What’s New In Sales? Nothing! (7,778 Free Words)


Nothing has been new in sales since the first nomad traded a fish for a night by a warm fire, so quit looking for the silver-bullet concept.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

– Anonymous

Some people have stuff and want money. Some people have money and want stuff. Occasionally, both parties find each other, communicate and agree to trade stuff for money. Provided both parties remain happy about the previous trade, they might connect one another to friends or trade again in the future.

Believe it or not, in those incredibly simplistic 50 words you learned the bottom-line concepts of the six components to sales:

  1. Supply and demand (have stuff want money, want stuff have money)
  2. Marketing (find each other)
  3. Sales (communicate and agree to trade)
  4. Fulfillment (exchange stuff for money)
  5. Buyer-seller relationships (both parties remain happy)
  6. New-business generation (connect one another to friends or trade again in the future)

Not only did you learn the foundation of sales, everything that has ever been said or written about sales or ever will be said or written about sales can be boiled down to one of these six sales components. There simply is nothing new in sales, because sales is too simple a concept for anything new to be created. And frankly, I’m so tired of hearing about new paradigms, new concepts and new methods that I cringe every time I hear such a claim.

Just like there is nothing new in sales, there is also no silver-bullet sales system that makes all salespeople successful. It doesn’t exist, it never has existed and it never will exist, because it’s not the system that creates success – it’s the person.

You are the only person who can make you achieve success at sales. And you are the only person who can stop thtat from happening. I can tell you how. Other experts can tell you how. But only you caneither make it happen or get in your own way.

To become the best salesperson possible, you must assume full and complete responsibility for your success. That means that the only person you ever blame for failure or congratulate for success is the person looking back at you in the mirror. All top salespeople assume total responsibility for their successes and failures, and none of them listen to the internal voice when it says “I can’t,” because they all know the key to success lies within the words “I can and I will.”

In the following pages, I can and I will give you advice that will help you become the best salesperson possible, but only if you make the following promise to yourself – not to me, but to that person in the mirror:

Promise To Self: “I can and I will seek advice from anyone who can help me reach my goal. I can and I will take what I like and apply it to my prospecting, marketing and sales efforts. I can and I will toss in the trash anything I don’t like. I can and I will abandon anything I try that doesn’t work, or modify it in some way and try it again. I can and I will do the work required to become the best salesperson possible. And I can and I will continue to do the work until I achieve my goal.”

If you are prepared to make that commitment to the person in the mirror, then I can and I will help you achieve your goal.

What Is Honest Selling?

Given that the book’s name is “Honest Selling,” I feel somewhat compelled to tell you what Honest Selling is. The name “Honest Selling” describes my particular model of selling – no dishonesty, no manipulation, always tell the truth. And I mean not just to your prospects and customers, but tell the truth to yourself as well. Honest Selling is also a brand I created in early 2000 to set me apart from every other sales consultant, even those who use the same sales model. I chose Honest Selling, because doing so accomplished three things I needed to become successful:

  1. I Wanted To Be Understood Quickly: Honest Selling is simple and direct, and it conveys a pretty clear distinction about my beliefs when it comes to selling – I don’t advocate manipulation in sales.
  2. I Wanted To Be Remembered: Honest Selling is memorable, because when it comes to sales, most buyers think of the stereotypical used-car salesperson, and Honest Selling is at the opposite end of that spectrum. And it often elicits a “Yeah, right” chuckle from people who hear me say it, which makes it even more memorable as they come to realize I’m not joking about this stuff.
  3. I Wanted To Be Easily Found: HonestSelling.com was available as a domain name in March of 2000 when I started the company. I can’t imagine anyone not trying “companyname.com” when looking for just about any company, so this was a critical factor for me.

Update: It is now March of 2018 and I’m revising this book in preparation for giving it to the world for free. In the past 14 years many things have changed. Fake news is rampant, and there is division and angst virtually everywhere. But if you listen closely, you can hear the rise of alpha voices that will lead our society away from us-against-them thinking and back to the collaboration mindset. But right now, the Honest Selling brand would suffer from the pervasive attitudes of distrust. So to head off that effect, I’ve launched a new brand called Sales Craftsman. The SalesCraftsman.com domain points to my new YouTube channel, where I’ll create and post a free three-minute instructional video on sales every week. I’ll be creating the videos in my woodworking shop, and incorporating wood craftsman-language into the lessons for fun. (Hey, if you aren’t having fun selling, you’re doing it wrong.) But for purposes of this book, “Honest Selling” will remain.

