I don’t often use examples from my sales coaching experiences when posting but the following story is too good not to share as it illustrates a shortcoming of too many salespeople using mediocre or outdated selling strategies and skills that result in sabotaging their sales calls instead of relying on their selling strengths to be more effective and close more business.
Several years ago I worked with a sales team selling capital equipment to large manufacturers across the US. One of the salespeople on the team was a young guy–let’s call him Joe. Joe was in his late 20’s at the time, a former college football player intense, competitive and committed to being successful in sales.
Joe had a sales call with a company president (we’ll call him Bob) involving purchasing a piece of equipment for his business. Joe’s discovery process for qualifying and determining the company’s needs was going well until he made an unforced error.
Joe’s company had a special financing program in place as an alternative for customers to use in place of financing purchases through their own bank. It so happened that the program was ending the following day. Thinking he could create buying urgency and close the deal, Joe mentioned the financing program, which appealed to Bob. Here comes the unforced error. “When does the financing program end?” asked Bob. “Tomorrow,” replied Joe. Bob was silent for a few moments and said to Joe, “We’re done…get out. Do you think you can come in here and pull that kind of stuff on me? I’m not going to be pressured into making a decision like this that quickly. Get out.” Joe knew he had messed up and was speechless as Bob escorted him out his office and down the hallway to the front door. Bob’s last words were “If I’m interested further I’ll call you.” Joe was pretty certain that he’d never hear from Bob again.
Standing next to his vehicle in the parking lot, Joe engaged in some serious self-talk with himself. He felt embarrassed. He knew he had made a mistake in how he had introduced the financing program and made Bob feel pressured to make a buying decision. “I’m better than this,” he told himself. Here’s where Joe’s competitive nature and commitment to success kicked in.
Knowing he probably wouldn’t be able to go back in the front door and get past the receptionist, he walked around to the side of the building and entered through the employee’s entrance. As he headed down the hallway to Bob’s office, he looked up and there was Bob walking toward him!
Before Bob could say a word, Joe apologized profusely for what happened in the meeting and told Bob that he understood that he was upset and took total responsibility for causing it. Bob accepted Joe’s apology and told him to call him in two weeks. And yes, there is a happy ending–Joe got together with Bob two weeks later and sold two pieces of equipment!
How does this story relate to selling? Joe’s misadventure and eventual success illustrates several principles.
First, outdated selling strategies like the ‘impending event close’ (“This special program ends tomorrow so act fast!”) are just that–outdated–and should never be used. Rather the ‘urgency’ to buy should come from a prospect’s compelling reason for fixing their problem. When the prospect has compelling reasons to buy, they often close themselves.
Second, having the right selling strengths is more crucial to a salesperson’s success than having great selling skills. For example, take Joe. I coached him on how to help prospects like Bob ‘discover’ that they should take action by selling more consultatively (selling skill) but it’s a much tougher and longer process to coach a salesperson to have the right amount of drive and commitment for sales success (selling strengths) that Joe displayed in going back into the building and re-engaging with Bob. Joe has plenty of that drive and commitment before we ever met.
Ideally, we’d like current salespeople or sales hiring candidates to have both great selling strengths and sales skills. But as a company president or CEO you should focus on developing your sales team’s selling strengths first then work on building their selling skills. Or if a company is recruiting sales talent, they should make sure their hiring process is designed to uncover a sales candidate’s strengths before a hiring offer is made.