My First Big Sale (…and the secret of how I did it)
A very long time ago I was working in sales at a business journal. While the newspaper itself just about broke even, the annual Book of Lists was enormously profitable. I became a big hero when I not only broke the record for the biggest ad package ever sold, but shattered it.
What makes the story interesting though isn’t the event itself, but how I actually made it happen.
My co-workers were baffled by my success. The package I sold in the annual Book of Lists was twice as big as anything anybody had even thought to offer. They attempted to duplicate my triumphant sale, but never could. Anxious to discover my secret, they postulated on how I accomplished such an amazing feat.
There was no shortage of theories…
How they thought I did it
Presentation: I had presented the client with a little booklet that I made in PowerPoint and printed out in color. This was somewhat unusual in those days (the very misguided Sales Director at one point actually had the program removed from the desktop that the sales department shared). My colleagues naturally assumed that the presentation must have been the secret of my success.
They responded by creating beautiful presentations of their own (it must be said here that my presentation wasn’t beautiful, it was kind of crappy). While they spent an enormous amount of time and effort on their presentations, not one of their gorgeously crafted booklets sold a single ad.
A Big Client: The company that bought the ad package was a major multinational serviced by a global agency network. Naturally my associates thought that they should pursue big clients regardless of what their needs were. The idea was that companies with so much money would be sure to spend something.
Again – no dice. My friends wasted a lot of time chasing after clients just because they were big. They would have been more successful if spent more time approaching smaller companies that could actually benefit from advertising in our publication.
Relationship: Since their presentations didn’t work and their prospective “whale” client’s didn’t respond to their approaches, my co-workers naturally assumed that the “fix was in.” Obviously, I must have had a fantastic relationship with the client and he was just doing his buddy a favor.
Wrong again! The reality was that the first time I met the client was when I presented him the Book of Lists. Moreover, as anybody who knows me personally can attest, I’m really not very charming. Even most of my friends don’t like me!
The Secret of my Secret
The secret was that there really was no secret, as I told my colleagues repeatedly. However, they refused to believe me and continued to try to solve the mystery in vain. In actuality, there just some simple principles at work that are easy to follow.
Luck: Fortune plays a part in every success (and most failures). I just happened upon the right client at the right time with the right offer. While averages can be improved through practice, the fact is that sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not.
I got the brief: The client had some ideas about what he wanted and I not only listened, but wrote them down. I asked a few questions in order to clarify, but mostly I just paid attention.
It isn’t always this simple. Often, you need to ask good briefing questions, clarify the brief several times and navigate the obstacle course of buyer idiosyncrasies. However, these are skills that can be learned and improve with practice.
I followed directions: Most of all, I did what I was asked. Although my presentation was lousy and I had no pre-existing relationship with the client, I was able to impress him just by trying my best to do what he wanted me to do.
It’s a simple rule; try to do add value by helping people achieve their goals. Often, salespeople are so excited about their own ideas that they fail to take into account that client’s have needs of their own.
With all of the advice offered by sales gurus, 7 steps seminars and talk about proper presentation of “USP’s” there really is no substitute for listening and following directions.