Trick or Treat (How Halloween’s Catchphrase Can Offer Insight Into Best Practices for Sales Training)

Halloween is around the corner. In the U.S., Britain, Mexico, Ireland, and elsewhere, children are preparing to go door-to-door. They will knock and shout “trick-or-treat” in the hope of scoring a sweet haul. It’s fun—but it’s also a metaphor to learn from.

In the U.S., traditions of trick-or-treating for candy date back to the 1920s—roughly same timeframe as modern advertising. It’s really much older, dating back to 16th century Britain and Ireland, where there are plenty of tales of people singing or performing for food and drink. Today, it’s a fun excuse to get into costume and character. Trick-or-treating is a creative escape (with sweet rewards) that kids and adults look forward to every year. But let’s take a closer look.

The original idea of trick-or-treat is extremely binary. It’s a phrase that emphasizes one thing or the other, either something good or something bad. (The phrase is also a misnomer today, when it comes to Halloween. In all my years of trick-or-treating, I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten tricked instead of a treat handout.)

Kids and adults alike can easily fall into binary phrases and attitudes. The question is often asked, “is it this, or is it that?” rather than the more open-ended question of “what am I bringing to the table and what are my options because of this?” This is often seen (and extremely relevant) when it comes to members of a sales team.

In sales situations—in the field or during sales role play—it’s easy to fall into the mindset of ultimate results: “Will there be a sale or not?” Tricky as it is, it’s also fairly common for sales reps to lead conversations with this binary attitude around purchasing decisions, when that could be giving themselves too small a stage.

It’s no secret that the best sales training practice for reaching out is to collect as much information and insight on your own before the first point of contact. That means doing the research. But an expert sales rep goes the extra mile by staying in information gathering mode during the conversation, instead of presumptuously leading the conversation in the initial call. The expert sales rep is able to consider all options, and is open to hearing more from the person they are selling to.

Let’s go back to our Halloween analogy. Imagine a child going to a house and saying “Trick-or-treat!” with confidence, adding “I love Reese’s, do you have any?” The candy provider, knowing something about kid’s preferences, would be prepared to say, “Sure, take as much as you like!” and be confident they’d be back next year.

Now imagine a candy provider who could care less about the kids, and never bothered to discover the Top 20 worst Halloween candies we need to stop giving out. In response to the trick-or-treat call, he would hand over a lame roll of Necco Wafers. In this scenario, the child might be OK with the lame Necco Wafers. Candy is candy. But a Reese’s would have filled them with joy!

Back to business. By being too presumptuous or narrow-minded in your dealings with others, you can easily sell yourself short. By asking qualified, thought provoking questions you can go for the gold—and get a Reese’s and avoid the Neccos!

Like savvy trick-or-treat participants, sales reps need to enhance their best sales pitchwith professional communication skills. Whatever you are seeking, it’s important to stay open, flexible, and an engaged listener to get the absolute most out of every opportunity.

Happy Halloween!