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Monday, October 27, 2008

A Dating Approach to Sales

Managing Your Network Increases Your Return on Investment
by Steven Brown

One of the critical lessons for becoming successful in sales is realizing that you must call on the person who can commit to the sized deal you want to close. You have to open a conversation with them, develop rapport, and then ask for the order. This same strategy needs to be considered when networking for business, career, or pleasure.

Enterprise sales executives are masters of the complex sale. They know how to execute corporate level discovery of needs by examining the career aspirations and objective responsibilities of various people. They know how to get introduced to new people they need to meet. Even when those people do not want to meet them. These sales people know their success depends upon the specific skill of discovering the needs of the right people and proposing a business relationship to address those needs.

This same skill is pertinent in job searches. 99% of the people I meet who are looking for a new career opportunity aren't aware of who they need to be meeting, or are befuddled as to how to get to that person. Then, to my amazement, this same high percentage simply don't ask for what they want.

These same issues exist in dating. To illustrate, let's look at a friend who was single when we met. Despite being a successful salesman with a fantastic townhouse, a healthy investment portfolio, and in fantastic physical condition, he was having some trouble with his dating. I have to admit I was quite surprised. Of all the people I knew, this guy seemed to have the social scene down and be able to banter with anyone. I was intrigued by the reasons contributing to a salesman having trouble with dating.

As a creative person I thought I'd offer a systematic approach I use in business to help him solve his problem. When he agreed, we started with open ended fact finding, first defining the goals for closed business. Next, we analyzed the steps in the sales process, and examined the alignment of the value proposition with the desired audience and reviewed the sales approach. Finally, I suggested that he look at the success rates for each of the transition phases in what is called the sales funnel. Within this process sales growth inhibitors are usually quite obvious.

During this process, and to my surprise, I discovered that my friend was actually pretty shy. While he appeared to banter easily, he was actually only interacting with people he already knew ( trying to increase revenue by simply selling more to existing customers ). He had subscriptions on Match.com and was a regular on Craigslist personals, but he wasn't happy with who he was meeting from either effort ( Networking the wrong way, and / or in the wrong places ). His dating problem was that he simply was not prospecting properly. Without an adequate number of introductions ( possibilities ) to potential dates, he was dependent upon unrealistic success rates ( turning opportunities into trial sales ) on his way through the process.

Strategy in hand we began with basic metrics - in this case his dating ( business ) goals. I won't be explicit, but let's just say he wanted to achieve what every successful, attractive man wants to achieve when he's not feeling like he's dating well ( he wants more sales ). He wanted to date a lot ( increase opportunities ). We defined his goals in terms of how many women he wanted to meet ( possible sales ) and how often he wanted to meet new possibilities ( deal flow ). This approach may sound strangely male oriented, but the tables can certainly be turned should my friend have been a woman. Only the prospecting, sales approaches, and offering would have been changed.

By identifying conservative success rates for each step in the sales funnel, we determine how many client prospects were needed. In my friend's case we decided that he needed to say "Hi" to 5 new women every day. All he had to do was say "Hi", and the normal processes ( discovery ) and the odds of personality alignment ( rapport building ) would take care of themselves. He would in effect increase his discovery rate, and make offers from there. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised with the results he produced.

Today, the good news is he's happily dating one special woman. I'm very happy for him and like her immensely. I've been told I should be a dating coach, or write a book on dating. That feels a bit smarmy to me. But I have to admit the parallels of the dating process and the sales process can be a powerful parallel as these steps do apply. And the analogy can be an insightful one that might not be obvious to small, medium business owners stuck in a rut about increasing sales.

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