There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when your intuition pays off and people behave exactly as you predicted (and hoped for or dreaded), or things turn out precisely as you expected. You could call these moments the result of educated guesses or extrasensory perceptions. However you describe the process, the exhilaration’s the same. It’s always a rush to be right.
It’s not just a game of “I told you so” (although you did). It’s really the satisfaction of knowing in your heart that these kinds of outcomes aren’t just happy accidents or good breaks--they’re another example in the long line of things that happen because you worked hard to make them happen. You always want to be driving the train, not chasing the caboose.
And there’s nothing that makes the selling process easier than getting a jump on the customer and getting out in front of the competition by doing a little precision guesswork. It’s just human nature that we’d all much prefer to be pulled in the direction we’re already inclined rather than pushed into something which we’re not really sure is right for us or our business. Pounds of persuasion will never make up for even a little insight into what’s really important and what’s driving the customers’ decisions. That’s why I often say that, while it’s hard to push a rope, it’s actually pretty simple to pull a string. Or, as the Lone Ranger used to say, it’s so much easier to ride the horse in the direction it’s headed.
I have come to approach intuition the way that Penn and Teller do magic: They show you how the trick is being done and you still can’t figure out what exactly is going on. And what you take away from the experience of watching them perform is not some mystical sense (we all know these are tricks); instead, you leave feeling that you’ve witnessed professionals of the highest level executing difficult tasks in a craft that takes hundreds of hours of preparation, patter, and patience.
Intuition, which can make or break so many things in your business and in your life, isn’t something that’s given only to the few. It’s a skill, one that anyone can develop and one that grows more powerful as you use it. Everyone has the same chance to build his or her own crystal ball--you just have to do the work and spend the time. It’s exactly like the old saying about luck: The harder you work, the luckier you get. But first, you have to know what the tools and techniques are for turning yourself into an intuitive wizard.
1. Get a calendar and track your customers’ schedules
So much of the world of business happens on a schedule, and yet way too many people are either ignorant of that fact or oblivious to exactly how important timing is to successful sales. If your customers aren’t ready to listen or you’re pitching them at the wrong time or place, it just doesn’t matter what you’re saying or what you’ve got to sell. I’m not talking simply about Salesforce ticklers or remembering someone’s birthday; I’m talking about becoming a stone-cold expert on each client’s procurement process and internal timing and planning cycles so you know how to be there when the customer is ready to buy. Too many salespeople in my life have returned empty-handed to report that they just missed the boat: They got beat out by someone who was there at the right time, or they got misled or misinformed by the client about the purchase schedule. You learn that in a lot of selling situations, the client doesn’t want to say no to your face. So you're told it’s too too early in the company's cycle to buy or commit, until one day the potential customer finally breaks the bad news to you that it went elsewhere. Just remember that in sales “it’s always too soon until it’s too late.” Do your homework.
2. Anticipate and prepare for the “second sale”
There’s really no telling what’s going to happen in the room when the customer's finance team gets together to review and decide whether to renew your arrangements with their company. This is the “second sale,” and it’s even more critical than the first. Sadly, you won’t be there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t influence the outcome by making sure you have an advocate in the room (word to the wise--it will never be the bean counters) and that you have provided your spokesperson with the cost benefits, the time savings, and the other justifications--basically, all the ammunition necessary--for supporting the idea of staying in business with you. This stuff doesn’t happen by itself, and the customer rarely takes the initiative to go to bat for you. It’s on you to make sure there’s a compelling case and lots of reasons to renew, and that you get it in front of the right people at the right time.
3. Listen to the customers and put yourself in their shoes
Many of us think our customers are really good at complaining and making their feelings known, but the truth is that they aren’t. They don’t want to spend their time telling us what isn’t working for them (or why), and they certainly don’t want to argue about whose fault that is. Anyone who tells you that customers understand when a given problem is their fault is an idiot. There are no customer problems. Unhappy customers don’t typically spend a lot of time sharing and communicating, because they don’t think that’s their job. They get nervous or unhappy, and things build and develop from there, but they rarely go out of their way to let you know. When they reach their limits, they just pick up and leave. It’s your job to read the tea leaves, to ask the questions that no one else is asking, and get a customer the answers before the building burns down. Sometimes no one wants to ask the critical questions because it means hard conversations, tough choices, and more work for people who are already busy. But that’s small potatoes compared with losing the business or the customer or the tenant.
The bottom line is, renewals are just business. Terminations are personal, and surprises are the worst of all. But if you do your job and pay attention to your business and your customers--meeting their needs and expectations and anticipating their future desires and requirements--they’ll think for sure that you’ve got a crystal ball hidden somewhere.