Now back to the book …

Every top salesperson needs to create a personal brand that sets him or her apart from the competition. In my case, since I own the company, the brand and company name can be combined. For salespeople who work at larger companies, this is probably not an option, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will do whatever it takes to create and establish a personal brand.”

Honest Selling Vs. Traditional Selling

I love bottom lines, so here’s the bottom line on selling models: I know of only three. The first is the qualification model, most commonly referred to as “traditional selling” and often involving deception, trickery and manipulation. The second is the disqualification model. While there are many variations of the disqualification model, all focus mostly on being straightforward and honest with buyers in an attempt to negotiate an agreement that works for everyone, while stopping the process the moment a showstopper is found. The third is the collaboration model where you drop any concern whatsoever for the close of the sale and instead focus on helping the prospect make the smartest choice possible, even if that means sending him or her to your biggest competitor.

“Honest Selling” is my brand of the collaboration model of selling.

It is my firm belief that to become the best salesperson possible, you must practice a collaboration model. I hold this belief for two reasons. First, across all industries and all countries, all the top salespeople I’ve met practice either the disqualification or collaboration model of sales. Second, I’ve actually used both and tracked my results. And I can say without hesitation that the collaboration model produces better short- and long-term results.

Qualification Vs. Disqualification Vs. Collaboration – A Comparison

Qualification Selling

In the qualification model of selling, your focus is on getting the prospect to do what you want, regardless of what he or she wants. At every phase of the process, you look for the trigger that will get the prospect to meet with you, introduce you to the decision-maker or sign on the dotted line. In effect, your entire life is spent finding, or qualifying, the trigger that will finally get the buyer in front of you to buy:

  • You manipulate your way past the people who don’t have the authority to sign on the dotted line. If a gatekeeper, for instance, tells you, “Ms. Jones doesn’t take sales calls,” you might lie in your attempt to get through: “All I know is, I have a voice-mail message telling me to call Ms. Jones about the computers she wants, and time is of the essence.”
  • You try to trick the prospect into doing things she wouldn’t ordinarily do. You might, for instance, use the alternative or assumptive close when trying to set a sales appointment: “I’ll be stopping by your office next week. Is Tuesday or Wednesday better for you?”
  • You make light of every objection the prospect raises, or do your best to convince him that his fears are unfounded. If your prospect works at a huge company and says, “That’s a lot of money,” you might, for instance, compare your costs to the amount the company spent on something you don’t sell, like janitorial services, in the hopes he’ll feel petty and give in.

Qualification selling is a process of avoiding or circumventing any and all roadblocks until you find (or qualify) that which will get the prospect to do what you want him or her to do – buy your product or service. Throughout the process, what the prospect wants or what is best for the prospect never enters the picture, because that is often detrimental to your goal of closing the sale. A common side effect of the qualification model is, therefore, sales resistance. Every time you try to manipulate someone into doing something he or she doesn’t want to do, you’ll create sales resistance.

In qualification selling your one and only concern is to close the freaking sale in front of you. If you don’t close that sale, you’re a failure unworthy of being called a “Salesperson.”

Disqualification Selling

Disqualification selling is exactly the opposite. Instead of trying to avoid every reason the prospect can’t, won’t or shouldn’t buy, you actually look for a reason, so you can disqualify the sale quickly when the deal-breaker, or showstopper, is identified. Accomplishing this as quickly as possible saves you a ton of time – time you can use to find someone with whom you can have a mutually beneficial business relationship naturally – someone who wants, needs, can afford and is willing to buy your product without manipulation of any kind.

