Allison P. Iantosca
A little over six months ago my bare calves were sticking (it was late June in New England) to the thick plastic cover of the dentist chair. I remember wondering if plaque was reinventing itself in my mouth while I sat there. The chipper hygienist seemed to think it was sport to combat the build up with an array of stainless steel tools.
Just when I thought she was done, she'd pop up from her scraping, peruse her options, select another pick — which, in my opinion, looked exactly the same as the one she had just put down — and dive back in again.
I recall thinking it extraordinary that I willingly put myself in the position of feeling completely helpless, unable to direct any form of dialogue, and hoping mightily that in the end it would all be good news and worth the tortuous 60 minutes — much like how I felt about making a sales call.
Unlike the dentist visits that I only have to face every six months, sales calls were becoming more and more frequent for me. "Good news" friends would say. "Clearly the company trusts you to be the face of the firm."
Yes, it was very good news, and exactly where my over-achiever, competitive-as-hell self wanted to be. Yet I would find myself praying to the gods of all things sales that the phone wouldn't ring. Last time I checked, this wasn't the best way to perpetuate a business.
Luckily, I wouldn't be solely responsible for sales in our company. I'd done well positioning the firm's brand, which earned me a spot on the leadership team. That's great news for my self image, but this meant selling became a right and a duty.
At the time of my promotion, I forced myself to make the decision that of all the things in life that might slow me down, being intimidated by selling was not going to be one of them. I needed to find a trainer.
The first time I met with George, he asked me to describe my sales strategy. In short order, it became painfully clear that I relied heavily on a lot of free consulting and on going to as many sales calls as humanly possible in hopes of occasionally beating the odds to land a new project. He, quite bluntly, pointed out that I was expending ridiculous amounts of energy for very little return.
The rest of our first visit went something like a magic show. I went from fury to fatigue to fortitude before my coffee got cold.
I had expected George to pepper me with "features and benefits" and to expertly tease me with just a wisp of a promise that he could change me into the deal maker of the century. Instead, he made me do all of the talking.
He had a list of questions to ask me. Each time I tried to turn the conversation back to him, he bounced it back to me. I tried to be a hard sell, to test his ability, but I couldn't hold my footing.
In the end, he uncovered my deepest fear: "I'm afraid that I can't sell and I will fail to perpetuate my family business into the next generation." And from there, all he had to do was to rescue me.
And rescue me he did. I am learning how to do this very process with my prospects. I am learning how to keep my mouth shut except for a few leading questions and how to approach each sales visit as a business meeting attended by colleagues. I am learning to spot typical buyer behavior patterns and to not be derailed by them. I am learning how to set agendas at the beginning of meetings to get to an agreed upon outcome. In such a short time, I've strapped on a heavy tool belt that poises me as an offensive player.
For anyone familiar with the training program I am describing, you will be able to name it quickly. It's sales training and the point is not the particular program, but finding one that suits you. This one happens to work for me.
I am now actually hungry for selling opportunities. The sweet notes of the Hallelujah Chorus are working out the ancient knots that have accumulated in my stomach all these long years.
Now if they would just offer training on how to make dentist visits less painful.
|Allison Perry Iantosca is vice president of marketing and sales for F.H. Perry Builder, a preeminent custom builder and remodeler in the Boston market. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|