I am sitting in a meeting this week with a large French Aerospace company right outside of Paris, (note to self; this is a pretty sweet sentence, I am sitting in a meeting right outside of Paris; How could you not love this job?)

My meeting was with one of the VP’s of this company who has been in his position for just the last year.  We exchange pleasentries for a few minutes.  He then asks me about my flights and we discuss rain in Paris.  He then smiles and says to me, “You are very persistent – very persistent – my assistant thinks we should hire you.”  I smile at his comments and nod my head and respond, “You probaby should” and we both laugh.”  I continue, “I am being persistent because it appears to us that you may have a problem.  When you are ready, we would like to solve this problem for you.”  He nods his head smiling and says “Yes we do have a problem and I do think you can help us.”

Persistence is useless unless you know what you are being persistent about.  After I qualifiy a prospect and know they have great potential for my client I am persistent regarding two things: 1) Finding a problem, and 2) Finding the right person who is going to want the problem solved.  I am never persistent trying to close a sale.  If you find a significant problem and then you find the person who has the authority, the responsibility, and will actually benefit from solving the problem, you are well on your way to a sale.

In this particular instance, we have been calling on this company for four years.  They are the biggest company in their industry.  Their business over a period of time could be worth millions to my small business client.  Although the sale is not complete, our sales effort is an excellent example of how we sell.

  1. We qualify the prospect making sure that if we do become a new vendor, they have enough work to do that it is worth the time and effort to win their business.
  2. After we have qualified them, then we learn the business well enough to identify a problem.   This takes time, knowledge of the business, and creativity.  In order to identify a problem you have to understand your product and services and you have to understand the company you are calling on.  You have got to get exposure inside the company so you can understand the company.  Eventually if you are working and paying attention, you will find a problem.
  3. Find the right person who will benefit from solving the problem and then hound (persist) until they will meet with you.

These are the steps.  If you work them, you will have conversations like the conversation described above.

Denis, the guy I met with said, “You are very persistent” and “You are right, I do have a problem.”  These are the words and phrases that tell me we did an excellent sales job.  We worked the process.  Sales is not black magic.  It is not difficult to understand.  It is just a process that has to be intelligently worked over and over and over again.

Earning the Conversation

One of the skills of the best salesperson is getting people to talk to you. I have no right to expect, busy business leaders to speak to me. Decision makers in busy organizations who are being approached by numerous salespeople do not have the time to talk with everyone who calls. Those who receive a lot of calls become very selective about whom they speak with and what they reveal. This is a common characteristic of buyers and executives in busy companies in competitive industries.

When one of my salespeople is having a hard time getting a hold of someone, I ask them, “how are you earning the conversation?”

  • How are you distinguishing yourself to the buyer?
  • Are you using all methods of communication; phone, emails, and regular mail?
  • Are you calling at different times?
  • Do you have a relevant and pertinent message for this person?
  • Are you embracing the challenge of getting ahold of someone?

In one of our recent projects, we sent out 30 toy trucks to buyers that we had been chasing for months and in some cases for years. Our client was a last-mile delivery trucking company and we were calling on some of the biggest retailers in the country. The logistics folks for these companies are involved in deciding on millions of dollars of business over many years. Literally, one contract can be worth tens of millions of dollars. These folks can be extremely difficult to reach and even when we did happen to reach them, many were quick to dismiss us.

The trucks were white, about six inches long by two inches high. They looked like a typical delivery truck and made a nice toy for a logistics professional to place on their shelf or bring home to their child. We placed our client’s logo and name on both side panels of the truck and included a letter tucked into the back of the truck that stated, “We will load out your Last-Mile, White-Glove delivery problems.”  We also included a handwritten note that was tailored to each person.

The first week after we sent the trucks we earned our first meeting with a prospect we had been chasing for over a year. The next week we arranged two more meetings and the following week we earned yet another with a very high-value prospect. Each time we talked with these buyers, they mentioned the trucks. In fact, one actually called us to set a meeting.

This strategy worked because over a period of time we had been very consistent being persistent. The buyers knew who we were and why we were trying to reach them. The trucks broke through the busyness of their day and made an impression. We were communicating, “Hey blow us off, ignore us, don’t return our phone calls but we are going to still keep coming.”  In effect, what we were saying is we are willing to earn the conversation which we did.

Professional selling at its’ best.