It's Always Too Early Until It's Too Late

August 30, 2013

One of the hardest things to learn in successful selling is to leave well enough alone. The trick – once you actually do make a sale – is to shut up and leave. Don’t keep talking; don’t overstay your welcome; don’t get greedy; and don’t try to gild the lily. Get the goods and get out. But there are two basic tools in sales that are even harder to master – especially for young entrepreneurs.

First, you’ve got to learn how to directly ask for the order. But even more importantly, you’ve got to adopt the discipline; develop the thick skin; and practice the persistence that it takes to ask for the order every time you get the chance. Without embarrassment. Without hesitation. Without apologies. And without blaming it on someone else as in “my boss makes me do this.” What exactly does this mean? It means actually remembering to ask for the sale every time the opportunity presents itself; making sure that you do it with a vengeance; and creating as many opportunities to do so as you can. Every time you try - you get better. Practice actually does make a difference. You want to always be closing the sale.

If you're apologetic or reluctant or only half-convinced yourself that the customer needs to act and act now to sign the dotted line, or if you’re sitting back in the weeds waiting for people to call you, then you might just as well save your breath and shut your doors. You can’t sell anything sitting on your ass. And – as with most things in life - saying certainly doesn't make it so - only doing makes a difference that matters. Knowing what you should do or talking it to death, on the one hand, and actually executing on the plan – quickly, confidently, and consistently - are too often worlds apart. Success really starts when you just start doing the heavy lifting of getting the job done.

As I look around these days, I see more and more instances where the people who should be focused on closing deals are spending their time and energy making excuses for their clients and customers and justifying their inaction and lack of concrete results. The economy sucks – so what?  Someone is still selling things – just not your folks. The recovery is really slow. Big deal. People still need someone’s products and services. It oughta be yours. “Understanding” your clients’ issues and problems is a very nice theoretical approach (actually I think it mostly sounds better in the literature than it works in real life), and when it gets in the way of making a sale, it becomes a much bigger problem for your business and one that you need to promptly address and solve. 

Salesmen who emphasize customer empathy and offer a collection of “good” excuses for missing sales aren’t really doing much of anything for your bottom line. It may help them feel better about themselves and their poor performance, but it won’t get you across the goal line. Nothing happens without salespeople who want to sell your product. My best-ever sales manager had a simple (and admittedly crass) analysis which has always stuck with me. His view of the sales world all came down to a single idea: “somebody’s gotta sell this shit”. Feeling sorry for your customers doesn’t really get anything done. You’ve got to nip this attitude in the bud and get your people back out there on the street selling. If they’re not in the game, you can bet that someone else will be taking up the slack and making the sales. I hear these sad stories about missed chances and lousy excuses from companies every day.

One of the worst excuses of all is being told by the customer that the timing just isn't or wasn't right. You’ll learn soon enough that it's always too early until it's too late. And nothing's a worse feeling than dropping the ball with a customer who keeps putting you off and off and then - when you finally do get around to calling again, they tell you that you're too late because they went with someone else. The longer I'm in business the more I realize that there's never a perfect time for the customer to buy because most of them would just as soon not buy if they don't have to - so it's the salesmen's job to control the clients’ calendars; to always be in their faces; and to be there whenever the customers are ready to buy. It’s all about “at-bats” and always asking for the order. Lots of important things are lost for lack of asking.

And here’s an interesting fact. As brash, impolite and aggressive as most entrepreneurs appear, the fact is that they're no better (or more capable) than anyone else when it comes to this crucial skill. I don't think society in general has gotten a lot more gracious and polite lately (in fact I'd say it was exactly the opposite), but for some reason, young people today are reluctant to push and/or to appear to be pushy. Some otherwise tough and smart entrepreneurs I know would rather die than die of embarrassment. They don’t think it’s cool to let people see you sweat. They don’t understand that it’s a good thing – not a bad one – to show everyone exactly how much you want something and what you’re willing to do to get it. Sometimes I even think that – in their hearts and heads - they themselves doubt their products and services and this also makes it hard for them to throw themselves into the game full-force with body and soul. That tired old joke about sales has more than a kernel of truth. They used to say that the main difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman was that the car salesman knew he was lying. Maybe a little self-doubt also comes with every new digital business and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

But, as I’ve talked to a bunch of these guys and girls, the real issue turns out to be simpler and – by the way – easier to resolve. Entrepreneurs aren’t used to being told “no” and they don’t like it. So they avoid it by not putting themselves on the firing line often enough and it slows down their businesses and their growth. It also sets a lousy example for the rest of the sales team. But I’ve got a simple mantra that can save the day.

All you need to do is train everyone in your business (including yourself) to repeat this phrase a couple of times a day – especially in the selling season – and it’ll be much more helpful than all your pep talks, sticks and stones, sugary sweets and other threats and incentives combined. What’s the phrase that I use to keep bouncing back up and taking the next step and the next shot and asking for the sale every day?

I say to myself and my team: “it’s only a “no” for now”. And, you know what, almost every “no” is exactly that – it’s a “no” until it’s a “yes” and it’ll only be a “yes” if you keep asking.


PP:  “You Get What You Work for, Not What You Wish for”