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This Guy is Thriving In a Weak Economy!

What we can learn from his success
“We’ve had a great year. Gangbusters!” The client was happy – riding a wave of success despite an economy in which growth has slowed significantly. “We’re making hay while the sun shines!” As a sales consultant, it did my heart good to hear of his success. This is a guy for whom I have worked many years now. Mark is Global Head of Operations Consulting for a Big 4 accounting firm, a hard worker, and very business development-oriented. So when he contradicted advice I’ve been giving for some time now, I was listening hard:

“Remember how you suggested we make appointments with ourselves to do prospecting? Just to call back current clients, old clients and new prospects, and get started on the selling process? You said ‘Set aside a bare minimum of five hours a week – maybe in two separate sessions’. I can’t do that!”

And I knew it was true. Too many distractions in his office … people stopping by, assistants coming in, phones ringing, just a busy, busy place. He’d make two, two-and-one-half-hour appointments with himself most weeks, but fail to keep them … instead doing things that helped him keep up with the momentum in his office.

That momentum was generated by current clients, and an administrative load that is, in itself, a full-time job – seemingly important uses of his time.

“The way we normally approach this is we put client meetings on our schedules, and then fit everything else around them. But if we’re not prospecting, other stuff fills in all the available moments. Look, you’re either the hunter or the hunted. The difference is in attitude. I’ve adopted the attitude that we’re going to be successful. And to do that, I want everyone with 60% of their time in front of prospects or clients. And I’ve decided that, as the leader, every week I will set aside three days in which I deal only with prospects and clients, and nothing else. I mean, if I have no quality prospect meeting or client meeting scheduled, NO OTHER MEETINGS are allowed. I’ll spend the day visiting current clients. That leaves two days a week for the office, doing administrative work or other internal stuff.”

After some initial adjustments, Mark says he now feels more in control. “I feel better about my calendar not just being filled with busy work!”

Mark says this new approach “came out of rereading some of the stuff in your book. You stress that we need to make time for prospecting and finding opportunities to do more business with existing clients – but we allow other things to crowd our days. That’s true!”

I’ve advocated making appointments with oneself, putting blocks of time for prospecting on our calendars week-in-and-week-out – now I’m refining that and advocating setting aside a full day, or, in a slow economy, perhaps more than one full day a week, and maybe, when practical, not even going into our offices to preserve that time for prospecting. How to decide whether that ‘stay out of the office’ approach is good for you? If the office environment will eat your good intentions and your time doing everything other than the prospecting and client care you’ve said you’ll do, perhaps it’s best avoided.

“If you say, ‘I’m doing half a day’, unless you are extremely disciplined ‘I’ll do some prospecting after lunch’ moves later and later in the day, as you push off the non-pressing prospecting activity in favor of everything that’s ‘in your face’ and asking for your attention. In the long run, that spells an empty sales pipeline,” in Mark’s words.

More advice for success despite a slower economy: take more time in research. Ask questions that are broader, about your client’s overall business, rather than just about the area where you think you may be able to help him. “I’ve asked, ‘What does a $200 a barrel oil price mean for you?” and opened up a broader discussion that was extremely productive,” Mark related. It strikes me that this advice is the essence of the point Andrew Sobel and Jagdish Sheth make in their book Clients for Life: for many of us, becoming trusted advisors rather than just experts for hire is the key to having our clients be more loyal. And trusted advisors have broader discussions, ask about big picture issues, stop focusing on just the specific task that we might be hired to perform. Such an approach is clearly working for Mark.

Mark has researchers on his team who provide him with background data on prospects and their industries prior to a sales meeting. He then spends one to two hours in preparation for each such meeting. And he cautions, “Don’t be too prepared, because if you are, you’re probably going to go down a certain route in the conversation, based on what you’ve decided is happening. Be prepared, but don’t be dogmatic. Let the conversation take its natural course, and have some broad-based questions ready to go.”

Lenann McGookey Gardner is an Executive Coach and a Sales Coach and the author of WIN MORE SALES. She is a Harvard MBA and former #1 sales rep at Xerox. Lenann has successfully coached business developers in more than 50 countries around the world about how to improve their sales results. With Lenann’s coaching, business and sales professionals in many industries have experienced major success in driving new revenue and they've learned how to replicate that success consistently. What are the real-world results of having a coach in YOUR corner? Lenann’s clients offer testimonials about how her sales coaching and executive coaching influenced their careers AND impacted their organizations’ bottom lines. More info on successful selling at YouCanSell.com or dial Lenann at +1.505.828.1788.