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I’ve been around sales and sales people for many, many years. And I’ve helped fire (and hire) hundreds of sales people over the years. There was a time when I was the head lawyer for the North American operations of a large, multi-national, NYSE listed company, and during that time, participated in reviewing the termination of countless sales people let go for non-performance. And since that time, owning and running my own businesses, I’ve continued to see many sales people come and go. And based on those experiences, I’ve formed definite views of the sales profession and what separates those sales people who are good at and are on top of their game, consistently, from all the rest who are not.
Sure, there are countless sales programs, training courses and seminars offered by a myriad of different outfits, all promising to make sales people super achievers. But in my experience, what truly separates an outstanding sales professional from all the rest, comes down to something very basic, very simple, and something I recently heard put into a few brilliant, short words. This golden nugget of advice was shared with me by Bob Ahn, the President of Horn Company, an IMCD company, who is one of our major raw material suppliers, and who summed up the sales game almost perfectly, eloquently, and with impressive brevity, boiling sales down to the simplest and most straightforward of things, putting to shame all the slogans, phrases and “silver bullet” jargon that I have heard over the years relating to sales. And that brilliant phrase is:
Show Up - Show up to your sales meetings, presentations and appointments, on time, if not early, and prepared. Sounds so very simple, but many sales people fail at this most basic entry point and arrive late, or unprepared.
Shut Up - Listen more than you speak. Learn what it is your customer is doing and what their current projects, priorities and needs are. You will only gain this information if you shut up and listen.
Many sales people make the fundamental and very common mistake of entering a sales meeting with a predetermined goal of selling a specific product or service. They enter the meeting so focused on their goal that they have no focus or interest in trying to understand (listen) what the customer’s true needs are, or what challenges the customer has budget money to address.
You will only sell the vast majority of customers something if it fits within the context of what they are doing and matches their current priorities and needs. Customers always have needs. It may not be the precise product or service you want to sell at that moment, but if you shut up and listen, you stand a better chance of identifying a need for some other product or service that you might be able to sell them, or make a referral for. This will build a better, longer term relationship, making it easier to get your next meeting with that account.
Many of us have heard the “story” about the person who had the best “pitch” for selling the proverbial pen. These stories appear often on LinkedIn. People who are impressed with these stories are missing the point. If the sales person does not listen to their customer and fails to understand they have enough pens (even though they might not be as good as the one the sales person is selling) and doesn’t presently need more pens, but really needs something else, say mechanical pencils, that sales person will miss the sales opportunity.
Give me the sales person who will listen to me say I’m out of mechanical pencils, rather than waste my time trying to convince me to buy their superior pen that I really don’t (presently) need. You may have the best pitch in the entire world for selling a pen, but that means nothing if you have glossed over the fact I have no need for pens.
Follow Up - In my experience, about 90% of the sales world fails to properly follow up after a meeting. So many sales people leave meetings with customers and potential customers and have follow up items to chase down, maybe sending pricing, product samples, or technical literature, and they then make the giant mistake of never getting around to doing those things. Or equally worse, do so after great delay, so that it costs them the sale and maybe even the relationship, as customers hate sales people who waste their time. Timely do what it is you say you will do. Follow up!
Show Up, Shut Up, Follow Up. I think this is some of the best advice I have ever heard for sales professionals, and I think it is spot on. If more sales people would follow this advice, they might be surprised to see their close rates improve dramatically. They might actually find out sales can be a fun and rewarding profession, as their focus changes from what is good for them at the moment to what is good for their customer.
About The Author
Brian Strayer is an engineer, lawyer, and business leader. Brian’s past adventures include many years advising the top leaders of a NYSE listed multi-national on a wide variety of matters, from intellectual property to M&A, including serving as head of the legal department, before transitioning into running industrial operations. Today, Brian uses his science, engineering and law background to solve practical problems standing in the way of reducing expenses and growing sales. When not working, Brian enjoys sailing, playing chess, fishing and hunting.
Keywords: best, sales, advice, ever, business, talk
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