Frank Dodge and Negative Selling

I was trained in sales by two of the best salespeople that I have ever met or heard about, Jim McCormack and Frank Dodge, the founders of the application software firm McCormack & Dodge.  Both had met at IBM and had very different backgrounds.  Jim was a highly successful salesperson at IBM, and Frank was a systems engineer.  Previously, Frank had been a high-school mathematics teacher for many years.  As a teacher, he was inclined to provide detailed explanations and paint “word pictures” for his students so they could better understand his concepts.  Jim taught me the opposite – to be economical with my words when performing a sales presentation.

Accompanying Jim and Frank on sales calls during my training was a truly inspiring experience. After many “one-on-one” scripted presentations with them, they finally allowed me to present to prospects and provided valuable feedback. Their guidance, particularly from Frank Dodge, who later became my CEO, was instrumental in shaping my sales career.

One of my discoveries watching Frank in sales situations was how he sometimes shifted into a “negative selling” mode.  He would openly ask the prospect: “Are you sure you want to purchase our software? Do you have the staff and the commitment to make this project successful? Are you prepared to make the necessary changes to your procedures and perhaps even to your culture?  Because if you are not, I don’t want to sell our software to you.”

When I first observed Frank doing this, I was shocked. It seemed that he was trying to talk them out of buying.  Why would he not want to make the sale to this company? We certainly could use the revenue, and I wanted to earn a commission. Does he know that he could be killing the deal? Why is he doing this? I am getting upset.

The effect was almost always the opposite of what I thought would occur.  The prospect’s leader often got defensive and insisted that the company was willing to make a change and had the ability to implement the software.  They seemed to straighten up from their chair and almost take it as an insult that Frank was questioning them. And sometimes, the prospect began selling themselves. The “negative sell” resulted in the prospect grabbing control of the sales process in their mind, and they wanted to prove to Frank that they were ready to buy now. It often had the effect of moving the deal to a close sooner than usual.

In reality, Frank was doing a deep dive into sales, qualifying the prospects on their willingness to make a change, something not all companies were ready to do. By making them defend themselves, he could ascertain whether they were real buyers—or not.

This was certainly very valuable and something you might want to consider in your sales career.