Last week, I was riding the subway to work, and as is often the case, there were panhandlers on board the train. Most of them make the same pitch: “I’m sorry to bother you, I’m homeless, please spare some change.” In a crowded wagon of say, 50 travelers, most of the time, the person in question walks away with a donation from 2-3 of the passengers at best.  

On Tuesday, not so. A homeless man got on the subway a few stops after me, and he went over to another man nearby, and looking at him directly, quietly asked “Sir, do you have 25 cents you can give me?” The man, looked startled for a second and then gave him the quarter. The panhandler proceeded to go to many other passengers and request 25 cents from each of them in the same specific way.  Every single one of them gave him what he asked for. Between 2 stops, he had made 10 asks and gotten 10 quarters. That’s $2.50 in less than 2 minutes.

What made the panhandler successful at selling the idea that he needed money to the “target prospects” on the train was the fact that he was specific in his ask. He did not say “Can you spare some change?”. He did not try to give a lot of background information about his plight in an attempt to prove why he needed the change. He simply was very clear in what he wanted the prospect to do-;provide him 25 cents. And the prospects, found that this request was something easy for them to honor. Everyone seemed to have 25 cents in their wallets. Everyone was willing to part with it.

Salespeople have to be specific in the same way.  They need to be clear with their prospects in what they are asking the prospect to do. Calling and sharing a lot of benefits, but leaving the conversation without a specific ask at the end is the same thing as getting on the crowded subway car and telling your story to everyone within earshot, and then hoping that someone will decide spontaneously to support your cause. It might get you the buy-in you are hoping for in a few situations, but it will never drive your sales systematically.

A good salesperson, like the man on my subway, must speak directly to the prospect in a way the prospect can understand, evaluate, and react to. A good salesperson, at my B2B jewelry company, will, for example, ask her client what type of jewelry people are coming in to buy. When he answers upper ear piercings, she’ll connect him to the new tragus jewelry we have that fit that category. Then she’ll ask if the customer would like her to add a mix of 12 styles to his order (to insure he has a selection that will draw his client's attention), and tell him how much doing so would cost.  By being specific and asking the customer to make the purchase on each call, she gives him the path to getting the product today, and making more of his own customers happy tomorrow.

Essentially, like the man on my train to work, she makes the sale by looking into her customer’s eyes, proposing something that makes sense for him to do, and providing the detail needed for the customer to decide to take action. Every sale is an intimate and personal interaction with the client in question. Every sale is about not addressing the unknown masses, but connecting to one person, and specifically asking if he thinks his 25 cents would be well spent on your product. If your whole sales team can do this on every call, every day, your customers, and thus, your company will get what they need.