I started B2B selling in 1977. As a salesperson, I hated cold calling and I regularly chased elephants and pixie dust. Looking back, about the only selling skill that I really excelled at was product knowledge and I could give one hell of a good demo. Despite my shortcomings, in less that two years I was promoted to sales manager and until twelve years ago, all I did was manage sales reps.
As a manager (and as a salesperson), I had my pluses and minuses. Sometimes I was patient but, more often, I was not. My temper could go from zero to sixty in a heartbeat. Let’s just say that I was … uneven. I was also often paralyzed from taking action by either attempting to avoid the process or the anticipated painful result. Still, I was somehow successful and nobody knows how that happened.
I did have a life-changing event in 2005. I got sober (still am by the grace of God). I had been a fairly high-functioning alcoholic for most of my adult life but, I had been trying since the late 80’s, without success, to get that monkey off of my back. The functioning part of that equation was rapidly diminishing. I was a wreck. If you have monkeys of your own … don’t give up.
After my lifestyle change, I decided that I no longer wished to manage people. Too much pressure, not much fun, and a likely trip back to my old ways. I decided that I just wanted to sell but, could I sell? After all, it had been over 25 years since that was my primary responsibility and, when it was, I’m not even so sure how good I was at it.
Despite my concerns, I made the decision that I only wanted to work on straight commission and without even a draw. Pay me if I sell something and leave me alone if I don’t. I didn’t want leads and you would not have to pay me any local expenses. I convinced a company to allow me to do this and home became my office.
While some might view straight commission as being too much pressure, to me it was pure freedom. I’ve always struggled with expectations … of myself as well as of others. Compound this with being a borderline OCD control-freak and counting on others, let alone managing them, or taking orders … not good. Controlling myself would be a big enough challenge.
A prospecting epiphany
The business that I went back into was one that I loved but, I had not been in that market, even as a sales manager, for three or four years. I decided that the first thing that I need to do was to inventory the area for opportunities and, in my case, that was based on new commercial construction.
I sectioned the territory off on a map and spent weeks driving and taking notes which I then carefully added to my CRM. One month later … I had over 500 opportunities in my database. My problem was … I really had no idea of whether any of them were good opportunities or not. How could I effectively determine that?
The simple answer is … I didn’t even try. I tore the whole damn list up and instead began a coordinated effort to get in front of every commercial real estate, commercial developer, architecture, and construction firm that would see me. These were my power partners who were in the best position to refer me to the people who needed my services.
You can’t just show up and expect to be referred. I kept in contact, built up trust, took them to coffee and lunch, and always over-performed. Exceeding expectations consistently was the key. While I was always concerned about returning the referrals, my referring folks were just tickled pink that they could recommend somebody and not have to worry about that coming back and biting them in the ass.
The result of all of this is that I have not made a cold call since 2005.
My selling style changes
On top of this, my selling style had changed dramatically. I was balanced, focused, driven, and I became wildly proactive and productive. I no longer procrastinated. I was always ahead. I met challenges calmly and immediately. I was confident and it showed. Not that not drinking had anything to do with this … ya’ think?
During my later years of selling, my close ratios were regularly well in excess of 80%. Often in excess of 90%. Now, some might say that was only because I picked the gimme’ sales that I didn’t have to work for and … some might be right. I’d like to think that …
- I was a great networker who earned a lot of excellent referrals.
- I knew how to qualify.
- I asked good questions, listened well, and clarified well.
- I acted like the sale was already mine. This is not to be confused with arrogance. It is a subtle selling technique.
- I lived by the trial close and I was not afraid to ask for the order. I had already earned that right.
I was trained in the 70’s by a company who regularly won awards for the best sales training program in the industry. It was modeled after the highly respected Xerox Professional Selling Skills course (Xerox PSS). It was in your face, hard knocks, selling with the right amount of arm twisting when necessary.
I do none of this. Closing is over rated. Those who cannot close, in fact, do none of the other things right before the close. The close should be the natural culmination to the sale. I can’t sell. I just do the other things right and … I network, in-person and socially, consistently and in a targeted fashion. #simple.