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New Year's Advice: Don't Sell to Jerks

When you sell to people you truly can't stand, you make yourself less effective and hurt your sales growth.

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For the past week—the first I’ve had off since February 2007—I’ve been trying to decide how to best start out the new year. I wanted something useful, something that would last long after your new year’s resolutions were forgotten.

I struggled with this for a few days, then I ran across, in an out-of-date issue of the New York Times, an interview with Ori Hadomi, the CEO of Mazor Robotics, a medical technology firm. That interview contained this bit of wisdom: “I told one of our salespeople that he didn’t have to sell our product to people who were not nice to him.”

In other words, don’t sell to jerks.

Of course, conventional wisdom says that you should sell to whomever is willing to pay. After all, times are hard and sales are hard to come by.  If the customer thinks it’s OK to treat you like crap, well, the customer is always right … right?

Wrong.

If you truly believe in your product and its value to the customer, selling to jerks gradually but inexorably leaches away your enthusiasm. When you help somebody you despise to become more successful, you know, in your heart, that yo are making the world into a worse place.

That’s especially true when selling to a jerk sets you up for a long-term relationship. Now that jerk is part of your life–is part of who you’ll become over time. You’re now “partnering” with somebody who you can’t stand.  It’s like a lousy marriage, bad for both of you.

Best case, you’ll have to tolerate the ongoing presence of the jerk, with all his or her obnoxious behaviors. Worst case, the jerk will become a constant headache, consuming a disproportionate amount of your energy and your company’s resources.

Selling to jerks is also a dead end when it comes to growing sales. The lifeblood of every small company is referrals–it’s the easiest kind of sales lead to close. Referrals come from customers who are happy (with your product and service) and generous enough to help out.

A jerk isn’t going to do that. In fact, jerks, if asked, would probably bad-mouth you, even if you’ve gone the proverbial extra mile.  Why?

Because they’re jerks.

So, yeah, you might be turning down a sale by refusing to sell to a jerk.  But long term, you’ll end up building a customer base who can be trusted, who will behave in a reasonable manner, and who will help you develop future sales.

And you’ll sleep better at night, too, knowing you’re not beholden (or hostage) to somebody you can’t stand.

Last updated: Jan 2, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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