Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Selling with an Open Mind

Everyone makes assumptions—whether they admit it or not—and salespeople are no different. Many times you’ll brush off a prospect based on suppositions without actually doing any research on them. And if a prospect doesn’t already use products like those that you and your competitors sell, you assume that there is a reason for it and you don’t try to sell them. Sometimes they do have a reason, but too often the situation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: since no one tries to sell them, they don’t buy. And since they don’t buy, you don’t make an effort to sell them. Oftentimes you make assumptions based on wrong information. You might judge the prospect based on their building or neighborhood and think that they don’t have much potential. But you never know what’s inside of that building’s walls until you walk through the door.

I used to travel a two-lane highway every Tuesday, driving between two good customers of mine who were located in towns about thirty miles apart. I sold television advertising at the time. Located about midway between my two customers on the side of that highway was a small farm house with a good-sized metal machine shed behind it. It looked like a dozen other farm houses with sheds just like it on that highway except that this house had a little sign out front that said “Energy Savers” on it. I probably drove by that house and its sign for six months.

Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I was ahead of schedule, so I stopped to see just what “Energy Savers” was all about. I knocked on the front door of the house and got no answer. I walked around to the back and heard somebody whistling in the machine shed. When I went inside, I found a big beefy guy in overalls laying under a trailer working to get a piece of baling wire unwound from one of the axles. He didn’t look much like the “normal” television advertiser.

But it turned out he not only became a television advertiser, he became one of my largest accounts! Like many farmers, he had another business on the side. “Energy Savers” turned out to be an early provider of blown insulation, which offered an inexpensive, non-intrusive way to insulate the side walls and ceilings of existing homes. It was a perfect product to advertise on television and, because it carried such a high profit margin, this guy in the overalls and seed corn cap could afford to buy a lot of TV advertising from me.

If I had continued to judge the potential by the appearance of the prospect, I never would have made that first call on him. Remember, you can’t deposit assumptions in your bank account—only commissions.

Prospecting and qualifying shouldn’t be a chore to be avoided. It should be the beginning of the creative selling process where you open your mind to the possibilities and then try to make them happen. It’s one more adventure in selling.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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