  • In the gatekeeper example, if you’re told that Ms. Jones doesn’t take sales calls, you respect the person who has been empowered to make that decision, instead of lying or bullying the gatekeeper to give in. If I were calling, for instance, I might follow up with something like, “In the future, if Ms. Jones becomes concerned with sales results, she may want to hear about how we help people increase sales. Is there anything you think I should do to make sure our information is at her fingertips, if increasing sales ever becomes a priority?”
  • You never try to trick prospects into anything, because they almost always see through the tricks. Even when they don’t, you’ll do nothing more than create a relationship that won’t last, because eventually they will realize they were manipulated.
  • You never overcome objections or attempt to make the prospect feel petty. If in the prospect’s opinion your price is “a lot of money,” who are you to tell him he’s wrong, or attempt to make him feel petty? Instead of comparing your costs to that of janitorial services, why not find out what he thinks is reasonable and offer services to match that fee? Perhaps offer only products A and B, but not C.

Disqualification selling is about building mutually beneficial relationships between you and your buyers while not wasting time with prospects who won’t ever buy from you anyway. It’s about conveying a clear and honest message, negotiating reasonable deals when they’re a fit, and ending the process and moving on when they’re not. Honesty is the model, efficiency is the goal.

Collaboration Selling

The primary problem with the two models above is the misalignment of objectives between buyer and seller. In both cases, the salesperson is focused on the sale – either closing the sale or learning whether it should close, while the buyer is focused on making a smart purchase choice. That misalignment of agendas creates friction that damages the objectives in both models.

The secret to collaboration selling is to align your objectives with those of the prospect. Instead of focusing on your sale, focus on his or her purchase. Diagnose the situation and make the absolute best recommendation you can make looking at this exclusively from the prospect’s perspective. If your solution is a perfect fit, great! But if not, you learn what you need to introduce the prospect to salespeople at your competitors’ companies so you can help him or her save time in finding that perfecft fit. The beauty of this system is you will close every sale you should, you will close some sales you may have lost because the prospect suddenly realizes he would rather work with you than anyone else, and you will always earn the relationship. (As we all know, great relationships with decision-makers turn into introductions to other decision-makers.)

What Will The Collaboration Model Do For Me?

In early 1999, my partner and I were helping business decision-makers create their year-2000 contingency plans – planning for how the businesspeople would get their jobs done if their computers failed. To get business, I had created the Y2KExperts.com website, then wrote a contingency planning guide and offered it for free on the site. My partner created a fairly sophisticated Access database tool for maintaining all the information needed to make a contingency plan work, and we gave that away for free also. And I launched a free email-based discussion list where anyone in the world could ask questions about Y2K contingency planning and get answers from yours truly.

Since the article and tool explained everything a company would need to do to build a contingency plan, and our prospects had always reviewed these things before calling, the only three big questions that remained during my sales calls were process, price and availability.

One day while I was working on a client’s contingency plan, my phone rang – it was a woman from a company in Pittsburgh. But, as is the case with most people who are interrupted by a ringing phone, my brain didn’t engage in the conversation until about five seconds in – about the time she finished telling me her name and company name, and right when she mentioned my contingency planning article. At that time, I realized I was in a sales situation, so I grabbed my pen and went into interview mode.

After about 15 minutes, I had sold a $40,000 contingency planning engagement (a package we sold quite frequently). We had agreed to price, procedure, timing and how we’d get the thing signed up. That’s when she asked, “What do you need from me to write the proposal?” and I found myself somewhat embarrassed at not remembering her name.

So I replied, “Well, it would be nice if I knew your name.”

After explaining how my brain hadn’t engaged and having a good laugh, Kathy gave me her name and company name again, and that’s the moment I knew that the engagement was about to be canceled. Her company was a hospital, and all hospital decision-makers I’ve ever encountered wanted five industry references before they would hire anyone for anything. So I said, “Wait a minute. I think I just found the reason you won’t be able to hire me.”

Quite puzzled, Kathy replied, “What do you mean?”

So I explained, “In a few minutes, you’re going to remember to ask me for five references and insist that they be from other hospitals where we’ve done this before. Right?”

A little surprised, Kathy said, “Well, yes, the president of our company will want four.”

To which I replied, “Well I’ve never done a contingency plan for a hospital, so I don’t have any references in your industry. In fact, I don’t know how anyone ever breaks into your industry, because you all want a bunch of industry references. Will my not having hospital references keep me from getting this project?”

You should have heard the disappointment in Kathy’s voice as she said, “Yes, I’m afraid it will, and there’s nothing I can do to change that.” (I actually felt bad for having killed her good mood.)

Then Kathy asked, “Hey. Do you know anyone who does what you do for hospitals?”

