The founders of R600 million business The Creative Counsel, Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved, have a saying: No is not the end of a negotiation. It’s the beginning of one.
It’s a lesson they learnt during their early days when they still had to cold call clients, and were struggling to get a foot in the door.
“I kept a spreadsheet to record each call and interaction with the person. Most of the time I got to speak to the PAs of marketing directors, who I’d targeted as a more promising prospect than brand managers,” explains Oved, who admits that he absolutely hated cold calling, but knew it was necessary for the business.
“I learnt very quickly how to be warm and likeable over the phone in 20 seconds, and I’d try to find out anything I could about the person I was talking to. Things like their birthday or their family, so when I next called them the call would be more personal. In the end they’d feel sorry for me and schedule a meeting.”
“We learnt two things from that experience,” says Neu-Ner.
“Firstly, PAs are immensely powerful people, so build a relationship with them. And secondly, never, ever, ever give up. If someone tells you that they don’t meet with suppliers, call back. And call back again. And again after that. Break down the door if you have to. And if you can’t, break down their resistance until they’re dying for an opportunity to see you just so they can tell you to go away. Often, what separates people who succeed from those who fail is the willingness and ability to overcome whatever hurdle is placed in their way.”
Once you actually have a foot in the door, Internet Solutions’ founder, Ronnie Apteker, suggests keeping the communication channels with your client open if you want to close a deal.
“If you’re waiting to close a deal and it’s not happening, then one way to find out what the problem is, is to ask the customer ‘What do we need to do to get your business?’” he advises.
The key to this question is what follows next though. “You need to also offer that prospective customer a set of answers, like a multiple choice exam,” he says.
“There are a bunch of reasons there could be a hold up. Perhaps they can’t afford the service. Or perhaps their budget cycle is six months away and they can only commit the funds then. Or perhaps the guy you are selling to needs to get sign off from the board.
“There are a bunch of common reasons that generally strike a chord when trying to close a deal, and if you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know what the hold-up really is, or be able to help the prospective client overcome it.”
Listening to what your customer says
“Sales is about listening,” agrees Allan Hirsch, founder of Hirsch’s. “Ask questions and listen to the answers a customer gives you,” he says.
“They’ll tell you what they want and if they don’t know, the right kinds of questions will help them decide. Product knowledge is absolutely essential – every morning our sales people get briefed on any new products or price changes and they are expected to take notes.”
Finally, as the business owner you and your senior management are ultimately responsible for sales within the organisation.
“Senior management must micro-manage sales,” says Willem Rood, Outsurance’s founder. “I still ran daily sales reports once the business had grown into a major market player.”