What the initial sales call should look like (but didn’t)
In episode 7, I talked about what an ideal initial sales call looks like, everything from the planning session to the sales conversation to the review afterwards. Today I’m going to dissect an actual sales call I went on and show you what worked, what didn’t, and how I can modify for my next sales call.
Okay, to set the stage: A few weeks ago an 86-year old woman–we’ll call her Miss X–contacted me about writing her life story, and we scheduled one of my free initial consultations. But on the morning of our appointment, I cancelled because of an ice storm.
Well, sort of.
There was a big ice storm and my daughter’s school was closed. And I’d been working way too hard. So when I got the early-morning text that daughter had the day off, I made a snap decision to give myself a snow day too. I NEVER cancel appointments with my clients or potential clients. But I did that day. Because my youngest is a high school senior and I’m getting a little wigged out about her moving away to college in a few months. So I made the executive decision to take the day off—and make it a movie day with her. We drove (yeah, see why I’m still feeling guilty?) to a big multiplex theater and saw THREE movies. Best day I’ve had in a long time!!
My next not-so-professional semi-mess-up was not rescheduling right away, mostly because I’m working on so many books at the moment that I wasn’t all that excited about adding another. I did try to call Miss X to reschedule, but only once, and her answering machine was full, so I couldn’t leave a message. However, she called me a week later and we got it scheduled. Still, I knew I hadn’t treated her with the professional courtesy she deserved. Promptly returning phone calls and emails is definitely something I have to work on.
Okay, on with the review. I’ve always been pretty good about entering dates on a calendar; where I fall down is checking the calendar. My kids tell me I’m a great mom but on paper I stink; that’s because of all the doctor appointments and teacher conferences I’ve missed. Obviously, this had to change when I went into business for myself. But it hasn’t been easy. Even a great tool —I use the calendar app Fantastical 2 for Mac—is worthless unless you use it. So one thing I’ve done is to set up alerts. I get a pop-up message (okay, usually more than one because one is too easy for me to ignore and/or forget about) on my phone, my laptop, and my desktop for each appointment I make. For initial sales calls, I have it set up to remind me an hour in advance (plus the night before, and at the time I need to leave the house, and…). Because an hour, I’ve determined, is plenty of time to get ready for one of these sales calls. Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? A task expands to fill the time you allot to complete it. If I gave myself a couple hours to prepare, I’d take it, and that would be less billable time to work on other projects. So restricting myself, in my schedule, is a good thing for me.
Except that this time, it barely worked. Because what I hadn’t remembered until an hour before my appointment with Miss X was that I needed to print out copies of my service agreement. And somehow my printer, that sadistic, whirring hulk of machinery, always goes fritz-y on me when I most need it. Can I take just a moment to say how much I HATE printers?? They work when you least need them to. Otherwise, it’s all “Printer not connected”!
Until that point, I was feeling pretty happy with myself. I’d managed to clean myself up, dress in my business clothes, do a mental run-through of questions I wanted to ask Miss X and points I wanted to cover, and gather most of what I needed to bring to the call. I managed not to smack the printer and it managed to spit out the papers I needed, and I flew out of the house. I was leaving just a few minutes late but a whole lot flustered. Especially when I saw my car. I park outside, so in the winter it’s often covered with the grayish dirt from snow and salt, and in the spring it kind of glows a soft green from the tree pollen. I ALWAYS want to show up to a client’s house with a clean car and almost never do. This day was no exception; the car was filthy. Something else to put on my MODIFY list—schedule time for a car wash before meeting clients.
Okay, so now I’m on my way, more or less prepared, but a little flustered, because of:
- feeling residual shame from having played hooky on our first appointment
- more shame for not having actively tried to reschedule
- dirty car!
Which leads me to the Big Gaffe at the Door
I arrived exactly on time and when I rang the bell, a man answered. He introduced myself, and making a big presumption, I asked if he were Miss X’s son. Just then Miss X herself rounded the corner in the entrance hall and gave me a warm hello and a hug.
Back in her office, she and I sat down to chat. One of the first things she kindly, warmly explained was that the man who answered the door wasn’t her son–he was her partner. They had met when she was 61 and he 38, and they’ve been happily partnered ever since. By handling it so graciously, she didn’t give me reason to feel bad about my mistake, but I did anyhow. My job as a personal historian is to have an open mind and heart; the only way to really listen intently and deeply is to discard assumptions and knee-jerk judgements, and I had failed with my cursory, and false, assessment at the front door.
The conversation took a turn for the better when she told me that she is a licensed pilot. And that’s when I broke one of my cardinal rules: I told her a story about myself. I told her how I had always wanted to fly and nearly got flying lessons years ago (long story, but it didn’t happen). She was so happy to hear my enthusiasm for her flying exploits that she reached across the desk and gave me a double high-five. I’m normally very strict about not bringing myself into the conversation unless the client asks. The focus should not be on me, it should be on the client. But experiencing this moment of spontaneous, joyful connection with Miss X makes me think I need to reevaluate this rule.
From there, the conversation proceeded smoothly. She looked through the books I brought, we chatted some more, she asked me about prices and I told her. Without missing a beat, she told me it wasn’t something she could afford. And then we kept on talking, and I listened, charmed, as she told me some more about her life.
Why didn’t I pack up and leave when she told me she wasn’t going to hire me? A couple of reasons.
For one thing, I’ve learned that today’s “no” sometimes turns into tomorrow’s “yes”. (And by tomorrow, I mean anything from a week to a couple years in the future.)
Plus, she was just delightful. The kind of person I wouldn’t mind meeting for coffee. And how often do we meet strangers who feel they have permission to tell us about their life story? It’s a unique situation to be sitting in a stranger’s home, in her sanctum sanctorum—which her office clearly was for her—and have her tell you some of the stories of her life. These aren’t the kind of conversations we usually have with people we’ve just met. I consider it a perk of my job. Even when I don’t win the job.
After I left, I went back to my office and wrote up my notes, including all the details we discussed in the last episode, things like the date and location of our meeting, and the prices I had quoted her. And then I jotted down the bits and pieces of stories she had begun to tell me. I finished with my brief review, the roundup of things I can improve or do differently in the future. I won’t look at her file again unless I hear from her, but the act of writing the review will be enough to have the lessons sink in. Get the darn car cleaned; print up what I need the NIGHT BEFORE. Don’t make assumptions about people’s relationships, or anything really.
I’d love to hear from you about what your initial sales meetings look like. What are the things you do differently? Do you have ideas on how we can all improve our sales meetings? If you do, leave them in the comments below. And if today’s show was helpful, the best way you can return the favor is to leave us a review on iTunes.
Now go out and save someone’s story.