions, are carelessly ignored by the salesperson. (Too many text messages and too few face-to-face meetings?)
  5. A salesperson causes services to happen although the customer never ordered them. (I’ve seen entire buildings cleaned for free because the cleaning company had been fired and the janitorial staff didn’t get the memo, or text message.)

To summarize: IMPATIENCE = rudeness + thoughtlessness + harassment + carelessness + stupidity = PUSHINESS

In the buyer’s mind, Impatience is transformed to Pushiness by an exhibition of bad manners. Everyone hates pushy salespeople, even other pushy salespeople! Avoid this stigma at all costs by reevaluating your habits.

The first step toward rediscovering Patience is to decide that selling is what you want to do as a lifelong career. It is imperative that you make this decision and strive to maintain it! This will provide you with a view of the future known as the Long Run. In the long run, you can prove to your customers and prospects that you will be available to serve them if they need you. You are no longer constrained by Time. This means you don’t have to use questionable techniques to nudge a buyer into a hasty decision. This means you don’t have to change jobs in an attempt to jockey a better paycheck. This means you can build a customer base indefinitely, thereby increasing your commissions. This means you no longer have to PUSH! Maybe you are asking, “But, what about my competitors? Won’t they get the business?” Trust me – have PATIENCE! Good things come to those who wait.

The long run
The long run

The greatest sales tool

The greatest tool a salesperson can wield is the true claim, “I’ve been with XYZ Company for many years and have no plans to move. In other words, I’m in this for the long run. I would greatly appreciate your business, but please, take your time and make the right decision for you.” Odds are if this salesperson spoke truthfully, with the track record to back it up, then this sale will go to him or her. Buyers like to hear the “ring of honesty” in a salesperson’s voice.

What the competition is in for

Now, let’s see what the competition is in for. I’ve been in sanitation sales for more than thirty-two years. Obviously I’m in it for the long run. I’ve discovered over time that most of my competitors have one thing in common: they lack a stable sales force. Why? Their salespeople are not taught the Virtue of Patience, of course. Salespeople come and go like changes in the weather. Considering this, I must say that I take complete advantage of the situation. My competitor’s clients know me as the salesperson “in it for the long run.” Maybe not precisely in those words, but nonetheless, they know I’m available in case their current suppliers let them down. Eventually, my competitors do! It pays to have patience.

In the long run

Just because you now hold a view of sales in terms of Patience and the Long Run, never lose sight of the Short Run. In the short run, sales quotas, goals, commissions, and myriad other details can wear you down. If you truly have decided to achieve the Virtue of Patience, then use some it to plan your destiny. No one can handle the stress of sales without resorting to Patience. Patience is the means you must use to map out your sales day, make your best proposals, handle your finicky clients and bosses, space your appointments so you are not rushed, listen well, and speak with precision. Every aspect of sanitary sales begs for Patience – even the discipline to learn the facts about your product line! Yes, contract cleaning companies offer product lines: window washing, carpet cleaning, pressure washing, bathroom disinfection, construction cleanup, etc. Have the patience to learn and understand every available offering so you don’t miss an opportunity.

By the time your competitors discover how you gleaned so much of their business, it will be too late. Once you have a customer, only circumstances beyond your control could remove that customer from you. Among those are the Will of God, death (of either you or the customer), retirement, and winning the New York State Lottery. Never let it be said that you failed a customer simply by not having enough patience to deal with them fairly! There is no excuse.

The use of Patience demands responsibility. If you lose patience, and probably a customer, only you are responsible. All the philosophical words in Ancient China won’t change that fact. Don’t blame your company for missing your quota, or the competition for having lower prices, or even the car for breaking down at an inopportune time. Have the fortitude to take responsibility for your impatience and get back on the job! Remember to use the Virtue of Patience in your dealings and the world is yours to control. Confucius didn’t say this, but the Old Master did!


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