A business owner friend has been facing the same problem for months: she has lots of pipeline for new business, but it’s not turning into revenue yet. In recent weeks it’s gotten to the point of wondering what she’ll do if the business fails, along with the financial anxiety and sleepless nights that brings.
Now my friend, who will remain anonymous for privacy reasons, is a smart marketer. Her business bills several million dollars per year. The testimonials section of her website is filled with case studies and success stories that have generated millions of dollars for her clients.
And yet, right now, she doesn’t think of herself as being so smart, and the self-doubt is creeping in:
What’s wrong with her marketing? What’s wrong with her rock star business development team? Why won’t this pipeline of business leads convert into paying clients?
Not Business Development, Not Marketing: Sales!
The thing is, my friend doesn’t have a business development problem: Lots of business is getting “developed.” Nor does my friend have a marketing problem: she has a great product at a great price and her promotions are generating plenty of leads. What my friend has is a sales problem, and the answer is for her and her team to become better salespeople.
Not business development people, not marketers, and not consultants: salespeople.
It seems like nobody wants to think of themselves as salespeople anymore. And my hunch is that many of Instant Teleseminar’s customers don’t like the word “sales,” either.
But here’s the deal: great salespeople don’t “develop business,” or “market” or “consult.” They close sales. I know that in these days of new-agey, politically-correct feel-good speech, the phrase, “closing the sale” might make some people a bit squeamish.
But the reality is…
You’re Closing the Sale or You’re Losing the Sale
I was at a conference once where someone stood on a stage and specifically denounced the idea of “closing a sale,” with something flowery like, “It’s not about closing anything…in fact, it’s the opposite: we’re opening something new.”
That kind of talk may make people feel good, but it won’t close any sales. Whether you’re selling from the stage, a teleseminar, a face-to-face meeting, or a one-to-one phone call, “always be closing” (ABC) is as true as it’s ever been.
In the old days, you’d hear sales managers talk about “what separates the closers from the losers,” referring specifically to people who tend to close sales versus those who lose sales. Sure, that kind of talk is a bit edgy: it insinuates that someone who loses a sale is a “loser,” not just in sales but at everything in life.
But in the right context, in a group of people who are supportive of one another (and who don’t take themselves or life too seriously) that kind of talk can light a fire under confident and talented “losers” and turn them into “closers.”
Selling Without Realizing It Means You’re Lousy At It
I changed my own thinking about sales, ironically enough, in the not-for-profit world. When I was in college, I volunteered for a student group called AIESEC, which set up paid internships for college students and recent graduates all over the world.
To set these internships up (we called it “raising traineeships,” to avoid using the dreaded word “selling”) student volunteers would present the program to prospective hiring managers at companies in our local areas. If those managers liked what they heard, they’d sign a contract and hand over a check. Then we would search the world for the right candidates, arrange telephone interviews and fill the job. For every job we placed in our area, we were able to send a student from our University overseas for a similar paid internship.
We didn’t think of ourselves as “salespeople,” which was a nasty word on University campuses in those days (and, I imagine, still is). Instead, we were “marketers,” or “consultants,” or even, “Vice Presidents of External Relations.” Anything but sales!
Almost in spite of myself, I managed to find several jobs for foreign trainees. But when I graduated, instead of working overseas right away, I took a job at the non-profit’s national office in New York. It was the mid-90s, and the organization’s total internship placements nationwide had plummeted to the lowest level in more than 40 years.
My title would be, “Marketing Director.”
My Conversion to “The Dark Side”
I was young and had zero “real world” work experience. But fortunately, I was placed under the mentorship of David Fagiano, who was then president of the American Management Association (AMA) and served on our not-for-profit’s Board.
In our first meeting together, I rattled on for 10 or 15 minutes about my Marketing plan. Fagiano leaned back in his huge leather chair smoking a pipe, listening. When I was done, he glanced at me sideways, and, between puffs on his pipe, calmly remarked, “You don’t have a marketing problem. You have a sales problem.”
I don’t remember many more specifics from the meeting; Fagiano was a man of few words. But I do remember getting asked several short and pointed questions along the lines of, “How do you get your student volunteers to find more openings for trainees?” and “Where are you going to spend your time?”
My instinct was to provide training to the chapters that were struggling, which of course Fagiano torpedoed: “You’re much more likely to get someone who has already closed 10 sales to close 10 more than you are to to get someone who has never closed a sale to close their first.”
He then graciously let me enroll in several Sales Management courses offered through the AMA. There, I was exposed to sales managers from dozens of Fortune 500 companies and specific programs for finding and developing top-flight sales talent.
Armed with my new sales management tools, I shed my title of “Marketing Director,” and became the “Sales Director.” I then traveled all over the country (and to some extent, the world) teaching hundreds of our volunteer students that sales – *gasp!* – was cool.
One of my favorite tactics was to make fun of the bad rap salespeople get by donning a Darth Vader mask and asking my young recruits to “Join me, and together we’ll rule the Universe!”
In the end, five of those students accounted for about 80 of the 400 or so placements we made that year, which more than doubled the previous year’s total. Suddenly we had a new problem: fulfilling all of the new sales we had closed. But that’s a topic for another day.
You Have to Know it’s Sales To Get Better At It
In some ways, I was fortunate: an organization that’s on the rocks is usually ripe for a turnaround with small changes. “Small hinges swing big doors,” as they say.
At a minimum, you have to know what it is that you’re doing to get better at it.
In my case, changing what we called ourselves from “Marketers” to “Salespeople” attracted the right kind of people to the job. It allowed us to get training in the right things. And it allowed us to focus on doing the activities that drove the whole organization: getting in front of prospective clients, building relationships with them, and then CLOSING SALES.
“Business Development” is any myriad of activities that could one day lead to new business. Marketing is even broader than that. “Selling” means you are actively persuading someone, and “Closing the sale” means: Did they sign the contract, and did they give you a check?
See the difference?
The psychology, spoken words, and even physical movements required to get that to happen have been studied perhaps more than anything else in business. For those who are serious about taking their businesses to a whole new level of success, they’ll study and master that process, and won’t be afraid to call themselves, proudly, “salespeople.”