3 Lessons that Apply to Every Sales Call No Matter What You Sell

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It’s a family tradition that each December we attend the Boston Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker.  It’s truly a magical show and even though the primary dancers change from year to year, the execution of the show’s script and musical score is flawless.

Several years ago, during one of the performances, it dawned on me that the orchestra’s role in the show correlated very nicely to an effective sales presentation.  There were 3 fantastic lessons that I presented then and as I have done each year since, will present again here.

If you attend a Nutcracker performance or simply listen to some of the orchestral suite during the holiday season, one of the selections you’ll hear is the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”.  Perhaps you can’t match the music to the title, but I’m sure if you listen to the first 30 seconds of this version, you’ll recognize the melody regardless of your religion or ethnicity.

Even though you’ve surely heard it before, can you identify the four primary musical instruments at the beginning of the selection?

In this version, you’re hearing the glass harmonica, while most orchestral versions and performances feature the celesta, oboe, bassoon and flutes.  Can you hear them?

Just as the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” sounds familiar to you, your salespeople find familiarity in the sounds, questions, comments and discussions on their sales calls.  As much as you may not be able to distinguish the specific instruments creating those sounds in “Dance…”, your salespeople may not be able to differentiate the credible comments and questions from the noise on their sales calls.

During a first sales call, suppose your salespeople hear one prospect say, “This has been a very interesting and productive conversation and we might have some interest in this.”  And imagine another prospect at the same meeting says, “We’ll get back to you next month and let you know what kind of progress we’ve made.”  And still a third might say, “In the meantime, please send us a proposal with references and timeline.”

Lesson #1 (based on Objective Management Group’s data) – Of every 100 salespeople:

  • 70 rush back to the office to begin work on the proposal and tell their bosses that their large opportunity is very promising because all 3 prospects in the meeting were very interested;
  • 19 leave the call and make 2 entries in their journals – “propose” and “follow-up” – and they’ll do both eventually;
  • 11 are still at the meeting, asking more questions.

Lesson #2:

  • Prospects’ voices are like musical instruments.  Each instrument in “Dance…” has a specific role in the performance.  If the wrong instrument or notes are played or they’re played at the wrong time, the entire selection is ruined.  Prospects’ comments in the scenario above have different meanings depending on their business titles and their roles in the buying process.
  • If “please send us a proposal”, “we’re interested” or “very productive” are spoken from an Executive – the CEO, President or VP of something – it has a far different meaning than if the comment were to come from a buyer in Procurement.
  • When any of those 3 comments are spoken by a user – an engineer for example – rather than a buyer or an Executive, the comments may be far more genuine, but carry much less authority.

Lesson #3:

  • Sometimes it’s more fun to listen to a song, symphony or simple melody and to figure out how and why the composer or arranger selected the particular instruments to play the particular parts of the selection.
  • Your salespeople must apply that wonder and analysis to their sales calls.  The prospect may be the composer (started the initiative), arranger (selected the vendors to talk with), director (charged with the initiative and conducting the process) or musician (following directions of the conductor).  It’s the salesperson’s job to figure out who they’re dealing with, what role they play, what influence they’ll have and how to get the various players aligned on the compelling reasons to buy and your ideal solution.

Homework Assignment – Return to Lesson #1 and answer 2 questions:

  1. Which of the 3 sales outcomes do your salespeople typically find themselves doing?
  2. Which additional questions do those 11 salespeople stay to ask?

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