The email that found its way to my inbox states that the company will pay me $100 for meeting with one of their salespeople. Less expensive companies offered me a $50 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks. This offer is attractive for someone who buys many books. Still, I reject the offer by clicking delete. This is one more example of how sales is broken. I am also on record here describing the coming apocalypse of cold outreach, which will result from an overwhelming volume of communications, most of which use sales automation.
Increasingly, sales organizations seem to be paying for a first meeting. Aside from the fact that this is a sign that a sales force is not effective, this raises ethical questions. Is it right to offer money for a meeting with a potential buyer? In this article, I argue that paying for first meetings in B2B sales raises serious ethical concerns. Even though cold outreach isn’t easy, salespeople book meetings every day, without resorting to practices that compromise a salesperson’s ethical standing.
The Rise of Paying for First Meetings
While sales organizations and B2B sales teams may use cash incentives to encourage prospects to take a meeting, it isn’t a good practice. These companies intend to create new opportunities faster. But sales has an iron rule, one you should always heed: Trying to make selling easier makes it more challenging. The Gods of Sales punish arrogant B2B salespeople who try to cheat because of their inability to create value for their clients.
There are two likely reasons these companies are offering money for a first meeting.
- Competitive market: Nearly every industry has more than enough suppliers for the number of customers in any territory. When this is true, companies of all kinds are treated as a commodity. In competitive selling scenarios, your prospective client probably has a supplier for what they need. My guess is that the sales organizations paying for meetings are trying to compete. However, this is not how to win in a competitive market.
- Pressure to meet sales targets: Someone in a leadership role understood that, in terms of customer acquisition, $100 is a tiny amount of money. One new customer might pay for dozens of meetings that fail to produce a client. People will try many things to meet their sales targets , including buying first meetings. These companies are trying to shorten a longer sales cycle by jump starting the B2B sales process. They also want to increase revenue in B2B sales.
Many of the offers I have seen have come from software as a service (SAAS) companies. A few have been from accounting solutions and others have been from companies offering me money to watch a demo of their software. These companies’ monetary incentives are not serious enough to be considered a bribe. It does, however, support unethical behavior, especially when the contact takes the money and buys from the company.
Transparency and honesty are important. I am confident that many people who accept money in exchange for a first meeting do not purchase the items offered by the sales organization. The offer is transparent, but it doesn’t strike me as honest. As a B2B salesperson or someone who leads a sales team, you must always ensure ethical behaviors.
What’s worse here is that the lure of easy money causes the person who takes it to face a potential ethical issue of their own. They took money to explore a potential solution. If they buy from the company that paid them, they may be compromised.
A second concern has to do with the disclosure of financial incentives. The disclosure of the payment is known to the person accepting the money, but it isn’t disclosed to the person’s company or their leadership. If this is discovered later, the contact who accepted the incentive and bought from the company, may face scrutiny. Their employer may have a problem with their taking money for a meeting, especially if it seems like it may have created a conflict of interest.
Finally, this type of bribery can mislead clients. In my career in sales, there have been four times when clients have asked me to pay them for choosing my company. In one especially odd request, one person asked me to bring them a bag with $50,000 in it. If a company will pay for a meeting, they may find people asking for a kickback soon after.
The Impact on the Decision-Making Process
Accepting a cash incentive can influence a client’s choices. If the person that takes the money and the first meeting buys from the company without looking at other options, they may have harmed their company. One reason to offer money is that it creates reciprocity, so the contact feels indebted to the company that paid them.
Cash incentives also undermine trust in business relationships. One rule you should follow is that you will maintain the truth at any price, even the price of your deal. If you are going to, you should never do anything that would undermine trust. Trust is central to building relationships in conversational sales, but paying for a first meeting makes the relationship transactional. The end result is that trust is replaced with cash incentives.
Arguments for Paying for First Meetings
I imagine companies that use this awful sales strategy rationalize it in two ways. First, they likely claim it incentivizes decision-makers to explore new opportunities. Companies that use cash incentives believe they are encouraging qualified leads to explore the company’s offering. When considering this, you must ask yourself why the salespeople who work for these companies cannot book a first meeting without compromising their ethics.
Second, people who use this approach believe it accelerates the sales process so much that it’s worth the tradeoff in terms of ethical and financial costs. They are trying to speed up the sales process of acquiring meetings with potential customers, which they hope speeds up acquisition. I imagine this fails more often than it succeeds, especially with one of the trillion SAAS products available.
Why Jimmy and Jenny Can’t Sell
For the last couple of decades, the world of B2B sales has done everything possible to make selling easier and faster. From social selling to new technologies, and automating prospecting to reorganizing sales into specialized roles, few changes have improved B2B sales in a meaningful way.
If Jimmy and Jenny can’t sell, it’s because their companies haven’t taught them how. Too many sales organizations don’t train salespeople, develop their skills, and coach them well enough to command a first meeting by understanding their client’s industry, their problems and challenges, and their pain points.
One generation of salespeople have been taught to look to technology and gimmicks to succeed in sales. We are likely to lose a second generation to the same fallacies, if there are any young people willing to take a sales role.
Pay to Play
This pay-to-play approach would not be necessary if the sales organization and their sales force was more effective. The salesperson who can’t acquire a meeting isn’t going to do well in discovery, consensus building, or closing deals.
I know that no reader of thesalesblog.com would stoop so low as to pay for a meeting when they could simply follow the trading-value rule. If you are a consultative salesperson, your time and insights should be enough to carry you through the sales process.