One of the experiences that always sticks in my mind from being a younger, impressionable salesperson was the first time I accompanied the most successful salesperson in the company I had recently joined. Mike had worked there for more than 20 years, was considerably older than most of the rest of the company (except for the managing director) and was known to be direct to the point of being rude.
Mike’s no-nonsense reputation proceeded my visit out with him and it would be fair to say that I started the day with some trepidation about what might happen and whether Mike would go as far as telling me off (and in front of a customer to boot!) I had seen him around the company and sure enough he had always been relatively direct with people and wasted little time on socialising. He would be pleasant, yet always at a distance with the people he talked to, which were a select few; others he just ignored as it was clear he thought they had no way of being of service to him. I was certain though that he must be different with a prospect; mustn’t he?
After we met there followed a short drive to the customer where I think it is fair to say Mike tolerated me, whilst displaying a, ‘I’m doing this because the ‘gaffer’ (boss) told me to, not because I want to!’ disdain towards me. We were both glad to get to our first appointment of the day which saw us (Mike in the call with me watching on in awe) meeting with three people at a manufacturing company. Within 15 to 20 minutes of questioning and listening to the prospects Mike took out his calculator, tapped away for a few minutes and said, “So … based on what you’ve told me can I ask you if you have £35,000 to spend on this?” and then sat back waiting for their reaction.
“Err … we don’t have that kind of money in the budget”, came the reply, almost embarrassedly as the three contacts looked between each other but avoided any meaningful eye contact with Mike and myself. Mike smiled, put his calculator and note pad back in his briefcase, closed it and said, “Okay then gents”. He paused for a few seconds looking decidedly uninterested now and then continued, “Well that’s what it will cost from us. Give me a call if you are able to find the money”. Then he stood up (and so did I following his lead), we shook their hands and we left.
As the meeting ended my initial thought was, ‘Ouch! I don’t think I would have done that and I definitely wouldn’t have been so blunt.’ After all I’d always worked on the basis that the aim is to develop rapport with the prospect, be like them and so on; that’s how a salesperson must be. This was definitely being abrupt … yet Mike was the top earning salesperson by some considerable distance and had been for a number of years.
As I reflected over it, whilst the way Mike had done it for me was too close to being rude (I don’t recall the company ever coming back to speak with Mike when they had found the money he’d asked for and I’m sure many must not have.) I did have to concede though that his principle was right. As he told me afterwards, “If they ain’t got any money to spend kid … then let some other soft devil waste their time talking to ‘em. I’m off to talk to someone else that has got the money!” And that was why he out-sold and out-earned the rest of the team, because he knew success lies in dealing with people who can buy unlike most salespeople who can so desperately want an opportunity to turn into a sale that they cling on to whoever is happy to talk to them and give them an enquiry. As a result they continue conversations and stay with prospects who are unable to proceed in the hope that they may find a way of giving them an order rather than better qualifying to give them a better chance with those who have the means to proceed there and then.
I learned a valuable lesson that day and whilst I always ensure I am not as direct and abrupt I strictly follow the same rule and work to be like Mike, always remembering that when someone isn’t in a position to buy and won’t be in the near future to get out of a call and move on to the next opportunity. As the saying says, “If we ‘fish where the fish are’… we’ll always eat!”
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