When I was first getting started in business, I regularly struck out. I sold knives to companies as gifts, and while I closed my first corporate sale within two weeks, it was to my girlfriend’s father -- the sale didn’t feel like it really counted. What's more, while I did fine selling to homeowners, businesses weren’t interested. I was young and inexperienced, and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. But, over the next few years, I had several insights that helped turn things around from my earlier mistakes. Mistakes that were hardly unique. Today, I see sales teams in all kinds of industries facing those same three problems I once did:
1. Focusing too much on the product and not the resultsWhen I walked into meetings with business owners, I told them about the knives I had to sell. I talked about how sharp they were, how long they’d last and the materials they were made of. These were details homeowners loved to hear, but they meant nothing to business owners.
Those guys weren’t looking for products or services, but solutions to their problems. And giving world-class gifts wasn’t their top priority.
Instead, they wanted to know if my gifts could drive more referrals. They wanted to know, if the knives were given to employees, would those gifts inspire loyalty to the company? Those were the issues that interested CEOs. And I listened.
Once I shifted my pitch, people started to listen, and sales started rolling in.
2. Lacking credibilityI could rattle off the names of hundreds of people who were buying Cutco knives for themselves. The company had been in business for 60 years and boasted 14 million customers. My own mom’s set lasted 35 years, but when it came to talking about companies using Cutco products as gifts, I had no example to give. My only testimonial was from my girlfriend’s father.
Nobody wants to be the first idiot to buy knives as gifts and get laughed at by peers, so I decided to get samples made with each CEO’s name -- and spouse’s name -- on the product, along with the CEO’s logo. I needed to invest my own money and let potential customers experience the gift.
When those CEOs saw their names on the product and their logos carved into the steel, they were delighted. Soon, I had stories to share with my prospects.
Keim Lumber was one of my first corporate clients. When Bill Keim saw his company's logo on the piece, he ordered gifts for all 250 of his employees. This was one of the most respected companies in the area, and his partnership gave us huge credibility, helping to land other prestigious clients.
Now, we make sure to record 60-second testimonials. These put potential clients at ease as proof that those clients are in good company.
3. Paying too much attention to the closeAs salespeople, we’re focused on the end result. We all want to close deals on the first visit. While that may be possible when selling to homeowners, it’s highly unlikely with B2B.
Sales cycles can last months or even years. Follow-up is where people drop the ball. The best sales teams in the world know they can’t control the timing for when someone makes a decision, but they can control how they stay top of mind with the prospect. People do business with those they like and trust, but also key is staying creatively top of mind.
So, make sure you add value when following up with prospective customers. Instead of those “checking in” emails everybody hates, send articles, notes and even world-class gifts that are relevant to your clients. This helps deepen and strengthen your relationship. I recently learned that executives at the Orlando Magic and Jacksonville Jaguars actually print out my emails to show to their sales teams, encouraging them to adopt a similar approach and follow-up strategy.
Certainly, selling isn’t an exact science, but there are plenty of strategies to make success consistent and sustainable. You need to focus on your clients’ real needs, show real proof and be pleasantly persistent while also being helpful. CEOs will soon take notice -- when the time is right.