Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Unfocused Selling

One of the things that always amazes me about salespeople is how they can get so bogged down and caught up in all of the things that have no relevance whatsoever in the sale. Not so much the red tape and procedure but in other intangible rubbish.

I am all for focus. My DNA program is based on the three principles of Decide – Navigate – Attitude. Decide what you want, navigate the way there and ensure that your attitude is one that will keep you focused. The challenge I have is in understanding some people’s preoccupation with misdirected focus.






Just like Bruce Lee says in Enter the Dragon: ‘it is like a finger pointing at the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory’. That’s a very nice way of saying ‘you are concentrating on the wrong thing pal!’

Day after day salespeople the world over are wasting time attempting to bang a square peg in a round hole. And if that doesn’t work they will try any other shape but the one that fits the bill.





Years ago I was the Sales Manager for a Cable company in North London. From Hackney up to Camden we walked the streets selling cable services door to door. I was top salesman on a regular basis and worked my way up to having my own team within 10 months and six months later I was Field Sales Manager overseeing 5 teams, 60 salespeople in total. It was one year later I became National Sales Trainer and I was flying up and down the country to various offices in Scotland, northern England and down south.

When I was a salesperson, sitting in someone’s home, I never wasted time. I sold and sold and utilised the time I had with customers to consolidate the business. Then, when I was sure they were happy and I had answered every question they had, I moved on. I always questioned people in the early stages to confirm that they qualified for the service because my time was valuable.
I was always astounded at how much time, effort and energy some salespeople were willing to spend on a sale that wasn’t going to happen. Here is a case in point.

When I ran my own team of ten salespeople I had a guy working for me called Obi. He was a very polite, keen Indian guy of 35. He had a slight speech impediment that made him make a noise like ‘hurgh!’ every now and then but he was a good salesman but for one thing. He was a soft touch which resulted in him getting caught up in other peoples lives to such an extent that he would sit there ages talking about lots of different stuff that had no relevance to the deal. I believe that a salesperson should do that, don’t get me wrong, but always stay in control and never forget that you have a job to do. I did a field appraisal with Obi one evening and we went into a house Stoke Newington and we were still in there two hours later. We had been given two cups of tea and some cake, we had heard all about the couples holidays and jobs and family. It had got to the point where I had even forgotten what we were there for! I don’t think Obi actually told the couple what we wanted until I kicked him in the shin and nodded at the folder on his lap.

In those days we had pagers. We had mobile phones but we also had pagers because text messages hadn't been invented or, if they had, the pager was the messaging service. At the end of each nights work the salespeople in my team would text me their figures. You had to ring the pager number and an operator would answer and she would say, ‘David Moore’s (or whoever’s) paging service, your message please’, and you then read out your message.

I would get messages like, ‘Andy. 2 CATV and 2 telco.’ CATV stands for Community Antenna Television and you can still see it written on metal plates on the pavements. Telco is a telephone line. I might get a message like, ‘Albert. No sales.’ Or ‘James. 1 CATV and 0 telco’. One night I got a message saying ‘I’ll be God to Sales’. This confused me for a second. I thought whoever had sent it was obviously confident of hitting target but I didn’t understand it. What the girl at the paging service thought of it was a mystery. It was only next day I discovered that it was supposed to read, ‘Obi got 2 sales’.

One night I received a call from Obi. He was in customer’s house and this was a regular occurrence. Not him being in a customers house but him ringing me for advice. I didn’t mind in the slightest but if he had used a bit of common sense he could have answered the questions himself, he had the ability. He was always getting caught up in an issue or a problem and he was once described as someone who could start a fight in an empty room.

"Hello David, it is Obi."
"Hi Obi, how's it going?"
"David, I am with Mr and Mrs Collier."
"That’s good." I said, not having a clue as to whether he thought I knew them or not.
"David, Mr and Mrs Collier are wanting the full package with the telephone."
"That’s good news."
"Now David, they have a BT bill from last year, they have an electricity bill from their previous address."
"Obi, they need a utility bill from the last six months to pass credit control or a BT bill from the last six months with their account number on it if they want to keep their phone number."
"But David they have a BT bill from last year and an electricity bill from their old address. Mr Collier is a professional man, a Dentist and his wife; Mrs Collier is a teacher. They have recently moved here from Lambeth as Mr Collier has started his own practice. They have two children and they are decorating this house. They are having an extension built. Now, David..."
"Yes?"
"I need to know, what can we do for my customer?"
"What customer are you talking about?"
"Mr Collier!"
"Oh, you mean the man that hasn’t got the correct paperwork, the paperwork needed by credit control? Mr and Mrs Collier who, though they are probably very nice, do not have the correct documentation to qualify?"
"They are respectable people."
"They could be friends of Nelson Mandela Obi but they haven’t got the credit control required papers."
"But David, is there anything we can do for my customer."
"Obi, you haven’t got a customer!"
"But David, what can I do?"
"It’s simple Obi. Thank them for the tea and knock next door."
"But my customer David!"
"Obi, you haven’t got a customer. They are not customers. Do not waste your time. Go and find someone who has the correct paperwork."

This was 'criteria' selling. There was no such thing, in the late 90's as 'instant credit check' for this service. There is now. He knew exactly what was required but continued to try and submit all the stuff we couldn't take as that was all they had. No wonder he found so many people who wanted the service. It was just like the guy that says, 'yeah, it sounds like a great idea to me' only for you to find out he isn't the decision maker. Of course it sounds like a good idea to him.


Each week, Obi would call relating a catalogue of woe. Very nice people, Mr and Mrs Average who were upstanding members of the community that went to church, paid their taxes and had 2.4 children at school, drove environmentally friendly cars and took two weeks holiday every year. What they didn’t have was the correct paperwork and he spent ages with them. They cost him a fortune. They ended up costing him his job because he was always behind target.

Focus on what is required and don’t even bother thinking about bending the rules and squeezing a deal in. It will come back and cost you more than just commission. If you qualify the PB with a few questions early on you will tell whether or not they are going to be customers of yours. Your time is very valuable. It is more valuable than you think. If you are willing to spend prime selling time with people who are not going to be able to buy from you rather than people who can then you a devaluing yourself even further and, I am afraid to say, you deserve everything you get.



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