The Smell of Sales
Last weekend at this time found me in Vermont deep in shoveling the debris and dirt left from the floods and repairing the ATV trails in my woodlot. Filling one five gallon bucket at a time, hauling them to the tractor, driving into the woods and filling the holes in the trails, inches at a time, reminded me again of how lucky I am to have my day job which, although complex and pressure-driven, as my friend Bernie Gordon, CEO of Analogic, used to repeatedly tell me “doesn’t involve any heavy lifting.”
Slogging away up in the woodlot early Saturday morning, I instantly became re-energized when I heard the familiar sound of machinery and suspected that either the town road crew was regrading once again, or Mr. Capen had decided to do a second mowing down in our field. Although it was late in the season, I rationalized that with the continuous rains, then Irene and the resulting collapse of his barn up the road, it was the first time that he had been able to make it down to our field. What excited me (It doesn’t take much to peak my interest) was the realization that I would quickly be able to perform the smell test which would conclusively determine if Mr. Capen was in the process of making his semi-annual trip up and down the road, field by field, cutting the hay for his cows to get through another winter. Just like most Vermonters, Cape believes that his cows need to toughen up, so he leaves them outside all winter spreading hay over the snow except for the most ferocious of blizzards.
And just I was thinking all of this through, then it happened, and there it was-the unmistakable and unique smell of freshly cut hay. On a perfect fall Saturday morning, with a bright sun rapidly warming the field such that there was just a bit of vapor rising out of the perfectly laid hayrows, there’s just nothing like the smell of a freshly cut Vermont field.
I’ve found that “the smell of the sale” doesn’t quite work the same. The older sales guys, the guys who’ve been in the game for 30 plus years, the guys who still believe strongly in relationship selling, the old warhorses who sell by gut and instinct will often use words such as “I can smell the sale” referring to their belief (and hope) that they’re close to the close. Maybe that worked “back in the day”, although I don’t believe that it did then either. It was just that the economics of business in general and certainly the economy were sharply different than today, and, in that environment “relationships” therefore meant much more than they do today in the world of buyers and sellers. It's neither good or bad, it is what it is, and it needs to be approached and sold to differently than before.
The case today is that the profession of selling is heavily defined by the success of value propositions, ROI calculators, rapidly expanding technology platforms and integrated apps, and an environment where attention to formal processes, trigger points and tools can mean a 30% increase in sales productivity within a year.
As we all work through the next 53 (that’s being generous considering the holiday impact of December) days of the rest of the quarter, my suggestion is you don’t rely on smell, gut, hope, guessing or anything else that isn’t rock hard, measurable and a formal step in your sales process. Even with only 53 days, there's still plenty of time for very detailed, take-them-apart-step-by-step account plan reviews next week that will prove to you one way or another whether your sense of smell is real or not.
As you think about your longer term planning ideas for 2012, you may want to attend our upcoming Sales Management Boot Camp being held April 1st-April 3rd at the MIT Endicott House just outside of Boston. We just finished our fall program, which was an exciting sold out success. We already have 1/3 of our April program signed up, so if you are at all interested, just click on HERE to listen to an overview, or just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org , and I can walk you through the details in 10 minutes.
Derby Management, Box 171322, Boston MA 02117