Albert Einstein’s famous “Theory of Relativity” (e = mc2) is as familiar to many millions of people as a popular modern commercial limerick for a soft drink or a jingle for a candy bar. Even though very few amongst these millions actually understand the scientific premise of the “Theory of Relativity”: people innately understand its import and relate it to its brilliant creator, the wild haired genius Albert Einstein. The famous equation is to energy, as H2O is to water. It has been seared into the collective mind of contemporary culture in even the most the most scientifically challenged people.
There is a similar equation that is as relevant, contemporary and important as it relates to the fading art and skill of selling: “ABC = Always Be Closing”! The age of instant communication, computers, teleconferencing and electronic product submissions has caused the most important business skill ever employed to generate commerce to erode in spectacular fashion. The art of selling is dying. The ability to find, cultivate, qualify and close a sales transaction is being sacrificed on the altar of impersonal contact and fill-in-the-blank approaches.
Modernists might argue, “so what if sales is a dying art, look at the consistent growth of the economy, new companies, outsourcing and emerging markets. Modern technology has facilitated this growth in a spectacular fashion”. I agree. Technology is wonderful. The ability to call anywhere in the world on a cell phone, receive e-mails 24 hours per day and FedEx documents overnight is a huge advance in efficiency and productivity.
However, if sales skills, particular the art of closing the sale, were being honed, polished and continually perfected in every organization, no matter the size, how much more commerce would be generated? The aged axiom, “nothing happens in any business until someone sells something” is as true today as it has ever been. The mating of modern technology with the application of the time-tested art of closing sales is a prescription for even more amazing economic growth and enrichment for every area of our society.
There are many excellent, successful, very rich automobile and real estate sales people. However, a visit to most auto dealers, or a house tour with the median real estate agent is all too often an exercise in frustration and an amazing window into the current poor state of the art of sales. The ability to ask questions, listen to answers, identify customer needs and supply answers to their needs is rarely exhibited. Sales people want to teach and tell before learning what the customer wants to be taught and told.
Sales people are not alone in needing to perfect selling skills. No matter what direction your career path takes you will be selling. The design engineer at an automobile company is selling his creative vision, designs and art to his supervisors and the managers that will decide whether his art makes it to showroom floors as auto product. He is competing for a finite amount of production capacity, marketing and funding money with other designers. Lee Iacocca, Harley Earl, John deLorean and Henry Ford were not just “car guys”: they were Salesmen!
Steve Jobs has launched Apple Computer twice. Once as a startup company, and in a phenomenal second act, he has resurrected the company he founded after it was left for dead a decade ago. How has he done it? Excellent product? Sure. Flair? Absolutely. But most importantly, as the face of Apple, he is always selling his brand.
In every local media market in the United States there is a businessman who becomes the face of their company, product or brand and is bombarding the public with sales messages. Often these businesses become regional and occasionally national in scope. The important point to remember is that they all started small and local. The owner, founder, or spokesperson has been able to cut through market clutter and succeed because he could identify customer needs, address those needs and sell the consumer that his product had unique benefits for them. Frank Perdue, the “King of Chicken” started locally and became the face of his nationally successful company. Californians will remember the clever auto dealer Cal Worthington. Mr. Worthington parlayed his animal-centric commercials, using dogs, lions and elephants into storied guest spots on the Tonight Show.
“Always Be Closing” is a mantra worn with pride by every successful business and sales person I have every known. From the initial contact with even the most disinterested possible client, to the actual closing of the sale, successful people are looking for ways to help fill an identified need. This is not about a hard sell. It is about providing a real benefit that the customer realizes will offer excellent value for money.
It feels great to close a sale. It is especially rewarding when you have provided a good or a service that is needed, valued and appreciated. People do not like to be sold. They like to purchase when they see how a product will benefit them. ABC is crucial in learning the REAL, not perceived or stated, needs of the client. Every question asked, every answer listened to, qualifying question offered and detail provided about a product or service is key to laying the groundwork for a successful transaction.
A key part of any application of ABC is the “discovery”. The “discovery” is so elemental, so crucial to fulfilling customer needs that any lack of attention to the discovery process is almost always the reason for failure. “Discovery” must be practiced, it is not easily taught, and certainly not taught in a formulaic process. Establishing rapport, conversational, relaxed, learning about the prospect is the door that must be entered before ever discussing the product on offer. Listening during a good “discovery” will provide endless morsels of information that can be utilized to provide the correct product to fit client needs.
Whether selling insurance, automobiles or cosmetics, working as a clerk in a bank, a waiter in a restaurant, a travel agent or a park attendant, there are constant opportunities to enhance your career by practicing ABC. The practitioner of this sales commandment will succeed. The practitioner of ABC will also discover that when it is time for the final close, the answer is so obvious to the client, that there is not much deciding required.
Whether we are citing Occam’s Razor, Moore’s Law, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the Lords Commandments, ABC = “Always Be Closing” or any time honored bromide, it is wise to note the simplicity of the interred logic. Adherence to intent of these words is invaluable in enhancing performance whether in science, business, sales or life. ABC will be used daily by most people; it is only a shame that more people do not recognize that fact and strive to perfect its application.
Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.
After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B. A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.
Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (http://www.duquesamarketing.com ) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.