My boss asked me once many years ago why I thought so-and-so who worked for us couldn’t close any business.  He was asking me about a fellow sales cohort who worked out of our Indianapolis office.  For all intents and purposes, Mike – let’s call him Mike since it’s a) commonplace and b) his real name – was a decent and likeable human being.  He could hold a conversation, interject relevant current events, and not make you feel like you needed an immediate shower in bleach.  Imperative qualities in a sales rep.  So why was Mike not selling?

“John, the guy couldn’t close a chick at 2am in a bar.  On a college campus.  At an all-girls school.”

“Come on, Beth, that’s kinda brutal don’t you think?”

“I will take your uneasy laughter as indication of that being a rhetorical question.”

People always ask me the tough questions, I thought.  Nah…never mind.  They ask me stuff they already know the answers to but don’t want to feel badly about thinking.

John knew what I was saying by using that brutal-ish analogy.  He also knew I was right.

Selling is a lot like dating.  And we all know I have had experience in both over the years– happily the former more so than the latter, but both nonetheless.  First, you have GOT to know what you’re talking about and secondly, you must convey it in such a way as to exude confidence without sounding like a smarmy jerk who will walk the second the sale is made (Or, for all you young’uns out there who have not yet tried that smarm on someone like me and still have your voice box left in your throat, the second the “deal is sealed.”).

Selling techniques change like dating techniques over the years.  Remember when “What’s your sign?” used to actually be the opening line (and sometimes the closing one if asked by a Leo) uttered with such sincere charm in bowling alleys and dance halls everywhere, only to be replaced by speed dating, Heidi Fleiss, and Match.com?

Times change.  People change.  The world changes…sometimes at record speed and if people do not move their cheese as they say – somebody’s goin’ hungry.

I read a fantastic article recently about the five elements of a brilliant sales narrative.  And trust me, they are absolutely brilliant.  Sure, most of you not in sales will read this and go, “Seriously?  Duh.  These are pretty obvious and easy – it’s not rocket science.”

[It is here where I will refrain from another story about a former cohort who despised and diminished salespeople because he thought we got paid for not doing much.  Mr. Super likeable gave it a whirl and failed miserably after about 5 months.]

So for those of you who truly want to close business – and far be it from me to get all judgy about whether or not your goods or services will actually provide any value or have a quick ROI – pay attention.  They work.  Just ask my husband.

  1. Name a BIG Relevant Change in the World.  Don’t kick off a sales presentation by talking about your product, your locations, your investors, your clients, or anything about yourself.  No one cares in the first meeting or on the first date.  Instead, name the undeniable shift in the world that creates both(a) big stakes and (b) huge urgency for your prospect.  For example, in the world in which I sell (Enterprise Content Management, i.e. automation of business processes), one company came up with the phrase “subscription economy” to name the trend in which buyers increasingly choose recurring service payments over outright purchases.  Think the software I sell, Netflix, or… ahem…Match.com.  Follow up your statement of whatever undeniable shift in the world you just pointed out with an example of its evolution.  Like this:

                                                    1970’s Selling = Products

                                                    1990’s Selling = Products + Services

                                                    2000’s Selling  = Customer Centric

                                                    Today  = Relationship Centric

Note the subtle but important difference from what most (sales) pitch advice tells you, which is to start with “the problem.”

Have any of you ever been out on a first date and had to listen to a sob story about how the last person he/she dated was awful?  How they “just didn’t get me?”  How it started off with all the muster of an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet only to instead end up Michael Douglas meets Glenn Close?

Don’t start with the problem.  Start with being interesting.  Being relevant.  Showing that you understand where the world (or you individually) has been, where it’s going, and how that evolution has taught you a thing or two.

When you start with the problem, you put people on the defensive as some corporations may be unaware of the problem or uncomfortable admitting they suffer from it.  How much fun is it on a first date to hear about the travails of the personal prospect sitting across the table from you?  Oh, PLEASE go on…please keep telling me about all I potentially have to look forward to with you.  Totally can’t wait.

We all got 99 problems.  Whatever you’re selling is for sure going to be one less for the other person or organization if you start with illuminating it in all its glory.  

However, when you instead highlight a shift in the world, you get prospects to open up about how that shift affects them, worries them, and where they see opportunities for change.  What attracts human attention is change.  If the weather around you changes, if the phone rings, if the music goes from awesome alternative to crappy country – that gets your attention.

The way in which a story begins is a starting even that creates a moment of change.

Like I said, just ask my husband.

(There are 4 more elements to this sales narrative.  But it’s 7am Monday morning and somebody’s gotta go sell some stuff.)