Why You Should Never Assume in Sales…

Doug Robinson

Friday, December 14th, 2012

His request approved, the RNN photographer called the local airport to charter a flight. He was told a Cessna 172 would be waiting, and on arrival at the airfield, he spotted one warming up. 

Carrying his leather bag, he jumped in, slammed the door and blurted, “Let's go.” The pilot dutifully taxied and took off. Once airborne, the photographer instructed the pilot to fly low over the valley so he could get some pictures of the fires on the hillsides. The surprised pilot asked why.

“I thought you knew I'm an RNN photographer and I need some close up shots.”

The pilot got real quiet and then fearfully stammered, “So, what you're telling me is…you're NOT my flight instructor?”

Assuming is always a very foolish thing for people to do, especially salespeople. The old saying is, when you assume you make an ass of u and me,” and it’s true! Here, are several things you should never assume as a professional salesperson.

The customer can't afford it – A long time ago my job was inspecting houses for termite activity for a national company whose name you would know. One day I was doing annual customer checkups in a poor inner-city neighborhood. A lady next door spoke up and asked me to check her house for termites, although she wasn’t a customer of my company. 

Although I had a full schedule and it was over 100 degrees that day, I agreed and did discover termites infesting the subfloor in her crawlspace. I told what I found and she asked how much it would cost to treat the house and stop the infestation. Assuming she couldn’t afford it anyway, I threw her an off-the-cuff price. 

She asked me to wait on the porch and then returned with the cash in her hand. I sure learned a valuable lesson that hot August day…not to assume or pre-judge anybody.  

The customer won't buy it – In the ‘70’s I was a sales manager at a food brokerage company. We hired Jack, a college student, to call on very small stores, providing good will and issuing credits for damaged merchandise. 

Our company didn’t try to sell display-quantities to stores this small, but Jack wanted to try, as he would be there anyway. I told him to go for it, not expecting any results. He shocked everybody with some very respectable orders, and was offered a full-time job with that firm upon graduating college. After watching Jack I was reminded once again not to assume that customers wouldn’t buy.

The customer doesn't get it – In the following decade, as a self-employed mutual fund sales rep, I got a call from a man who wanted to talk about rolling his company retirement into a particular fund I represented. 

Seeing the neighborhood where he lived in total disrepair, the closer I got to his house the more depressed I became. I couldn’t imagine him understanding how investments like these worked.  

After talking with him for just a few minutes, I discovered he had an MBA degree and probably knew more about these funds than I did. As I sheepishly completed the paperwork it dawned on me I wasn’t the center of the universe. That day I stopped assuming the customer doesn’t get it.   

The customer won't buy more than one – I was head sales trainer for new employees for a large company for 10 years, and have always believed that no sale is too small. One of my favorite classroom quotes was, “Don’t turn down nothin’ but your collar.”

After one of my workshops, I received a call from an attending sales reps who shared a story about calling on a guy who did business with him, and then bought the same service for 22 other properties he owned in that town. This rep was so excited, he just kept saying, “I never dreamed he would buy more than one.” I learned from him to stop assuming how many the customer would buy.

Regardless whether you think they can’t afford it, or won’t buy it, or can’t understand it, or aren’t capable of buying more than one…  Never Assume.