True story: A good friend of mine, Ken, had just walked into one of his first sales calls back in the ‘70s, and he was feeling pretty righteous about his plaid polyester Haggar suit, new Cross pen and shiny Samsonite briefcase – not to mention his perfectly puffed out “Brady Bunch” hairstyle.
It was an independent electronics and TV repair shop (yeah, there used to be those); it was early, no customers, and the owner yelled from the back that he’d be right out. That’s when Ken, looking around, spotted the small monkey cage at the end of the counter.
Inside, just sitting there wide eyed, was one of those cute, cuddly little spider monkeys you could order from a small black-and-white ad in the back of magazines like Boys Life or Popular Mechanics. (Don’t know why, just could) Well, he thought, this could be fun. Maybe the monkey would jump around if given the right motivation, like maybe with a poke of the Cross pen.
Just as the tip of the pen passed through the cage mesh, the monkey snatched it in one quick motion and threw it to the bottom of the cage. My friend was shocked. His new pen was lying in monkey poop, and worse, how would he explain this to the owner?
Thinking fast, Ken realized that if he pulled on the edge of the newspaper lining the cage bottom, he’d get the pen, problem solved. Leaning forward for a better view, he tugged the paper. The monkey watched, and also noticed Ken’s curly hairdo sticking into the cage. In a split second, the monkey had a fistful of salesman hair, and with the incredible strength even small primates possess, was bouncing Ken’s head off the monkey cage like a bolo-paddle ball.
Realizing his predicament, Ken pried his hair loose and simultaneously plucked the pen from the cage. None too soon either, because as he looked up the owner appeared, glanced at him, then the cage and asked, “You haven’t been messing with the monkey, have you?”
Friends, a BtoB direct sales call is no time to monkey around.
My work for our B2B clients now focuses on helping them develop closed-loop sales and marketing programs to assure the sales force never has good reason to complain “the leads are weak!”. But I was in BtoB direct sales for many years and succeeded by following a four basic principles I’ll share with you now:
Come prepared. I can almost hear the collective “duh” but most of us know when the other guy or gal is “winging it”. The best salespeople I’ve ever encountered were the ones who knew their products cold. It allowed them the freedom to relax (which put me at ease), listen, gather the facts and then focus on solutions tailored to my needs. Today not many of us like to be “sold” and in fact we often know more than the salesperson. “Can” the canned pitches, focus on product knowledge and be a great listener (as my father would say, you can’t listen while your talking) which leads to the next point.
Lead with questions. Perhaps one of the greatest strokes of luck for me was taking Journalism in college. The basic premise for fact gathering was getting answers to the who, what, where, when, how, and why. This was a practice I carried over into BtoB direct sales and it continues to serve me well to this day. It’s amazing what can be learned with the right questions.
Follow with suggestions. And not just any suggestions of course but those you’ve synthesized from gaining an understanding of the customer’s needs through your fact gathering. Floating your idea or ideas out there will either validate you’re on the right track or reveal some more finely pointed questions are needed. In the Xerox Professional Selling Skills courses I took many moons ago this was termed “identifying and overcoming objections.” Either way, gaining understanding by gradually narrowing questions from broad to specific will allow you to also narrow your suggested solutions, increasing the odds of client acceptance.
And yes, as you already know – A-B-C: Always Be Closing. But don’t mistake this for the “hard sell.” On the contrary, it’s more of a guiding philosophy. Even a physician is “closing.” How’s that? The sale in that case is curing your ill. Your doctor gets there through selective screening by assessing your condition until they have diagnosed the problem and can prescribe a solution. Well, BtoB sales is a lot like that except thankfully without the drafty medical gowns. Good questions, careful observations, and an implicit understanding of the solutions in your bag can have clients more than ready to sign on the line which is dotted.
If you have some words of advice, or “short story” of your own, for all the BtoB salesmen and saleswomen out there beating the streets, please share with a comment.
MLT Creative likes nothing better than helping to bridge the gaps between the marketing and sales departments of our B2B clients. For more information on ways your company can develop a more streamlined closed-loop marketing system that assures “the leads aren’t weak” give me a call or drop me a line.
Here’s another true story about selling by Billy Mitchell, one of my partners at MLT, that you may find helpful: B2B Word on the Street: Selling