A ‘crash’ course in sales

I started my career as an engineer and grew into a general manager before going out on my own. So I didn’t have a track record of sales success behind me before starting Anchor Advisors. But knowing that sales would be a key to my success, I invested in a sales training program and worked with a mentor to build my sales process. The process we created was a highly scripted sales conversation with a memorized opening, a series of discovery questions, a set “transition” question, followed by a close. My coach told me if I did the process right, when I asked the prospect the transition question, the prospect would respond with, “How can we work together?” I was skeptical it would work, but I was willing to try.

Once training was finished, the coach had set up 10 appointments for me through a telemarketing campaign and I worked through my own network to create some appointments as well. At that time, my goal was to gain 6-8 clients, so I figured with their 10 appointments and 10 of my own, I would only have to close 30% – 40% of them to achieve my goal.

My first appointment was a telemarketing-set appointment, and I had never met this person before. I sat down in her office and started my spiel. The discussion went very well and when I got to the transition question, she replied, “Brad, how can we work together to solve these problems?” I couldn’t believe my ears! I was so amazed, I think I sat there for 30 seconds before stammering out, “Well, I have a contract right here…” I closed her on the spot and had my first client. I was so excited that it really worked! I came in, asked her about her business, helped her to see what the issues she had were costing her and she bought on the spot. I even walked out with a check in hand!

So I went to my next appointment. This was someone I had known for a while, and I had even sent him consulting proposals (which he never signed) before I had been to the sales training. I sat down in his office, went through my spiel, asked the transitional question, (this time I was ready) but he didn’t ask me “How can we work together?” It was disappointing, but undaunted I pressed on and asked him if he’d like to hear how we can work together. He listened and also signed my contract and gave me a check! Wow! I was two-for-two. Pretty soon, I was going to be a gazillionaire.

With that success behind me, I was anxious to get out there and set more appointments so I could get more clients. I mean, I was batting 1.000; I was obviously a sales prodigy!

You can probably guess what happened next. Over the next 4 months, I went 0-for-27. I went on 2-3 appointments per week and closed nothing. It didn’t matter if they were appointments I had set or if they were telemarketing appointments, I couldn’t close a thing. I felt like a total failure. Finally, I went back to my coach and confessed that I wasn’t cut out for sales. He told me to go on five more appointments and after each one, immediately write down what happened. So I (reluctantly) did that. By doing this, I realized two things:

  • My early success had made me overconfident and as a result I went away from the scripted sales process (that worked) and instead started improvising. When that didn’t work, I got desperate and started stabbing around in the dark and trying anything.
  • I wasn’t consistently asking for the order.

The first item was easy to fix; I just needed to get the old script out and run it! But the second item nagged me. I found myself writing down “didn’t ask for the order” over and over until I went into an appointment with the mindset that whatever happens, I’m not going to write down “didn’t ask for the order” after this one. Even if they drag me out by my heels, I’ll be shouting, “Would you like to hear how we can work together to solve these problems?” It was not long before my drought was over.

So what can you learn from my experience? A few things:

  • There are no “natural” salespeople. Anyone can sell if you are willing to listen to prospects, respect them and look for opportunities for mutual benefit.
  • You need to have a sales process, and one that has a track record of success. When you find yourself striking out, you need to go back and see where you have moved away from that process.
  • Keep at it. Sales, like any other skill, requires practice.
  • There will be people so ready for what you are selling that they will close themselves. But more often then not you need to be explicit and ask for the order.

And perhaps the greatest lesson of them all is that if this engineer-turned-general-manager can learn to sell, so can you.

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