The remaining minutes on the phone were spent in introductions to my competition with hospital experience. Kathy thanked me for my honesty and my helping her find someone to do her contingency plan and hung up. 

But that’s only where the story begins.

Two weeks later, I had almost the same conversation with the CEO of a major development company in Harrisburg, Penn. He called. We chatted. In about 30 minutes, I had closed another $40,000 engagement.

Six weeks later I started this engagement, and that’s when my client asked me, “By the way, how long have you been working with Kathy?” After about five minutes of figuring out whom he meant, it dawned on me that it was the woman with whom I had spoken two months earlier (by this time, she was a distant memory). So I explained the situation, watching his amazement grow as I talked. Turns out, my client had met Kathy at a networking function only days after my conversation with her. They had talked for several minutes about Y2K when he mentioned needing a project planner, and she had bragged so much about us that he just assumed she was a client of ours.

If you choose qualification selling, you’ll spend your life trying to convince people to do things they do not want to do, and the majority of your time will be wasted, because most people are too smart to fall for these tactics. When you do close a sale, you’ll also build relationships that are at best tenuous – they’ll wonder whether they can trust you – and at worst adversarial, because most people know when they’re being tricked, even when it’s by a pro. If you choose a qualification sales model, you will not only never create the momentum you need to have prospects calling you on a regular basis, you’ll actually create negative momentum, because prospects will be telling their friends you can’t be trusted. This means you’ll be pushing up hill every minute, hour, day, week and year of your sales career.

While the disqualification model is far better, because it creates healthy relationships built on trust and respect, it still suffers from a misalignment of agenda and therefore produces a zero-momentum result. The moment you disqualify a prospect and move on, that relationship moves into statsis – it neither produces negative momentum that hurts you, nor positive momentum that fuels future opportunities. Although you can hold your head high for being honest, the moment you walk out the door you’ll be back at square one when it comes to finding your next sales opportunity.

If you choose collaboration selling, however, the time you would have wasted can be spent finding people who want, need, can afford and are willing to pay for your product or service right now. And even when you don’t make the sale, you’ll create relationships that will produce positive momentum, because you will have helped these people by introducing them to your competitors who are a better fit. There is an unwritten law of reciprocation in every society on the planet that states: “If you receive a gift, you are morally obliged to return a gift of equal or greater value in return.” That unwritten law will produce introductions to new prospects even while you sleep.

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will use the collaboration model to sell.”

The [Your Name Here] Sales System

I believe using a sales system created by someone else for someone else is a mistake. Allow me to get on my soapbox for a minute, and I’ll explain what I mean.

<On Soapbox>

Much of what I know about sales I learned from sales experts, and even the worst of them offered advice I could use. But the single biggest disservice most did to me was to say, “My sales system works, and, if you do exactly what I do, you’ll be successful, too.”

I cannot stress strongly enough my belief that the only sales system that will work for you is The [Your Name Here] Sales System. Under no circumstances should you brainlessly follow the advice of experts – me included – who tell you to create offers their way, write letters their way, leave voice-mail messages their way, etc., because none of them reached the heights of success by doing exactly what someone else told them to do. Quite the contrary, actually, because every one of them – me included – took the advice of many experts and crafted something that worked for him or her. (If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have a “new” system to sell you.)

If you want to become the best salesperson possible, you must learn a variety of techniques but then do as the experts who created those techniques did – create your own sales system – not as they tell you to do – use theirs.

<Off Soapbox>

This book describes my take on what you should do to become the best salesperson possible. With every word you read, evaluate the concepts based on your strengths, your weaknesses, your likes and your dislikes. Discard what you don’t like, keep what you like, modify it as you see fit and concentrate on creating The [Your Name Here] Sales System, because that is the surest way to becoming the best salesperson you can be.

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will create my own sales system, because that is the very best system for me.”

The Six Components To Achieving Sales Success

I opened this book with 50 words that defined sales, and listed the six components of sales. Next, I explained what Honest Selling is, and identified the differences between the qualification, disqualification and collaboration models for selling. I followed that with my soapbox speech about creating your own, personalized selling system, instead of brainlessly following what others tell you to do.

Well, the high-level, feel-good stuff is over, and now it’s time to get to work.

