Chapter 2: Dialing for Dollars, the Newbie Salesperson’s Nemesis

We’ve all done it.  Most likely, during our early sales careers, or when joining a new company, or opening up a new territory. The dreaded cold call, also known as “Dialing for Dollars,” using a list of the area’s major employers.  “Hello, Mr. Prospect.  I’ve done no research on you or your company. I have no idea what problems you face, and frankly don’t care.  Can I meet with you for several hours to show you a poorly done PowerPoint presentation, and then e-mail you a ‘cut and paste’ proposal with multiple misspellings?  Hello?  Hello???”  The formula was very straight forward:  call, fail, call, fail, call, fail, call, get meeting, write proposal, fail.

Oh, the humanity…

I got better in time, as we all eventually do.  But why did sales have to be so hard?  I have always had a burning need to work very little, while earning an embarrassing large amount of money in the process. There had to be a better way.  There was – the surprising thing was that it came to me while working at my only non-sales job.  The most valuable lessons I learned about selling came from my short time working as a consultant for customers.

Firstly, what does a consultant do, and why do end-users hire them?

My company was hired primarily because our clients did not trust the people who were selling them products and services.  Usually, after several companies had met with our clients (call, get meeting, write proposal, fail), they would call us to try and make sense of all the proposals.  We would almost always have to start from scratch, evaluating needs, creating a budget, writing a specification, putting the project out to bid, and then awarding the project to one of the bidders.  Our goal was to level the playing field so that if a company was pre-qualified to bid on the project, we could choose the lowest price bid. Where was the selling here?  In essence, we turned salespeople into bid responders.  Our consulting company was able to charge high fees to do this work, primarily because no salesperson had been able to establish himself as a trusted advisor to the customer.

What were the big lessons I learned as a consultant?  One of them was that in reality I never sold anybody anything…if I was lucky a customer bought from me.  More important: I got to hear what the customer said after the salespeople left the room.

What a gift!  My favorite people in the world, the people who write checks for purchase orders, were explaining what they liked and didn’t like about salespeople, presentations, demos, proposals, and (ack!) unread corporate brochures.  While it was painful to learn that many of my “secret sales moves” were at best ineffective, I was able to take our client’s comments and apply them at my next sales job.  This education helped me to open up a new sales territory that was a four hour drive from my home, had no existing clients, and full of prospects who had no idea who my company was or what we did.  Armed with this new end-user knowledge, I was able to do more business in a year than the home office did with three salesmen.

Was I a great salesman?  No.  I have always been, at best, only an above average salesman. But my short-lived consultant career taught me what worked and what didn’t work with end-users.  I learned what an ideal prospect looked like and what a time wasting, low price buying, revise-the-proposal 32 times prospect looked like.  Qualifying became the foundation of my sales success.

What is qualifying?  Is it surfing the web for companies that fit your product or service profile?  Maybe kinda sorta.  Really, it is much more than that. While qualifying is an important first part of the process, it really doesn’t stop until you have the purchase order in your hand.  Most people do an initial qualification, but then halfway through the sales process, with red lights flashing and warning flags waving, they ignore the signs that the prospect is no longer (or perhaps never was) a qualified prospect.  “I’m halfway through writing the proposal…I can’t stop now,” they reason.  “I’ll finish it up, submit it, and hope for the best.”  And when they eventually lose the sale, they kick themselves for pursuing a lost cause.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  By continuously qualifying a prospect, deeper and wider within the organization than you may be used to, you can make sure that you spend your time with the right people within your prospect’s organization.  This is especially important with large, technical, or complex sales. You need to focus on broadening your contact base, because the person with whom you are working with, the person who swears that he or she is the person who will be making the decision, is almost certainly not the person who will be making the final decision.  The only exception I have personally ever seen to this is when selling to the CFO.  More commonly, a host of people whom you have never met will be part of a group that makes the purchase decision.

There are only two ways around this.  The optimum solution is to get to all of the right people, which is easier said than done.  We’ll explore strategies to do this in future posts. The other option is to teach your prospect how to sell your product or service to his or her management team in an effective way.  We will explore the craft of qualifying in great detail as well.

Chapter 1: Why the World Hates Salespeople (and Why they Should)

Wouldn’t it be great if your prospect gave you a checklist to complete, and if you followed that checklist, they would buy from you?  Of course it would – what fool wouldn’t follow a set of directions handed to them by the person who writes the check?  And yet it happened to me this week. Six times.  And all I was trying to do was buy a new car.

That’s right.  I was dealing with one of the most despised creatures on earth:  the car salesperson.

The checklist was simple.  It gave the exact make and model, the options I wanted, and the color.  In addition, I explained that I would not be paying for any other factory options or dealer ad-ons like floor mats.  If they didn’t have the exact car I wanted or couldn’t get it, they could hit the magic delete button on my e-mail.  All I asked for was the price of the car, the monthly lease fee, and all the other nickel and dime things up front before I stepped in the dealer’s showroom.  I wanted the paperwork all done through e-mail before I picked up the car, and wanted to spend no more than 45 minutes in the showroom the day I took delivery, no test drive needed.  Nowhere did I say I would choose a car based on price.  Simple, right?

Well, no.

All six dealers sent me form letter e-mails, inviting me come in for a chat, look at the colors and options, discuss my budget, and take a test drive or two.  So with all of my “buying signals” given to them in writing, how is it that six different companies blew a sure thing sale?  Professional salespeople attend expensive week long seminars to learn how to detect these buying signals.  Senior level sales professionals are paid more than junior level sales professionals because they have decades of experience which enable them to pick up on these barely visible signs that buyers try to hide.

Is there a more dysfunctional selling paradigm than that of the automobile sale?

Doubtful.

And yet I see variations of this every day, from the simple consumer electronics gadget sale to the multi-million dollar global IT system sale.  Why is this?  Why are so many salespeople so bad?

Maybe that is an unfair questions, but not because most salespeople are good.  It is an unfair question because half of the blame resides with the customer.  That’s right.  The guy on the other side of the table, the one with the checkbook, the furrowed browed guy who keeps looking at the price page of your proposal?  Yes, that guy.  He has been taught by you and dozens of your peers over the years that he needs to protect his company against you and your ilk, because he thinks that you’re out for yourself, trying to charge as high a price as possible, and will then head off to your condo in Maui for two weeks and ignore his phone calls.

Is it the buyer’s fault that they see salespeople as adversaries instead of partners?  I don’t think so.  But there is a better way forward for salespeople.  If you choose your prospects and clients carefully, if you can develop a relationship to the level where they are willing to learn from you why your product or service is the best overall value, and you can then have them bring you up through their company to the decision makers, then you can dramatically improve your sales and waste far less time.

This is not hard stuff.  I’ve been successful selling this way for decades, and I’m as lazy as a salesman can get.  Maximum results for minimum effort is my goal.  I have taught these skills around the world in various formats, from two day crash courses to week long full immersion courses.  You can get the same information right here (minus the important student interaction portions, unfortunately) on this blog.  So go ahead and bookmark this page and come back to it for the next chapter at least once a week.  I’ll do my best to make it worth your while.

And the car fiasco?  Finally, one dealership figured out how I wanted to buy, followed my format, and sold me the car.  He wasn’t the cheapest, but he made it the easiest for me, and with this purchase, that is what I was looking for.

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