When the sale goes nowhere!

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

IT WOULD BE wonderful if every potential client said yes to the products and services they were offered. Realistically, there are those who have no need, others who are reasonably happy with their current supplier, and those who are unsure about their needs or are still canvassing other vendors.

Too many salespeople fail to recognize that customers have the right to reject solutions or proffered products and services. Tenacity is an admirable quality in a salesperson. Nonetheless, a salesperson who continues to pursue a sale or client when the chance of closing has diminished to almost zero is wasting his own and the client’s time.

Planning calls before going out to see clients is important. Review what happened during previous calls as well as any other business dealings you may have had with them. Planning will help you set a realistic objective for the call. At least you will know what you want to achieve when you next meet with the client. An effective salesperson’s effort is always directed to meeting the objective he has set.

If you sell high-value products and services, you will almost certainly make more than one or two visits to the client before you are able to close the business. At the end of each meeting, some action should be taken either by you or your client to move the sale closer to the point where a commitment to buy is given. You certainly don’t want to be visiting client again only to cover the same ground. Development outcomes give you a measure of achievement at a sales call even if you don’t close the sale. The other type of sale outcome is a continuation. This is where nothing happens to advance the sale. Often a client will say pleasant things or promise to think about what he has been told. This shouldn’t be confused with a development outcome. If the salesperson is content only to achieve a continuation, it is unlikely he will ever meet with success in selling.

Once a call is over, it is worth investing five or 10 minutes to review the call and make notes on what transpired. These can be used as review notes prior to the next meeting. Making notes becomes particularly important when you visit numerous clients. It is unreasonable to expect to remember everything that was discussed during a meeting.

There comes a time when everything possible has been done to persuade or sell to the client. It is now time to ask for the commitment you want. If you find yourself covering the same ground time and time again or the outcome of each meeting is no more than a continuation, you should think about declining further meetings with the client.

I have one salesperson on my team who has been trying close a major sale (worth many millions of pesos) with a client in Bataan. The commission on this sales will be significant so it is perhaps understandable why he puts in so much time and effort riding the bus to Bataan to visit the client almost every week. This sale has now gone on for months; yet it is apparent to me (perhaps not to my sales engineer) that we are not moving forward. The client knows all about our product; he has a proposal. And he certainly has enough information to make a positive decision. The fact that he has not done so means the sale has been awarded to someone else or that the project is now delayed. I see no reason why we should invest any further time and effort on this account. If the client wants our materials (which are cheaper than our competitors and of a higher quality) he can issue a PO. The rest is just talk; talk which is now wasting time and leading to other clients being neglected.

Since we have done everything possible to assist the client in making an informed decision, I feel there is little point in holding further meetings. I certainly don’t want to walk away from this business completely; phone calls to follow up can be done on a regular basis. And we can investigate elsewhere to find out more about this sale. However, visiting the client week after week hoping to get a commitment is wasteful of time that could be spent on other more productive accounts.

The secret is to know when you call it quits. By setting objectives for every call and reviewing the calls after you have left the client’s office, you will be in a better position to judge when you have reached the point where it is no longer productive to spend time with the client. This doesn’t mean that you forget the client completely. A call every one or two months to see how things are going will often net business opportunities at a later date

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.