Fifteen years ago we were working with a client in the industrial automation industry. They were struggling with sales- albeit during the mid-90’s and a robust economy. Our client’s executive sales team told us they had one major problem with their sales team: they didn’t know how to close a deal. We identified their problem: Their hiring criteria were based entirely on hiring people with technical knowledge and industry sales experience. Since the entire industry focused on hiring engineers, industry sales experience was achieved by hiring someone that did a good job interviewing or was “liked” by the interviewee (whatever criteria the interviewee uses to “like” someone). No vetting on sales skills in the interview process. Consequently, while the automation industry as a whole had a lot of salespeople with good technical knowledge that could expound ad nauseam on their product’s technical capabilities, it suffered a severe shortage of closers.
But what is a closer? Where do you find them?
A few weeks ago I had the privilege to lunch with one of our client’s aspiring sales executives. The reason I say aspiring is I believe her management has failed to recognize the full breadth of her talent. She did not have “sales experience”- she came from another department within the company. They brought her in to manage a new sales and marketing development project. Watching this project unfold, I came to one conclusion: She gets stuff done where others in the department have either failed or come up considerably shorter in performance. That, to me is the sign of a closer.
Back to our lunch- and this is where the story gets rich. As we talked, she told me about her newspaper route she had when she was a kid. Three things here: One, this paper route job was in the mid 80’s. Paper routes were already well on their way to extinction by then. Two, a female on a paper route is not the norm. Three, she was nine years old. What nine year old do you know of now (or even back in the 80’s) wanted a job???
It gets better. First, there were the objections. The newspaper had a specific policy that they didn’t hire paperboys/ girls until they were ten years old. She sold her case that her birthday was within the employment year and got permission from her parents to take the job.
Once she started her job, her selling skills really kicked in. She noticed on her route that this one apartment building with sixty apartments, but only two paper customers. She knocked on a door and asked someone why they weren’t taking the paper. The response was: “Because the paper boy leaves them in the downstairs lobby of the apartment building and I have to go down three flights of stairs to get it. I don’t want to do that. I want it delivered to my door.” She then set the hook: “I’m the new papergirl for this area. If I bring the paper to your door, will you take a subscription?” She sold over fifty new subscriptions to that one building.
And it gets better. At that time, the newspaper was running a sales incentive program- they would give a paperboy/ girl a new bike for every fifteen new customers brought in. She brought in over 60 new customers- four bikes worth. She kept one, gave one to her mom, and sold the other two.
Looking for a closer? Talk to people sometime and find out where they’ve been and what they’ve done besides getting some degree in college.