Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heartbreak and Hunger

I have always firmly believed that if you’re going to use a cliché, you should make sure it involves poultry.  So let’s talk about two classics as they relate to the most painful experience in sales – Losing the big one.

‘Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched’


‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’


Losing the big one comes in two forms.  It’s either your prize repeat customer putting an end to your relationship or the whale you’ve been stalking falling out of your grasp at the last moment.  Either way, it hurts both emotionally and economically. 

Here’s how to limit your pain:

Remember that you are a sales professional, not an account manager.  If you have to pause to think back to the last time you closed a new deal, or even pursued one, you’ve fallen into the trap of resting on your laurels instead of your hunter instinct.  Feeling like you don’t need to work for the money to keep rolling in is a good sign that the bottom is about to drop out.  Never get comfortable with the size of your customer base.  You can always make it bigger, and nothing cures the pain of a lost client like a new deal.

Don’t stop fighting just because you’re ahead.  The last thing I want one of my reps to hear is that it’s their ‘deal to lose’, because then they stop trying to win.  They’re thinking about what to do with the commission check instead of what they can do to distance themselves from the competition.  A lead can never be big enough for the best competitors.  They speed up when they’re ahead of the pack. 

Know the difference between friendships from business relationships.  Sales is without a doubt a relationship business (I know, my eyes roll when I read it too), but I think you’ll surprise yourself if you consider whether you’d be friends with your clients without your vested financial interest.  It’s their job to find the best deal for their company, friendship be damned, so there’s no sense convincing yourself that the buyer is a friend who will always be by your side.  The competition employs another eager buddy-in-waiting.  Showing off for your friends isn’t necessary.  Continually impressing your clients is.  

I’ve seen the phenomena of account courtship go deep enough to become downright romantic.  At a recent introduction to a mid-level sales manager for a healthcare technology provider, it was actually related to me verbatim that losing his biggest client “hurts worse than both my divorces.”  Abstinence just doesn’t pay in business.

The moment you feel comfortable is the moment you stop selling.  Don’t let yourself retire on the job.  In other words, stay hungry and you’ll never starve.