For nearly everyone I speak to, sales (or the lack of them) is a major and ongoing issue.
Many small businesses have no individual in the organisation with the word 'sales' - or alternative descriptor - in their job title. All business comes through the magic of the phone somehow always ringing often enough to keep the wold from the door.
For those that do have a sales specialist on the pay-roll, there is frequently a lack of any regular process or sales training to maximise results.
By process, I mean a basic methodology which is applied to every prospect, from initial enquiry, through discovery meeting (establishing needs), to proposal, presentation and (hopefully) negotiation of terms.
And then there's understanding the psychology of selling: building rapport; matching benefits to needs; matching the style and detail of the content of your presentation to the personality traits of your prospect; handling objections; recognising buying signals; making sure your prospect knows how important his or her business is to you; knowing how to close the sale (never forgetting actually to ask for the business); and the art of negotiating a price that means the business you've won is actually profitable. Not to mention the concept of selling by value rather than by hourly rate or cost plus.
Oh yes, it all rolls off the tongue easily enough, but unless you were born a silver-tongued cavalier, the sum of the above is a daunting list of things you need to keep in your head, as you go about the business of converting sales leads to business.
And then I saw some extraordinary data which reduces the success or failure of the whole process to a single word. Just one single thing which, if applied to the entire panoply of sales activity outlined above, will pay untold dividends. And one, furthermore, that requires no skill, knowledge or specialist approach.
And that word is ...
IT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAY, IT'S HOW OFTEN YOU SAY IT
Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that honing your listening, presentation and selling skills will make no difference to your strike rate. The more you practise, the better you'll get.
But even the most ill-prepared and maladroit sales person in the world can even up the odds in their favour, once they understand the importance of the following information.
While 20% of sales are made after between one and five follow-ups, 80% are made after five or more - some take up to 12 or more. But here's the rub: half of all sales contacts are never followed up, and only 10% make more than 3 follow-up contacts. So if you're prepared to persist in your pursuit of the sale, most of your competition will fall by the wayside of their own volition.
Instead of giving up after two or three attempts and assuming (remember 'assume' makes an 'ass' of 'u' and 'me') that the failure to return your phone calls/e-mails/letters means you're wasting your time, just by continuing to show an interest, not being deterred by the lack of progress and showing determination to get a definitive 'yes' or 'no' from each and every prospect, your success rates improve hugely.
I wish I could say that all this came as a blinding flash of the obvious, but I have to confess to having made plenty of assumptions myself about the intentions of my own sales prospects, because of lack of responsiveness to my first two or three follow-ups following an initial meeting - rather too often for my own comfort.
Now it may be that those I've given up on have, without exception, actually breathed a sigh of relief at having shaken me off without having had to tell me directly to go suck. It is true that many people find it difficult to say 'No': successful job applicants get a congratulatory phone call; the rest get an impersonal letter (or sometimes nothing at all).
However, if this research is even half-way right, chances are I've missed dozens of opportunities, just because I've given up before the trail was properly cold. If only ( the two most useless words in the English language) I'd been more persistent.
At least I undersstand now why those double glazing salesmen (and their ilk) whom you allow into your home are prepared to take root unless you virtually frog-march them off the premises. They know that the longer tthey can keep you engaged, the better their chances of getting you to sign an order.
So now I've turned over a new leaf, you'll never shake me off (unless you unsubscribe of course).
Chapter 5 of The Unprincipled - my personal record of 12 years co-founding, growing and selling a marketing services agency in the 80's and 90's - is now up on the Blog:
The subject is 'Motivation', which I may return to in my next missive (unless I - or you - have given up).