The game of selling

Sales - Rick Davis

A sale is a puzzle to be solved…or at least attempted, even if you can’t solve it every time. A puzzle is a test of logic and creativity that requires recognition of the situation; the right strategic development for each situation; and execution of tactics that fulfill the strategy. All puzzles and games require a lifetime of education where moves are tested, observed, and mastered to produce predictable, desired outcomes.

I’m an avid crossword puzzler, sudoku solver, board game aficionado, and devotee of all games involving playing cards. I approach selling with the same style of learning with which I solve puzzles and play games. Thus, when a client called me to solve a sales puzzle for him, I was eager to help. An out-of-town builder was coming to his market and requested, (more like demanded), a list of all the subcontractors in the market. What do you do with this puzzle?

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I believe there is a correct answer to this question, even if it won’t guarantee the desired outcome. The key to game theory is not a guaranteed outcome, but the best percentage move in a given situation. Sometimes the rolls of the dice don’t go your way and, at other times, you encounter lucky breaks. In the end, the best players at the game win in spite of the fickle fortunes of fate.

Thousands of salespeople and managers struggle in their careers because they repeat their first year of selling thirty times in a career while others achieve three decades of sales growth. The successful ones accumulate new game winning moves week after week. Eventually they accumulate a skill set that enables them to outperform their competition with regularity.

The crucial skill to improving your sales game is awareness. You learn a new move and then store it in your library of tactics for future use. This lesson I learned three decades ago during a phone call to a high-volume manufacturer of modular homes. The prospect described a process so unique to our industry that I have never seen it since. The company made rooms in a factory that were shipped to jobsites and assembled as hotels and multi-family dwellings.

At one point, I was so naturally curious about the buyer’s business that I said, “You work for an amazing company!” After he proudly agreed, I said, “Well…I do too! I’m not sure if we’re a perfect fit for what your company does, but I sure would love a tour of your factory to at least meet and find out.” He quickly acknowledged that my statement was compelling and agreed to the meeting.

Decades later, I still use and teach the same phrases to salespeople making cold calls. There is no way to state mine was the perfect sentence to use when making an introductory cold call, but it sure beats the trite question, “Got anything coming up I can bid on?” The question might get you an opportunity to bid a low percentage opportunity. The approach I tried years ago still works today as a great conversation starter and, not coincidentally, results in better closing ratios.

If you’re wondering, the advice I gave my client about the subcontractor list was this: Tell the builder, “If I give you my list, I’ll be doing you a disservice. You won’t know the different areas of specialty, capacity or even dependability each sub brings to the table. The best thing to do is meet. I will understand your business and operational challenges and then I can help you select the best subs to get your job done as profitably as possible.”

It might not be the best response, but it’s better than sending a blind list of contacts to a builder you barely know. Not surprisingly, my client got the meeting with his builder and accumulated one more winning move in the game of sales.


Rick Davis, president of Building Leaders, is a premier sales trainer in the building materials industry. His latest book, Sales Economics: The Science of Selling, is now available at Rick can be reached at

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