Bang, bang and bang some more on the door

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I dislike dark restaurants.

When we arrived for dinner at one of our town’s hot spots, the hostess walked us through the stylish eatery to the back of the room, where we climbed a flight of stairs.

The top of the stairs opened into a small loft area that was private and very dark. She seated us.

The menu resembled “War and Peace” in length, but size didn’t matter here because you couldn’t read it in what I supposed was meant to be an intimate setting.

Unfortunately, the most intimate feature of the room was that you couldn’t see the person sitting across from you, and it doesn’t get any more intimate than the carefully crafted ambiance of being alone in the dark.

It reminded me of a line from the movie “A Thousand Clowns.” Jason Robards is in a restaurant for lunch, and when asked by the waiter if he’s decided what he wants, Roberts responds, “Yes. I’ll have a hamburger. And a flashlight.”

I sent up a flare for the waitress, and when she arrived, asked to be moved out of the mushroom incubator and back into the land of vitamin D.

We were reseated downstairs at a pleasant table with subtle but ample lighting, where we enjoyed a delightful meal, if you discount the fact that they brought my wife the wrong dish, replaced it 20 minutes later (after I was done eating) with a cold version of her original order and knocked a glass of wine onto my lap while cleaning the table.

The bad karma that night was ignited by the same omission perpetrated by millions of salespeople daily: the hostess didn’t ask the important question.

Had she said, “Would you like to sit in our private, intimate loft that is a perfect setting for lovers of all ages,” I would have replied, “No thank you, we wouldn’t want to interrupt them.”

Just like our hostess, salespeople everywhere have trouble closing sales.

Invariably, the problem lies in the insecurity and fear of asking for a commitment and risking the cold-sweat terror of rejection. Simply put, most of us are afraid to stick it out there and have it chopped off – and let’s face it, being the choppee is not much fun.

However, asking direct, pertinent questions during the sales process is not only enlightening and vital to achieving success, if done within an organically progressive structure, can create an environment of collaboration.

As a result, the close becomes the logical next step in the conversation, and is rendered a lot less threatening.

I was working with someone not long ago who was describing a sales call he’d made. He was extremely excited because he felt certain a sale was imminent.

While pitching a branch manager of a large regional bank, he was told by the manager that every branch had, at its disposal, discretionary funds it could use for local purchases. He felt certain her branch’s budget was large enough to cover the cost of his product.

When I asked how he knew that, he said he could see it in her face.

“Pardon me?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I could read in her expression that she could afford the deal using her locally available funds.”

My jaw tightened, my hands involuntarily clenched in fists of rage and my eyes took on a laser quality that must have burned holes right through the poor guy. He looked startled.

“Did you ask what her budget is?” I said with marginally suppressed dismay.

“Well, no,” he replied defensively. “I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, and I was quite certain I knew the answer.”

The truth is, he didn’t ask the question not because he didn’t want to offend her, but because he didn’t want to make himself vulnerable to the pain of rejection, and so he did the safe thing and moved on.

He blew through an opportunity to begin closing the sale by letting his fear dictate his actions.

But at least he got that far, which is much further than another salesperson I’m training could boldly go.

Let’s call him Babaloo.

Babaloo owns a company with a service that has to be actively sold through a dedicated and conscientious sales effort – he has to make telephone cold calls every day to build his pipeline of prospects in order to pay the bills.

Problem is, Babaloo doesn’t like to make cold calls. Actually, Babaloo hates making cold calls. As a matter of fact, Babaloo hates making cold calls so much that he never makes cold calls.

He tries to make cold calls. Every morning, he goes to the office with the best intentions, but he always seems to get waylaid with other important tasks, such as emptying the shredder or counting the holes in the ceiling tiles.

Most of the time, though, he sits at his desk staring at the telephone.

Babaloo reminds me of a character from The Bob Newhart Show. Bob was a psychologist who was treating a door-to-door salesman who couldn’t make sales.

The guy tells Bob that he walks to the front door and waits for someone to open the door. Bob asks him if he knocks, and the man says no, he just waits to see if anyone comes out.

Bob advises him to be more assertive, and when he tries that, he gets injured by a homeowner and sues Bob.

Gee, maybe it would be safer to shut up and let my trainee sit in his office and wait for somebody to call him.

It could happen.

And maybe we’ll go back to that trendy restaurant again.

Not!

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