You’re about to learn how to leverage six components of sales by understanding and applying the keys to success for each component. I’ll elaborate on these components throughout this book, but the bottom-line concepts can be explained in only a few pages, so pay close attention, because it all boils down to this …

Component 1: The Three Keys Of Supply And Demand

Some people have stuff and want money. Some people have money and want stuff. That is the never-changing law that makes the greatest impact on sales results, and there are three keys to leveraging this law.

Key 1: Never Assume You Have Stuff People Want Or That People Want The Same Stuff Today They Wanted Yesterday

Years ago, one of my employees made 3,000 cold-calls on behalf of a client in Nebraska – the client specialized at figuring out which manufacturing company marketing programs were working, and which were not. The client had been in business for 20 years, but had experienced a three-year decline in sales.

I was hired to right the ship, as it were, by figuring out “how to sell our stuff in today’s environment.”

When cold-calling, you can always learn more, and learn it faster, from how people say, “No,” to an offer than just about anything else. (Remember that, because it will come in handy many times throughout your career.) I often use cold-calling, in fact, to get my “Do people want my stuff?” questions answered, without ever expecting to actually secure a sale or appointment.

In the case of my Nebraska client, that’s exactly what occurred. After 3,000 dials, we had set zero appointments – not one person wanted what we offered. But, by listening closely to the “No” responses, I did, however, learn the reason they no longer wanted this type of market intelligence service. Turns out, recent changes to high-end manufacturing software systems allowed them to analyze the data themselves, which eliminated the need to bring in experts.

Through this exercise, my client learned what it needed to “change its stuff,” and thereby turn a sales decline into a sales acceleration. Whatever you sell, you must continuously learn whether your prospects want it, and whether they’ll part with money to get it.

Key 2: Make Certain Your Message Is Understood, Memorable And Relevant

I can’t help my clients get better at sales unless I know what they sell, so, when I first talk with a prospect, I ask, “What do you sell?” Every time I shake hands at a networking function, meet someone at a party – even when cycling with new people on organized bike rides – I ask, “What do you do?” In my career, I’ve asked that question, or some form of it, thousands of times, and the response that stands out most in my memory was from a guy who replied, “I help business owners and HR directors avoid hiring criminals” – straight to the point, completely understood, memorable and relevant to anyone worried about the public relations nightmare of hiring the wrong person.

The people who receive your message – whether in print, via phone, on the web or through advertising – must understand the description, or it becomes pointless. “Close” may count for horseshoes and hand-grenades, but it is nowhere near good enough when it comes to describing what you sell.

Key 3: Speak The Prospect’s Language – Results, Results, Results

In 1998 my partner and I were experiencing a downturn in business, because, instead of the computer project management services we provided, decision-makers wanted services designed to fix the year-2000 computer-bug problem. Neither of us wanted to become computer-bug fixers, so we did some research and learned that many businesses needed to create year-2000 (Y2K) contingency plans that would spell out how they would continue handling daily business transactions if their computers went down. I had some disaster-recovery planning experience, so we zeroed in on contingency plan creation as our service.

Once we had chosen a service, we needed to learn who needed year-2000 contingency planning, and would be willing and able to pay for outside help. So we launched a second research effort, and learned that federally insured banks were required by federal regulators to create contingency plans. Armed with that information, we created this marketing message and launched our first marketing effort to the banking community:

“We create Y2K contingency plans that will allow your employees to get their jobs done, even if their computers go down.”

Nobody called.

Turns out, bankers weren’t worried about what would happen if their computers went down, because they had done what they needed to do to make sure this would not happen. So we looked into the puzzle just a bit further, discovered the bottom-line result bankers really wanted and launched our second marketing campaign to this industry:

“We create Y2K contingency plans that are guaranteed to pass a federal audit.”

Many bankers called, and we began closing $20,000 to $80,000 deals over the phone, often during conversations that lasted less than one hour.

Success hinges on your ability to describe your company’s services in “results we produce” terms, rather than “what we do” terms. Most decision-makers don’t care what you do or really how you do it. They want to know how you are going to “heal their pain,” and that you know what their true pain is. You can communicate that most effectively by describing – in your prospects’ words – the results you produce. In the case of bankers, the only pain they wanted solved was the pain they would suffer if they failed to pass the audit. Not only that, every banker with whom we worked during the next two years admitted to me that he or she did not care whether the plan actually worked. They all said, “Just make sure we pass that audit, and we’ll handle the rest.”

