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The Goldilocks Strategy

By Michelle Nichols Are you guilty of committing one of the most frequent sales crimes -- TMI: Too Much Information? Believe me, it has the potential to sour almost any deal. You know what I mean. Someone asks you the price of your product and you launch into a long discourse on every feature, a competitive comparison, the financing options, and more. Meanwhile, all the client really wanted to know was if the cost would come in closer to $20K or $40K.

Ouch. TMI can be hard to spot because offenders actually think they are being helpful. In fact, the opposite occurs, and all that excess information slows down a sale, and maybe even kills it. For example, a while back, I spoke at an association of sales reps for promotional products. The event was so inspiring, I thought I'd write a column on clever promotions. So I asked one of the trade magazine editors for some ideas.

She generously sent me two years of back issues -- yes, 24 magazines -- and signed me up for a subscription, too. When they arrived, I was overwhelmed with all that information, so I put the magazines aside, intending to study them later. As you can guess, I never opened them, and that column never got written. In retrospect, I could have picked out one magazine with the most potential for column fodder and pitched the rest, but I didn't. TMI ruined that sale.

There are many flavors of TMI. We've all experienced Death by PowerPoint, when presentations go on way too long and with far too much detail. Electronic slides should just provide an overview. If you have a lot of details to cover, put them in a handout or reference guide.

PASCAL'S FORMULA. I also once heard of an insurance convention that greeted travel-weary attendees with a four-hour, nonstop information dump on everything that was new and improved since they had gathered a year ago. That's way too much information before the first glass of chardonnay!

TMI can also crop up in the form of long-winded brochures, e-mails, sales letters, and even phone calls. Whatever the method of delivery, TMI always has the same result: It weakens the connection with the other person.

French mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, "I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter." I understand his pain. I recently released a new sales CD. I was so excited, I immediately sent copies to my key customers and prospects. The problem was the accompanying sales letter: It was two pages long.

I knew I was committing TMI, but like Mr. Pascal, I didn't want to take the time to make it briefer. To those who received this letter, I apologize. I wish I'd just provided a summary and said: Thank you for your business. Please order copies of my new CD. Please hire me to speak. Let's keep in touch. Love, Michelle.

Information is like food -- some is good but too much is not necessarily better. Let the customer decide. When they ask you a question, begin with an overview and then ask them what they would like to know more about. For example, if you provide copying services and someone inquires, you could explain that you offer a wide variety of solutions, including A, B, and C. Then you might ask what kind of copying services the prospect uses right now, and then say how your offerings are similar -- or different. Later, you might ask if they have ever considered using some of the services you offer that they didn't mention. Pace yourself.

JUST RIGHT! If you offer 50 different types of products, going through them one by one can be downright painful. Instead, group your offerings into a handful of categories. Then review the categories with your customer and only go deeper into the categories in which he or she expresses a specific interest. Yes, that means you won't get to talk about all 50 products on the first sales call -- and that's not only OK, it's good.

If you have to send a catalog, take a moment and highlight the pages of special interest and include a personal note on the cover. Customers don't want to look through your entire catalog to find the handful of items they want to buy.

I admit, there are some customers who love boatloads of data. For them, there is no such thing as too much information. They will ask to see the warranty, manual, brochures, your last five annual reports, and more. They are the exception, however, and not the rule.

Treat your customer like Goldilocks. She didn't want too much or too little from the three bears. She wanted everything just right! Give your customers just the right amount of information, too. Avoid committing TMI and you'll sell more and close faster. I hope that's just enough information on TMI. Happy selling! Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments, and can be contacted at . Visit her Web site,

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