Have you ever watched a child on a rocking horse? They spend hours in constant motion, but they don't get anywhere.
A lot of salespeople are like that, too. They seem to be in constant motion, but they're not making any progress. And in a down economy more than ever, it's the progress that counts.
That's my message to the salespeople I train. Great ideas are a wonderful thing. But as Edison reminded us, genius is only 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. It's that 99 percent that people tend to overlook. It comes from going back to the basics and mastering those skills that salespeople have worked hard at for generations. One of the most important skills - and the one that people really have to work on - is the art of diagnosing your prospects' precise needs.
In my training sessions, I've started insisting on what I call the "folder call." Before they hit the streets, the salespeople I train invest time in learning about their prospects' businesses. Do they have a web site? Check it out and see what products or services they offer. Print out any appropriate information so you can ask probing questions about their business. Do they have a yellow pages ad? Find it. Make a copy. And have it in your folder to reference. What is their search engine ranking? Print that out so you can point to where they are and where they can be. What are some of the problems that their industry faces? You can find the answer to that on Google News. With all this information at your fingertips, you are ready to face even the most difficult prospects.
By doing all this preparation work in advance, you are better able to diagnose your prospects' problems and come up with personalised solutions. With a proper diagnosis, you can begin to feel their pain, ask relevant questions, and not leave them feeling like you wasted their time.
But there's another reason, and this is what really separates the Willie Lomans of the sales world from what I call a "consummate killer professional." What's the difference? The bad salespeople simply want to make their sales, meet their numbers, and move on. The real salespeople are committed to solving their prospects' problems, engaging them in a sincere business dialogue, and coming up with solutions.
Ask yourself next time you visit the doctor whether you would prefer someone who just wants your money, or one who is sincerely interested in getting to the root of your problem. The biggest malady that businesses have is their inability to drum up more business. Curing that malady is precisely what media sales is about...and we do house calls!
Do "folder calls" really work? I received an e-mail just a few weeks ago from Aaron Becher, advertising director of the Duluth News Tribune, in which he tells me that they do: "After the training sessions we attended, I worked with our managers and 26 newspaper representatives on the 'folder call initiative' you outlined during your presentation. In January and February we made a total of 500 folder calls, received 121 invites back to do formal presentations and secured approximately US$20,800 in new revenue as a result of the first call." It continued: "We are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour...." This labour is the "99 percent perspiration."
The results speak for themselves.