The three keys to matching supply with demand are to constantly test to see whether your prospects want your stuff, to make sure your message is understood by all who hear it, and to describe your stuff using the prospects’ language as it pertains to the results they really want.

Component 2: Finding And Being Found By Prospects

Most of your sales career – as much as 90 percent of your time, in fact – will be spent on finding prospects and on making it easy for prospects to find you. So, before you embark on the process of achieving sales success, you must accept the fact that, while getting there requires a sound strategy and comprehensive plan, the rubber meets the road when it comes time to implement your find-and-be-found ideas – otherwise known herein as marketing.

I realize that prospecting (hunting for customers) and marketing (attracting customers to you) are two different activities. However, in the context of this explanation, let’s say that marketing is anything you do that puts or keeps the description of your stuff in front of the prospect, or that makes it easy for the prospect to find the description of your stuff once he or she starts looking.

  • If you’ve used networking to build solid relationships, and your colleagues are now referring you when given the opportunity, that’s marketing.
  • If you cold-call hundreds of executives every day to make offers, leave voice-mail messages, ask gatekeepers for assistance, etc., that’s marketing.
  • If you send direct-mail postcards, targeted cold-letters or workshop invitations, that’s marketing.
  • If you create your own website and post articles, newsletters, case studies or other information that builds credibility, that’s marketing.
  • If you design affiliate programs that allow others to promote your stuff to prospects, that’s marketing.
  • If you speak in public, sit on association boards, work with community groups or rub elbows with decision-makers at a local charity, that’s marketing.
  • If you assemble or participate in lead-sharing groups, that’s marketing.

Anything you do to find prospects or make yourself easy to be found by prospects is marketing four our purposes. If you have a marketing department, it will probably handle the advertisement phase of marketing for you (but get involved, because you’re responsible for your marketing success, too). If you don’t have a marketing department, then lump advertising into your list of responsibilities, because that’s marketing, too.

The three keys to successful marketing are drip, drip and drip – consistently marketing to the same prospects. Marketing of any sort rarely works when you give it only one shot. A single mass mailing may produce a few sales, but it’s the constant drip of marketing that has the greatest long-term impact.

The “Guinness Book of World Records” lists Joe Girard, a showroom auto salesman in Detroit, as the “greatest car salesman.” For 12 years straight, Joe won the title as the “number one car salesman” at his company; he averaged more than five cars and trucks sold every day he worked. Joe accomplished this feat by sending each of his more than 13,000 former customers a greeting card with a personal message – every month!

Consistency is the key to finding prospects and being found by prospects.

Drip, Drip, Drip!

Component 3: Managing The Sales Process

We all know it takes a ton of effort to produce sales appointments. Some people may dial the phone 250 times or more just to get a single sales opportunity. Others may write, print, sign, stuff and apply postage to hundreds of letters, then follow up with weeks of voice-mail messages just to get that one hour of a top executive’s time.

Despite this massive effort on the part of salespeople, it never ceases to amaze me how unprepared most are to have this one-hour conversation, and how quickly they can let their opportunities slip away, by doing all the talking, instead of listening.

Because I help companies build successful sales teams, and because most of my career has been spent selling services business-to-business, my “cash cow” prospects are large companies that sell services to other companies. I’m located in St. Louis, and one of the largest private companies in town is Enterprise Rent-A-Car (ERAC) – its fleet division leases large numbers of cars to other large companies.

About two years ago, I was trying to figure out a way to get an appointment with a top ERAC decision-maker, and I came up with the idea to act as a mystery-shopper and see how the ERAC salespeople handle a sales opportunity. I didn’t want to pretend to be from a huge company, so, instead of calling the fleet division, I walked onto one of ERAC’s used-car lots. (The company sells its rental cars when they hit a certain age or number of miles driven.)

The lot I chose was huge, with the office building located in the center, so I headed to one side of the lot and started looking around. After only a few minutes, an ERAC salesperson approached me and introduced himself. During the next 15 minutes, the salesperson told me how ERAC had no-negotiation pricing, how it provides complete service records, how it guarantees its cars in writing, etc. (Those are the only three things I can remember from his 15-minute monologue.)

