Successful Selling in One Area Does Not Universally Apply to All Others
By Peter Lyle DeHaan
Frank had a successful sales career in one industry, but his desired career path wasn’t an option at that company. To pursue his dream, he needed to change employers. He soon landed a job as a sales manager, the next step in his career path.
Frank looked to apply the selling paradigms he learned—and successfully applied—at his prior job to his charges at his new job. When he told me his plan, I was skeptical. It struck me as impractical and unworkable at his new company—even though it had served him well in his prior sales position.
The strategy was simple. End one day by setting appointments for the next day. Since the contacts occurred over the phone, the goal was one appointment per hour, resulting in eight appointments each day. This provided eight opportunities to close a sale every workday. Then, after the final appointment of the day, begin setting appointments for the next.
Since he didn’t ask my opinion, I didn’t give him one—even though I really wanted to.
As I understand it, his sales team wasn’t impressed when he presented his grand idea. They gave him a half-hearted assent and made some effort to set appointments, but no one came close to the goal of eight per day.
After a month of him trying to hold them accountable, he abandoned his strategy. Notably, there was no overall measurable sales increase for the month, one person even sold less, and none of them were happy.
Not All Strategies Transfer
At Frank’s prior job he sold manufactured products to an identifiable niche market. Each existing customer in his territory would make ongoing purchases throughout the year. And each prospect in his territory needed what he sold. The question was whether they would buy from him or his competitors. Most ended up choosing him.
To meet with his customer base, he would visit them in their offices. Because of travel time, he could only set two or three appointments a day. It was easy for him to do because these meetings were with people who wanted to talk with him. In many cases they already knew what they would order when he showed up.
His goal was to build a rapport with each customer, supply the information they wanted, and offer strategic advice as needed. Then he would take their orders. Frank was professional, personable, and reliable. This allowed him to achieve success and earn a nice income.
Frank’s new company, however, didn’t sell a product. They sold a service. And each sale was a one-off; there were no chances to make repeat sales. Though there were occasional opportunities for later upsells, the more likely scenario was a customer scaling back to save money.
Setting appointments in this industry was also a challenge. Prospects were entrepreneurs or small business owners. They were busy, often out of the office, and hard to reach by phone. They’d call when it worked best for their schedule. That meant sales staff functioned primarily in a reactive mode. Prospects would call, and the salespeople would react. If they weren’t available when the call came, they might not get a second chance. For them, availability was the key to success.
Frank soon realized his sales training, experience, and success didn’t transfer to his new employer’s industry. He needed to revamp his strategy to better align with what his company sold and how its prospects functioned.
Key Differences to Consider
Product versus Service: Selling a product is different than selling a service. A product is tangible; a service is not.
A customer can look at a picture of a product or hold it in their hands. With their senses they can assess its functionality. A prospect can’t look at a picture of a service or touch it. They can only imagine how it might function and if it’ll produce the desired outcomes.
It’s much easier to sell a product than a service. Success in the first area does not guarantee success in the other.
Repeat Sales versus One-Time Purchases: Making a new sale to an existing customer is much easier than making a first-time close. Repeat customers understand the product’s utility and know your company. They’ve already made the buying decision once, so making a later purchase is an easy decision.
Successful salespeople are often effective because they can make recurring sales to existing customers. It’s much harder to find success when each sale is to a new prospect.
High-Ticket Items versus Low-Cost Purchases: The price of the product or service has two ramifications.
The first is the amount of commission. Ten percent of a hundred-thousand-dollar sale is much more significant than ten percent of a ten-dollar sale.
The second is the amount of work needed to make the sale. High-cost items may need several people at the prospect’s organization to sign off on the purchase or multiple rounds of approval. It may mean adding the cost to next year’s budget, which will delay the purchase for a year or more. Inexpensive items or services are open to spontaneous purchase and easier to sell.
Differentiated versus Commodity: If your product or service is different from what your competition offers, even unique, prospects who need it will eventually buy from you. All that’s needed is patience—which is a good reminder to never write off a prospect who doesn’t buy right away.
A commodity product or service, however, is available from multiple providers. This includes you and your competition—all of them. Prospects can buy from you, or they can buy from somebody else. It may come down to price, availability, or how well you connect with the prospect.
Sales Management Success Tip Recognize that sales skills that worked well in one job or industry may not readily transfer to another. Therefore, build on what you know to create an approach that fits each situation.
Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.