Selling For The Non-Salesman

Last Tuesday night, my wife Linda told me in no uncertain terms that I had to go sleep on the family room couch. Not only that, but she did it again on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

Don’t worry though, it’s not what you think. What happened was we adopted a dog (a 2 year old beauty that we named Abbie) and I slept next to her for a few nights to keep her company.

Knowing that a new dog was coming soon, I made a call last month to a company that sells “invisible fencing” — a system that keeps a dog on the property via an electronic collar. We set up an appointment, and a couple of days later, a woman named Marie showed up at the house.

Although my 6 year-old son Jonathan was initially disappointed to discover that Marie herself was not invisible, she was an excellent saleswoman.

From her big smile as she stepped out of her car, to her clear interest in talking about me rather than just her company, to the fistful of invisible fence ground flags that she presumptively handed over as she stepped in the back door, I knew right away that I was dealing with a pro.

But even then, it was only after she left that I realized just how skilled she was. Because despite my not having been “ready to buy” when she arrived, after we spent an hour or so talking about the weather, my kids, my house and of course, her product, she walked out with a sale. And, interestingly enough, I never once felt pressured.

Think about what she accomplished. She arrived stone cold at the home of a prospect (Marie was not even who I spoke with on the phone), and was immediately faced with having to build rapport and close the sale simultaneously. Not an easy thing to do. Spend too much time on rapport and risk going home with a new friend, but no sale. Push too hard on selling and risk having me walk away. It’s a thin line to walk and only a real sales expert can do it consistently.

I don’t mind telling you that I’m not one of those experts, and frankly, I couldn’t walk that line if it were a mile wide and painted on the ground in bright red. By the time I get to the point of closing a sale, I need months (not minutes) of rapport-building history to compensate for my selling ineptitude.

The good news here is that you don’t need to build rapport and close the sale at the same time. I’ve got nothing but respect and awe for the Marie’s of the world who can, but if like me and many other professional service providers you find yourself challenged in this area, it’s perfectly effective to separate the two events (did somebody say Relationship Marketing?).

With that in mind, I offer three suggestions:

• Don’t wait until you need the sale. If the only time I hear from you is when you are trying to close me, or when you want me to give you some referrals, you’re going to have an uphill battle. You don’t need a dog’s nose to smell the, “guy-who-just-finished-a-project-and-is-desperate-for-the-next-one” from a mile away.

If on the other hand, you work to stay in touch with your network just for the sake of staying in touch, you’ll find it easier and more natural to shift into selling mode when the opportunity arises with one of these people.

• Do be systematic. Whether it’s white papers you distribute, colleagues you call/email, business meetings you attend, E-Newsletters you write, or some combination, you need to schedule these events into your calendar. In my experience, if you don’t have a specific, “relationship communications plan” (and if it’s not on paper, you don’t have one), this kind of thing becomes the walking definition of “back burner.”

• Don’t apply the filter too tightly. If, like Marie, you’re making sales calls today with the intention of closing sales today, it makes sense to try and figure out who the hot prospects are now.

Long term rapport building however, takes the opposite approach —staying in touch with lots of people over a long period of time, knowing that any one of them could ultimately be (or lead you to) a sale. When you’re that far back in the chain of events that need to take place, it’s hard to predict who is ultimately going to lead you to the promised land. So stay in touch with a lot of people, not just the ones who seem likely to bring you something today.

A true story. . .

One of my newest clients came about as a result of my sending a congratulatory e-mail to the founder of a local company, after seeing him profiled in a weekly business paper. He and I had spoken briefly about six months earlier, he’d been getting my newsletter ever since, and I just thought I’d say hello.

Ten minutes after he got my e-mail he called. We met the next week, and before I even had a chance to go back to my office and write up a proposal, he and his partner hired me.

Was it a fast sale? I suppose so, but the only reason it happened so fast and the meeting went so well was because by the time I walked in the door, we already had a long term relationship. The rest was just working out the details.

Bottom Line: One way or the other, you’ve got to close sales to make money. And the way I see it, that means you’ve got two options: You can either get really good at selling, or. . . you can build connections that are so strong, that the closing takes care of itself.

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