What this salesperson did not do was ask me a single question about why I was on the lot – he didn’t know whether I was looking to buy a car at all.

After this guy’s speech, I told him I was going to look around and that I’d find him if I needed something else. After he went back inside, I made my way around the building to the other side of the lot and started browsing again, in the hopes that a second salesperson might spot me, and I could see whether he or she handled things differently.

As luck would have it, that’s exactly what happened – a second guy spotted me and quickly came out to introduce himself.

Remember the ad “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” I swear, if I had recorded the conversation, I would have found that this guy’s monologue was identical to the first’s. Both of these salespeople spend their days waiting endlessly for a prospect to walk onto their lot, but, when he or she does, both choose to waste those precious opportunities by never finding out what the prospect wants.

To seize the opportunity in your sales appointments – the appointments you worked so hard to obtain – you should remember that the key to managing a sales situation is to gather information first, and offer information second.

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will learn about my prospects’ objectives before I offer them solutions.”

Component 4: Fulfillment

In some companies, such as accounting firms, the salesperson is often also the person who actually does the work, or fulfills the company’s obligation to the customer. In other companies, the salesperson closes the deal and then hands it off to someone else entirely. (In some cases, in fact, the salesperson is told to not contact the customer after the deal is closed, because the company doesn’t want to confuse the customer.)

While salespeople at these two ends of the spectrum definitely have different obligations and duties, the one thing that remains constant is this: If you want to sell to this person again in the future, you had better take full responsibility for ensuring fulfillment comes off without a hitch.

<On Soapbox>

I would never adhere to a rule that states I can no longer contact customers after the sale is made, because it is much easier to make the second, third and fourth sales to existing customers than it is to make the first sale to any new customer. And you almost never get referrals from customers without contacting them proactively, so losing touch with people after the sale is simply a bad idea. Besides, it would cost me money through lost commissions.

If I worked at a company that had that rule, I would take on the challenge of convincing the corporate decision-makers their rule stinks. If I failed to sell my opinion, I would find an ethical way around the rule. If I couldn’t find an ethical way around the rule, I’d either contact my customers anyway and take my chances, or I’d go get another job. And if I ever got caught and was asked whether I was contacting customers against the rules, I’d reply, “You’re damned right I am, because that’s how I sell XX percent of what I sell. Do you want me to stop?”

<Off Soapbox>

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will make sure my company fulfills its obligations to my customers, and, if the ball is dropped, I will pick it up.”

Component 5: Building Relationships That Last

The most important skill needed to sell is the ability to create solid relationships with customers and prospects.

– Marco F. Polizzi
Executive Director Brand Pharmaceuticals
Mallinckrodt, Inc.

I totally agree with Marco’s assessment about what it takes to sell, especially in the context of strengthening relationships with current customers, because, as I said in Component 4, it is always easier to sell additional products or services to existing customers than it is to close the first project with a new customer.

Once your first sale is made, on a case-by-case basis you must evaluate your options for building both business and personal relationships with every new customer, and you must do something to accomplish both those objectives. If you’re thinking you can get away with not investing this effort, stop and think about what the competition will be doing while you’re ignoring your new customers.

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will maintain regular contact with my customers and build both business and personal relationships with those who are willing.”

Component 6: Generating Repeat Business

If you focus on everything related to the first five components of sales, some level of repeat business will happen naturally, because people will trust you, like you and enjoy working with you. At the same time, you may have competition working hard to take this business from you, so you must still do things to encourage your customers to remain loyal to you despite what your competitors offer.

There are three powerful keys to generating repeat business on a consistent basis, but to leverage these keys you must plan ahead.

Key 1: Become A Valuable Resource Outside The Realm Of What You Sell

Decision-makers rise to a level of authority, because they are constantly on the lookout for ways to grow and improve their companies and their positions within their companies. Good decision-makers generate a significant portion of their desired growth by surrounding themselves with people – internal and external to the company – who can help them grow.

If you want to become the best salesperson possible, you must position yourself to your customers as one of these supporting people – someone who consistently offers ideas, resources and guidance on achieving growth. And to earn the decision-maker’s trust, you must focus this effort on areas that represent no additional chance for you to make a sale.

