Drastic times may call for drastic measures, but when it comes to sales, sometimes a simple question is all it takes to close the deal.
For what it’s worth, I’ve always had a knack for getting my foot in the door. I’m not sure why, but meeting new people, finding common ground to stand on with a prospect, networking and positioning myself or my company for a chance to compete for new business has always come naturally to me. As a result, there was a time early on in my career when I thought I was actually pretty good at sales, and at the time I could not have been more wrong. Something was missing, and it took me years to figure out what it was.
I received most of my formal sales training during my time at John Hancock, one of the largest life insurance and investment companies in the United States. At the time I was in my early 20s. I was young, motivated and ready to take on the world. Thanks to Hancock’s impressive size and resources, I was exposed to some of the best sales coaches in the country. I attended workshops led by motivational giants Zig Ziglar and Bryan Tracey. We completed in-house sales training courses designed by proven masters such as Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone. Yet with all the topnotch training my sales at Hancock never took off. Ironically, despite these lessons during my time as a “salesman” in the hard-selling insurance industry, the most valuable sales lesson I have been blessed to learn came nearly a decade later after finally settling down at Lemartec, my family’s construction business -- the last place I would have expected to learn about sales.
When I started at Lemartec, my family was under the wrong impression that I was a great salesman because of my prior insurance training and natural aptitude for opening doors but my actual sales figures early on told a different story. I was opening up plenty of doors, but I wasn’t closing any deals. All that changed, however, the day I was visiting prospects with Doug Parker, a national corporate accounts manager for a large steel building manufacturer Lemartec represents. Doug is part of an elite class of sales professionals who would fly down to Miami once a quarter to accompany me on sales calls. Over time, we developed a mentor/protégé relationship -- always there to lend support, but never interfering with my approach.
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After one particularly frustrating appointment with a prospect I had been calling on for over a year, I admitted to Doug, “People think I’m good at sales because I can open doors, but for some reason I can’t close the deals.” My mentor looked at me as though I had finally given him the green light to unload what he knew would be a difficult lessons for me to hear. His reply changed my life forever. “Manny, I close deals every day…” then he paused and said, “…except when I’m with you.” Wow! That hurt. I wasn’t offended, just shocked, and genuinely intrigued. With eyes wide opened, I asked, “What must I do?” His answer was clear and simple: “Just ask for the order.”
For years, I focused all my training on merely getting appointments and learning how to engage people, but I never learned how to ask for the order. I realized how I would avoid popping the uncomfortable question by inadvertently implying it, or by asking general questions on the status of the project. I was afraid of coming across as pushy or forceful. Then I realized two important facts: First, without an order, Lemartec would not be able to create value by providing its product and services to the client. Second, I wasn’t getting paid to open doors, I was getting paid to bring in sales.
That was the moment it clicked for me. A concept so simple that its significance eluded me until that day. So powerful was my epiphany that I remember racing home that evening to tell my wife that our lives would never be the same because I had just learned one of the most valuable lessons in sales -- just ask for the order. The very next day, after Doug had flown back to his home in North Carolina, I went back to my prospect’s office with a contract in hand and confidently asked for the order. He signed it on the spot.
It’s time to make a sale.
Take a good look at your prospect list this morning and determine if you have already provided each of them with all the information they will need to make a decision, or if you still have some work to do to catch up. Once you’re certain that you’ve done your part, reach out to each, make an appointment and go ask for the order, then send me an email to let me know how it went. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
Manny García-Tuñón, executive vice president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.