Your stock of leads has run dry. Your sales pipeline is following suit fast. It won’t be long before you are at the bottom of the league. It doesn’t take long to fall from grace. You know it, your boss knows it, and so does her boss. Ifonlyi’d . . . forget self recrimination. When politicians find themselves in a hole, they say something like, “things are what they are, we have to deal with the circumstances and improve things for the future. Well politicians have that luxury. Election Day may be a while away. A sales person is only as good as his last result and people have short memories.
Perhaps for you, things haven’t gone pear shaped before and you are reading along just for the ride. I hope you never find yourself being forced to make cold calls. No matter how impenetrable your titanium shell, customers can still hear the tremor of desperation in your voice. Then things go from bad to worse.
Maybe there is a better way or at least, a more palatable alternative to endless cold telephone calls. As you might expect, decision makers are most likely to agree to meet a sales person when a trusted colleague, team member, or senior executive recommends that they do. Getting a genuine recommendation is no easy task and one worthy of a dedicated article.
The next best way in is to get a similarly warm introduction from the decision makers outside contacts. These include consultants, business partners, customers, and suppliers. A complete list must include friends and family.
For the time being I will leave out the ‘how to’ guide for introductions in favour of expressing some ideas about using the third most effective way of having decision makers grant you a hearing, meeting them at off site events.
First, avoid the most common mistake. Whatever you do at off site events, do not sell. Do not use your elevator pitch. Do not be tempted to speak of what you do except to the minimum degree necessary to satisfy polite enquiry. It is possible that some decision makers might be bored enough to lure you into a work discussion. It is good to let them talk. Encourage it, even if their discourse is boring. It is good to talk. Be interested, be very interested. I think it was Dale Carnegie who said, “if you want to be interesting, be interested”. No matter how one sided the conversation, resist the urge to present your wares. Be polite and very brief about your stuff.
You may find this a little hard. I know I found it too hard on several occasions and learnt to my cost that this rule must be observed if you want to do well at off site events. Your quarry (apologies to all who are reading this who might consider themselves quarry), must have a reason to meet you in a business context. If you are drawn into speaking about your products or services in any detail while at a social event, you lessen your chances of an audience later. Maintain some mystery at all costs. If someone is insistent, make an appointment there and then for a formal business meeting.
The great thing about meeting executives at off site events is that, on average, they will be eleven times more likely to take your call afterwards. If you don’t believe this multiplier, ask the decision makers you know for an opinion on the matter. We have. At my company, SalesSense, we make a habit of asking senior people for their opinion about good and bad sales practices.
I am backing through this topic, dealing with last things first. We have yet to discuss ideas on conversation, how to initiate a dialogue, and how to be at the right events.
Conversation is a big topic. Google it. Using “better conversation” as the search term, with the quotes, I found 57,200 references. Rather than try and distil the wisdom of several million words, I’ll offer you the all time top three. They are forethought, planning, and preparation. Just be informed enough to ask good questions. Ask questions about anything that won’t offend. Religion and politics should be treated carefully because they often invoke strong feelings. The last thing you want is for your decision maker to associate you with the embarrassment of losing emotional control.
Think about some topics you can ask for an opinion on without first disclosing yours. Think of some topics to speak about with humour. Self effacing humour is always good but don’t overdo it. Jokes are fine if they are topical or relevant to the event and you are certain of a good response. You don’t need a lot of material because it is in your interests to do most of the listening. People like to talk, particularly when they feel relaxed and like the company. Hone up your rapport building skills in preparation.
The best way to begin a conversation is to be introduced and then ask an interesting question. “A mind that expands to accommodate a new thought, never returns to its original shape” according to Edward De Bono. Ask a question that demands a thoughtful answer or at least, some original thought.
You may not have the good fortune of knowing someone who knows your quarry. Just ask anyone who does. At off site events if is usually quite easy to make new contacts. Pick someone on the periphery of the decision makers group and introduce yourself. Build rapport while making small talk and then quickly own up to your true purpose and make an honest plea for help. People like to say yes, especially when they are in a good mood, being entertained at an interesting social or sporting event. You know how to make the right kind of plea; you’ve seen it in the movies.
I’ve saved the hardest part till last. You need to be at the right events and often in the right hospitality tent. The alternative is to do your research. If you can find out about a person’s social habits, what clubs and associations he or she belongs to, what causes your quarry supports, which golf or tennis club is favoured, then arrange to be their often enough for a chance meeting. Success demands patience, diligence, and sometimes a generous expense account. The short cut is to invite your decision maker to a high profile event that he or she would be interested in.
There are other reasons for investing in corporate entertainment. There is the element of sponsorship and visibility of company pennants. There are the, ‘thank you for your business’ and ‘you are very important to us’ messages to communicate. Some of the value is lost if sales people don’t take full advantage of events to earn the right of access to decision makers. As Plato is accredited with saying, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”