There is No Failure in Sales

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By John Kageche

What shatters the hard rock in the hands of the sculptor? Is it the 6th hit
of the hammer, the 16th, the 36th, 76th or the 116th? Because we start to pay attention
when the cracks begin to show and give absolute attention when the rock explodes to smithereens, we tend to assume it’s the last few blows that did the trick, yet in reality, it’s the persistence. Every blow counted. Likewise, which line finally wins the girl over? Is it the first or the tenth? The truth of the matter is that it’s all of them – they each spin the wheel starting with a slow seemingly endless turn, that becomes faster and faster with every spin gathering momentum as it goes, until finally it moves on its own axis. Selling is no different. Strike (contact) and goal (close) are not Siamese twins. Persistence therefore is the key to
success for the salesperson. Consider the following example.

The Business Daily captured his story thus: “Initially running a one-man operation in which he was the only worker on the ‘factory’ floor and the chief salesman, Mr Kinuthia would package his goods and walk from one beauty salon to another introducing his products to prospective customers and telling them that his unbranded shampoo was just as good as the branded ones they had in stock..” Can you imagine that? Imagine the global brands he was competing with! He must have felt like a David fighting a Goliath. But that didn’t stop him.

And Forbes magazine continued about this successful salesperson, “Paul Kinuthia started (Interconsumer) in a makeshift apartment in the Kariobangi Light Industries 20 years ago with a start-up capital of KShs. 1,000 ($ 40 USD). He sold it, twenty years later, (to L’Oreal) for over Kshs. 1 billion. Though extreme, Kinuthia’s is a remarkable story on persistence.” That is the
naked truth.

Vital lessons
There are many lessons to learn from Mr.Kinuthia’s story. In a previous article, he ‘taught’ us, not to give in to the “I can’t sell” mentality when we start businesses. Now, he is teaching us about persistence. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Spoken close to 70 years ago, these words by Calvin Coolidge still ring true today especially for the progressive salesperson.

The most successful salesperson in your organization in all probability has the biggest number of failures. That statement will surprise most, but it’s true. The reason why most will be surprised is because we don’t see successful salespeople (or any other successful person for that matter) in the light of failure; it’s almost as if they shield us from seeing that side. But the truth is that they do not do so. On the contrary, they just don’t let the many rejections, false promises, ignored emails, disconnected phone calls and the aborted meetings clutter their conversation. They just take these in their stride. They come with the territory; they are part of the job and an intrinsic one at that. And because they rarely mention (let alone lament) over these woes, we never get to know about them, and therefore assume these successful salespeople have their path always brightly lit and paved in gold. In truth, it’s not. What they do is to persevere.

As the quote aforementioned says, education, talent and genius are secondary to persistence. Look around you: the most successful person is not necessarily the most learned; and possibly, like me, you may know many who have a flair for the sales profession and hope that their talent will work for them. Whereas it does so in the short run, it soon wanes. It’s much akin to many who, joining employment for the first time assume that the (college or university) certificate that got them the job will keep them in it; it doesn’t. They quickly find that they must roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

If you want to sell your product or service the key is to do so persistently. Try. And try again. And try yet again, even if it means getting rejected all the time (which is very probable). Like the successful salesperson, if you want to double your success rate, you must double your failure rate. Usually though, you find you triple your failure rate to double your success rate. And that is just the way it is along the learning curve, and with time you are able to bring your near hits from say 1 in 30 to 1 in 20 then 10 and if you are pretty good 1 in 3.

The other day, a pregnant wait for a major deal fell through. My business partner lamented: “This is very discouraging. What do we do now?” The response he got from yet another partner was: “We knock more doors.” Just like that; no qualms about the “failure”, no bickering about who was to blame, no crying over spilt milk. Just knock more doors! And such is the paradox of selling; more is more. The only way to get more sales is to knock more doors-there is no other way. And to do that you must be persistent while armed with the knowledge that there is no failure in sales; only feed back!

Cracking the wall
Persistence does not mean repeatedly banging ones head against the wall. That’s foolishness which leads to your head cracking. Persistence means banging your head against the wall but shifting the angle again and again based on feedback until the wall, not your head, cracks. Persistence could also mean questioning whether it’s only your head that can crack the wall and adjusting appropriately when you find out that a sledgehammer just might do the trick

Also, persistence is not pestering. The latter will quickly see you ignored or thrown out of an office for being a bother. Yet pestering is what many sales people are fond of. After they have sent the proposal they email, call, WhatsApp, FaceBook, Skype, text and do everything except send up smoke signals all with a singular purpose-attempting to hard-close the prospect. Socially, this is much akin to a lady feeling suffocated by a man who is wooing her and won’t stop contacting her-there’s the chase which will excite her and build to a close; and then there is downright stalking, which will see you getting a restraining order at worst, and a goodbye kiss at best. Persistence is not stalking. Persistence means having a good, productive reason for every contact – not the traditional courtesy call. Not many prospects are interested in having the salesperson “check in” to see if they’ve made a buying decision.

However, many are interested in having you follow up and follow through with added value that will assist them in their decisionmaking process. How? Share content; information the prospect can work with not mere data he probably already has. Share relevant, new ideas or have one of your existing loyal customers call to discuss their experience in working with you. To do this effectively means you must prepare for every point of contact you make-know what you shall be going to share in advance. Sharing this with your prospect at the beginning of the call demonstrates that you’ve done your homework and respect their time.
Don’t just wing these conversations-give them substance.

For instance, one sales person may send an email stating, “I read this interesting article attached and thought about you and the discussion we had.” The article is even relevant to the customer’s business and sending it is a good idea. To make it productive and get closer to the sale however, get the prospect to take action and say, “Did you see this article (attached-or link below)? I think it’s good for your business. Let’s get together and brainstorm ways to make this work for you. Let me know if next week is a good time to meet”

Or as a reader once informed me: “I pointed out an error in a prospect’s ad which he didn’t know about and asked him to have it corrected in the next run. He’d denied me business once before and though this correction still hasn’t won him over, I still fill obliged to help him where I can knowing that it’ll bear fruits.” Another reason to persist is because most salespeople just don’t. They make the initial contact and melt into thin air as if the prospect needs them more than they do . Yet your prospects are also your competitor’s
prospects. You stand out when you don’t take that direction. And because everyone gets busy and following up may at times be a challenge, invest in contact management software to keep up with your commitments, if you must. Alternatively, just use your phone calendar or Microsoft Outlook.

Do anything except succumb to the retrogressive lines, “I’m poor at remembering” or, “I struggle in keeping a diary” because when you do so, you’ll soon succumb to your struggles and bow out. The foregoing is all good news for the progressive salesperson. It means that giving up on the second phone call isn’t acceptable; statistics show that 84% of all breakthroughs come after the fourth call. Need I say more about persistence?

Kageche is the lead facilitator at Lend Me Your Ears; a speaker and sales training firm. Email:lendmeyourears@consultant.com; www.lendmeyourears.co.ke ; www.lendmeyourears.co.ke

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