Very early in my sales career I made a cold call on the CEO of a large homebuilder in my territory. I was selling computers for what was at the time one of the larger computer companies. I was freshly trained in sales and computers, a newly minted sales rep ready to go out and conquer. Shoes shined and red power tie straightened, I marched in to the lobby and asked the receptionist to see the CEO. I fully expected that I was going to be rebuffed so, of course, I was completely taken aback when the CEO, Bill, came into the lobby, shook my hand and escorted me back to his office.
Bill was very polite and completely old-school, even for that time. Silver hair, nice tan, expensive 3-piece suit. He took me into his office which was empty except for his massive wooden desk with a phone on it. He motioned for me to sit down opposite him. Bill asked for my business card. I reached over the aircraft carrier-sized surface of the desk and handed him my card. He took it, slowly turning it in his hands, examining it back and front, and laid it on the desk in front of him. “So, young man, what can I do for you?”
I took a deep breath and launched into my pitch. Just as I had been trained to do. Bill let me talk for about a minute or two and then raised his hand for me to stop. He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of business cards bound with a rubber band that was literally two inches high. “These are all the computer salespeople that have been by my office in the last year.” He spread the cards across the top of his desk. There were dozens of cards from nearly every sales rep from my office as well as those of every competitor I could think of. “Tell me, why should I buy from you?”
The honest answer to his question was that I didn’t know. Yet. However, I learned an important lesson from Bill that applies to all salespeople that are learning the craft of selling. It wasn’t going to be enough for me to just show up at a prospect’s office or on a sales call and expect prospects to fall in love with my product or service just based on the features and benefits. It also wasn’t just about the numbers and going through the motions. I could make a million cold calls but if I didn’t give a prospect something of value that provided them with a return on the time they invested in me, then I was never going to earn their business.
In Bill’s case, he estimated that he talked to 50 computer salespeople every year. Outwardly there seemed no question that his firm would benefit from transitioning their accounting systems to a more modern computer system. 50 salespeople were given an opportunity to speak right to the CEO on their first call. And, yet, no seller, had ever gotten past the first call with him.
I learned to ask myself a simple question before every prospecting call or sales call to prospect or account review with an existing customer. What value am I creating for the buyer, what information am I providing that will enable them to move to further along in their buying process and allow the prospect to perceive that the time they invested in me was time well spent?
In the formative years of my career there weren’t as many resources available as there are today for salespeople to research industries, companies, individuals and their requirements for the products and services you sell. We didn’t have access to an Internet full of white papers, articles and blogs. (No power outlets on the covered wagons and no wi-fi on the Oregon Trail.)
As a result, I had to develop my curiosity into my sales superpower. This enabled me to connect on a human level with buyers and earn the trust that enabled me to ask in-depth questions that would help them better define the problem they were trying to solve. And, in the process, help me learn what their goals and objectives from both a business and a personal perspective. All of this had value to my buyers.
I also became skilled at building the buyer’s story; a vision of what their experience would be like using our products to manage and grow their businesses. And what it would mean to them personally to achieve their desired business outcomes.
A little over a year later I went to see Bill again. During that time 50 more salespeople had come by and talked to him. And, he still hadn’t purchased anything. We started all over again. But this time with a different conclusion.
Bestselling author of Amp Up your Sales and Zero Time Selling, Andy Paul is #8 on LinkedIn’s list of the Top 50 Global Sales Experts to follow. With more than 170,000 followers, Andy is a highly sought-after speaker and sales sage who interviews the world’s foremost sales minds and extraordinarily interesting people to bring you strategies and insights that you can use to generate epic wins and massive value.