The Single Sales Practice You Must Master
One of the hardest things to learn in sales is to leave well enough alone. The trick, once you actually make a sale, is to shut up and leave. Don’t keep talking; don’t overstay your welcome; don’t get greedy; and don’t try to gild the lily. Get the goods and get out.
But there are two basic tools in sales that are even harder to master, especially for young entrepreneurs.
First, you’ve got to learn how to directly ask for the order. That means asking for the order every time you get the chance. Without embarrassment. Without hesitation. Without apologies. And without blaming it on someone else. “My boss makes me do this” does not cut it. Every time you try, you get better. Practice actually does make a difference. You want to always be closing the sale.
If you're apologetic or reluctant or only half-convinced yourself that the customer needs to act now and sign the dotted line, or if you’re sitting back in the weeds waiting for people to call you, then you might just as well save your breath and shut your doors. Success really starts when you just start doing the heavy lifting of getting the job done.
I see plenty of instances where the people who should be focused on closing deals are instead making excuses for their clients and justifying their inactivity. The economy sucks--so what? Someone is still selling things--just not your folks. The recovery is really slow. Big deal. People still need someone’s products and services. It ought to be yours.
Nothing happens without salespeople who want to sell your product. My best-ever sales manager had a simple (and admittedly crass) analysis that has always stuck with me. His view of the sales world all came down to: “Somebody’s gotta sell this shit.” Feeling sorry for your customers doesn’t get anything done. If your sales folks are not in the game, you can bet that someone else will be taking up the slack and making the sales.
One of the worst excuses of all is being told that the timing just isn't or wasn't right. You’ll learn soon enough that it's always too early until it's too late. There's never a perfect time for the customer to buy because most of them would just as soon not. It's the sales person's job to control the clients’ calendars; to always be in their faces; and to be there whenever the customers are ready to buy. It’s all about “at-bats” and always asking for the order. Lots of important things are lost for lack of asking.
I don't think society in general has become a lot more gracious and polite lately, but for some reason, young people today are reluctant to push or to appear to be pushy. Some otherwise tough and smart entrepreneurs I know would rather die than die of embarrassment. They don’t think it’s cool to let people see you sweat. They don’t understand that it’s a good thing--not a bad one--to show everyone exactly how much you want something and what you’re willing to do to get it. Sometimes I even think that they themselves doubt their products and services, and that this also makes it hard for them to throw themselves into the game full-force with body and soul.
Entrepreneurs aren’t used to being told “no,” and they don’t like it. So they avoid it by not putting themselves on the firing line often enough, and that slows down their growth. It also sets a lousy example for the rest of the sales team.
I’ve got a simple mantra that can save the day. All you need to do is train everyone in your business--yourself included--to repeat this phrase a couple of times a day. It’ll be much more helpful than all your pep talks, sticks and stones, sugary sweets and other threats and incentives combined. What’s the phrase that I use to keep bouncing back up and taking the next step and the next shot and asking for the sale every day?
I say to myself and my team: “It’s only a “no” for now.” Almost every “no” is exactly that: it’s a “no” until it’s a “yes,” and it’ll only be a “yes” if you keep asking.
HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist
Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman