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Closing is incremental, sales success is a journey

This is a truism that many salespeople and managers overlook in the world of business-to-business (B2B) selling: Professional sales trainers are fond of reminding salespeople they must “ask for the order.” Managers, in lieu of an understandable process of client engagement, also default to pressuring salespeople for results and orders.

“Joey Bagadonuts,” a sales character of ill-repute did, in fact, attend one of my presentations a couple years back. As you might expect, Joey had some choice words for salespeople who didn’t aggressively close deals. I questioned him about his results and he admitted that many of the deals he closes often fail to reap long-term results. In other words, he got people to fill out credit applications, register accounts, and even generated a few transactions…but discovered that their commitment to him and his company was short-lived. You wouldn’t expect it, but Joey changed. That’s right!

The obnoxious, self-centered salesperson who famously delivered donuts and jokes to prospects at jobsites realized he might have to change. The first thing he noted was that his efforts to be liked overshadowed his interest in customers and prospects. He said that he was so busy trying to be liked that he forgot to listen. More importantly, he realized he was rushing to get orders. He felt that every interaction should result in an order or a conversation about a future order. Then he changed. He started conversations with prospects about their favorite subject—i.e., themselves. He learned about their business models and operational practices. In doing so, he learned about how they created profits and how he might help.

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He became more consultative with customers by sharing the common practices for business success he was observing. Serendipitously, he discovered that asking for the order wasn’t as important as helping his customers succeed. One prospect simply said, “Joey, you’ve helped me in ways that my current supplier never has. That marketing idea has helped us close more deals and up our profits. You’re getting my next 10 houses!”

Joey kept going. He continued to network in the market and added another big change when he started to carefully listen to his teammates at the branch. He discovered there was a gap in communication between his builder customers and the branch, and that he was a part of the problem.

His builders had come to expect quick, unrealistic turnaround times on orders. Industry capacity, transportation, and allocation to other customers of his branch limited the opportunity for emergency deliveries. Formerly, he pressured his branch associates to overcome supply chain glitches. After more dialogue, he realized that it would be better to educate his customers during dialogues earlier in the process. Instead of overcoming problems, he started to prevent them.

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Most notably, Joey learned that every first transaction with a new customer came only after a series of meaningful interactions that educated and inspired the buyer. He took one order only after a series of eight meetings with a prospect. The meetings evolved from an introductory dialogue of discovery to a presentation of marketing resources, to a joint call with a vendor rep, to a facilitated dialogue with his credit team, to a meeting at the branch with his branch manager to a first “test” order. The buyer was so thrilled with the experience and the diligence Joey displayed that he told Joey’s branch manager, “No other sales rep even remotely measures up to him.”

If Joey can change and embrace a realistic sales journey, then it would seem anyone can. By the way, Joey still brings donuts. Ain’t nothing wrong with donuts! Donuts are always a good idea…if they are sprinkled with a little kindness and professional concern for your prospects’ and clients’ businesses.

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