For example, most companies post job openings on their websites. When was the last time you went to a top customer’s website, perused the job openings and introduced someone you know who would be perfect for the job? 

Imagine the positive impact a simple introduction could make:

“Joe, I noticed on your website that you have a job opening for a new comptroller. I know someone at ABC Company who I think would be a perfect fit. She’s as honest as the day is long, energetic as can be and incredibly up to date on financial issues for large companies. I know she isn’t actively looking to change positions, but, then again, the best people are rarely unemployed. Would you like me to contact her and see whether she would be willing to discuss the position?”

Assuming you’re constantly building your database of contacts, doing something like this for top customers shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes. Trust me when I say that this investment will have a major impact on future sales, because executives love dealing with people who help them grow their companies and careers.

Key 2: Create A Process For Growth That Leverages What You Sell

Decision-makers are incredibly busy people, so they love to have a process for growth spelled out for them, because it allows them to make their decisions quickly and save time. Granted, I have no idea what you sell, but I assume you have both entry-level products and services, and higher-level stuff.

To more easily make additional sales to the first-time customer or client, you must design a growth process that leverages what you sell, and explain that process to the prospect. If your entry-level analysis, for example, is designed to identify areas of improvement, then your next level of service had better be designed to help your new client achieve the improvement you identify.

I call this “making the fourth sale first,” because you are, in effect, thinking ahead so that what you do today positions you for future sales. This type of thinking is critical to creating consistent repeat business and a key to achieving success at selling.

Key 3: It’s How You Handle A Screwup That Counts

In the late 1980s, I was remodeling my basement, which included installing a full bathroom. I was finishing the installation of the water lines, when I ran out of copper elbows, so I ran to Central Hardware (a huge chain at the time) to pick up the fittings I needed.

After installing the fittings and checking everything one last time, I turned on the water pressure and listened for a leak. Unfortunately, one of the elbows I bought from Central Hardware was defective. It had a huge split at the bend – so big, in fact, I was amazed I hadn’t seen it when I installed the fitting.

The problem with this particular elbow was its location – the area in which I had installed it was so tight, I had to cut out an extra section of pipe to remove it and replace it. This meant I was going to need not only another $0.12 elbow, but $7 worth of additional parts as well. 

I cut out the section of pipe and took it with me to Central Hardware, so I could show the person at the customer service counter why I expected the store to not only replace the defective elbow, but also to throw in the extra parts the defective elbow had forced me to replace.

I wish I had a recording of the 15-minute argument that erupted between me, the customer service rep and finally the customer service manager, because I could probably sell it for huge sums of money as an example of how not to treat customers. Instead of relating the entire story, I’ll just jump to the end.

At the point where I decided to give up trying to get these people to accept responsibility for the collateral damage their part had caused, I whipped out my driver’s license, handed it to the customer service manager and said, “Here. Make a photocopy of this.”

To which he replied, “Why?”

“Because I’m going to put these parts in my pocket and walk out that door, and I want you to know where to send the police to arrest me for stealing.”

About that time the manager finally noticed the 40 or so people standing around watching him argue with one of his customers over $7.12 in parts, and decided it was in his company’s best interest to just let me have the parts I wanted and get me out of there. And that was the last time I entered that store.

Every company screws up from time to time, and I’m not saying the customer is always right. But I will tell you that second, third and fourth sales increase dramatically when the salesperson’s motto is “It doesn’t matter who broke it or how it broke, it’s my job to fix it.” (Central Hardware eventually went belly up – I have never wondered why.)

To become the best salesperson possible, repeat after me: “I can and I will become a valuable resource in all areas of my customers’ business. I can and I will create a process for growth that leverages what I sell. I can and I will accept full responsibility for fixing any and all screwups that occur along the way.”

The [Your Name Here] Sales System: What’s New?

If you seriously want to become the best salesperson possible, you must:

  • Accept the fact that nothing is new in sales
  • Stop searching for the silver-bullet sales system
  • Focus on the components of sales and the keys to successful selling
  • Assume full and complete responsibility for your success or failure
  • Roll up your sleeves and get to work creating The [Your Name Here] Sales System

You can and you will reach great heights if you set your sights on that goal and don’t let anything stop you from achieving it. Then and only then will something be new in sales – you’ll be on your way to success.

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