A sales rep friend and I were talking one afternoon about how to improve his selling skills. He’s been in financial services for 13 years, but as of late his business has been slow. He was telling me how bad he felt because he wasn’t getting many appointments. People weren’t returning his phone calls. In addition, the few people he was speaking to weren’t interested in meeting with him.
In the next sentence, however, he sparked up and said – with a great deal of pride, ‘I’m a great closer. Just put me in front of a prospect, and I’ll walk away with an order eight out of ten times.”
“Then why isn’t your business growing by leaps and bounds? Why aren’t you making tons of money? Why aren’t you spending more time with your family and friends instead of spending so much time at the office?” I asked?
A perplexed look crossed his face as he pondered my question, the kind of look that says “If I’m this great, why then ain’t I rich?” He looked out the window and pondered this question. He stared at the ceiling. He gazed at the floor. And in a soft voice said, “I don’t really know why I’m not doing better. I guess I’m just too busy to be calling on people.”
And that’s precisely his problem. He didn’t realize that selling isn’t about being a great closer. Selling is about being a great opener. It’s about creating opportunities. It’s about discovering what people want and need, and then giving them the solution to their problem. Selling is about making the customer’s life better, easier. But when you’re not opening customers – creating opportunities – you’ve nothing to close. “What kind of customer contact records do you keep?” I asked.
I then asked him these seven questions:
- How many times do you dial the phone each day for the sole purpose of scheduling an appointment with a prospect?
- How much time do you spend dialing for appointments each day? Do you block out time to call on your calendar?
- Where do you get your leads?
- How many times do you attempt to reach a person before you decide they aren’t a prospect and move on?
- How many new people do you call each day? People you’ve never attempted to reach before?
- How many people are you calling from your database that you’ve called on five, ten, fifteen times but have never bought from you? How do you feel calling on the same people who – even though they may be friendly – always tell you that they aren’t in the market?
- What are your annual sales goats? Quarterly goals? Monthly goals? Weekly goals? Daily goals? What daily activity must you generate to achieve these goals?
With each question he was getting more nervous. His body language told me that he didn’t have any systems or methods for looking for – and finding – new customers. “What’s keeping you from looking for new customers?” I asked. “What do you do every day?”
He explained that he comes into the office at about 7:45 am each day and spends most of the morning doing paperwork and reads e-mail. He works on client proposals. Then he does service work. He returns telephone calls. Goes to lunch with his colleagues, has meetings with his assistant and the other people in his office.
By the time he leaves at about 5:15 pm he’s put in a full day of doing “stuff,” but there is one thing he never gets around to doing: Calling on new prospects. He avoids the phone like the plague.
Ever since I started in sales, I always wondered why bright, talented, knowledgeable and successful salespeople never continued to grow in their businesses and further their careers. Why were they always struggling? Why were they always experiencing high peaks and low – below sea level – valleys? Why were they living a feast or famine existence?
I’ve watched salespeople start their careers like a rocket roaring into outer space. But within a few short years their business had leveled off. Their meteoric rise to stardom had stopped, and their sales volume and commission level never grew by more than five, ten or fifteen percent a year… at best.
With the passage of time their business started a slow decline as their best customers moved on or retired and the person who took their place put the old contracts out for bid, or brought in a preferred supplier. Why did this happen? Because the salesman stopped looking for new business. He stopped being a hunter-gatherer. He stopped prospecting.
• Sales is about being a great opener, not just being a great closer.
• Sales is about looking for prospects every day.
• Sales is about getting on the phone every day.
• Sales is about solving problems every day.
He tried everything he could think of so he wouldn’t have to get on the phone. He sent out letters, post cards, flyers and other advertising, promotional and marketing pieces, and then sat by the phone waiting for it to ring. It didn’t!
Every once in a while he would phone some people he had called on before, but more often then not, they weren’t around. So he would leave a voice mail message that said something like, “Hi Joanne. This is Bud. I was just calling to see if you would like to setup a date to discuss your financial planning. Give me a call at 888-423- 1234.”
But Joanne never called him back, nor did any of the other people that he left voice mail messages for. This got him even more discouraged. Unfortunately, he had forgotten that a salesman’s job is to track down the prospect.
And in today’s busy world most of us don’t have time to return the calls of the people we do want to talk to, let alone return the call of someone who leaves a poorly worded message that basically says, “Please call me back.”
So we went to work.
- We changed his attitude. He began to see the telephone as his friend, instead of his mortal enemy.
- He developed a great Elevator Speech which enabled him to keep his conversations going. His days of having five to ten second “We aren’t in the market.” phone calls were over.
- He started prospecting and looking for new people to call on. He attended networking events. He began asking for referrals. And even started calling on people whose names and photos had appeared in the business sections of the local paper.
Within a month he had turned his business around. He was meeting with new people, asking great questions, solving problems, closing sales and making money. He had learned a very important lesson: Selling isn’t about closing sales, it’s about opening and creating new opportunities.