A Sales Formula That's Pure Magic

There's no strategy for success that omits the two most vital ingredients of them all: sound planning and hard work

By Michelle Nichols

It's January, folks are surveying their swollen silhouettes after all the overindulgence of the holiday season, and late-night TV is responding with a fresh crop of those crazy weight-loss ads. My favorite claims that, if I call a 1-800 number and buy some magic pills, I'll be able to continue eating anything and everything I fancy while those excess pounds simply melt away as I sleep.

Yes, it's ridiculous -- but it's not just desperate dieters who put their misplaced faith in magic. Some salespeople also believe that customers will call them up and order -- abundantly and at full price, no less -- without the investment of any real thought and effort.

Unfortunately, there are no enchanted potions that will make products sell themselves. The closest you can come is a simple, two-part prescription, one that could have a magic effect on the number of deals you close. The first ingredient is a good sales plan. The second, terrific execution. Just as sensible eating habits and exercise are the cornerstones of any successful weight-loss program, adopting and implementing a good sales plan is key to achieving sales goals.


  First, don't over-think and under-do. By all means put a lot of mental effort into your sales strategy, but don't devote so much that you run short of the time and energy needed to put it into action. Once you get out and start selling, the reactions of prospective customers will refine your basic plan. Either they'll buy, which means the plan works, or they won't, which means modifications are in order. Until you've actually taken your act on the road, that vital customer feedback will always be the missing ingredient.

The big question is how to develop both a good plan and a great execution? Let me tackle those elements one at a time.

Start by analyzing your present selling plan. I remember reading a quote from Anthony M. Frank, who became, in 1988, the fifth person in six years to head the problem-plagued U.S. Postal Service. "If it's neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, what the devil is wrong with this place?" he asked. The same goes for selling. If your current plan isn't getting you to your monthly sales goals, you need a new one.

My favorite definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while continuing to expect a different result. If you keep using last year's selling strategy, you're going to repeat last year's results. If that's not what you want, go back to the drawing board.


  There are several components to a good plan, and one of the most important is the ability to accurately target prospects. Funnyman Bill Cosby once said: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." Believe me, the same goes for selling. If you want to fail, try selling to everyone you meet. A much better approach is to develop a hunter's mentality that recognizes the specific openings and opportunities likely to increase the chance of success. One way of doing this is to identify the buying characteristics of a prime customer and then identify others who share the same profile.

Targeting your prime potential customers will also achieve better results when seeking referrals. Simply asking prospects and clients if they know anyone else who might need what you're selling is a vague approach that will almost always produce vague responses. If you can clearly describe the type of person you'd like to be introduced to, you'll get specific referrals -- and more of them, too. Infamous bandit Willie Hutton put it this way when asked why he kept robbing banks: "Because that's where the money is." As salespeople, when we target our customers, we should also go where the money is (and unlike Willie, we can do so without spending most of our adult lives behind bars!).

Now, let's tackle execution. Successful selling takes plenty of hard work. There is simply no substitute for lots of calls and face time with qualified prospects. Successful execution includes more than hard work, however -- it also demands top-notch selling skills, as Aristotle knew. "The fool tells me his reasons," said the philosopher, "the wise man persuades me with my own." Can you say that you have honed your selling skills to a sharpness that sees your customers persuade themselves? If not, now is the time to review those skills and update then. There are seminars on the subject, and plenty of reading material, too -- including a collection of personal favorites, which you'll find listed at my Web site.


  If you improve your selling skills and make just one more sales call per day, it will multiply your results. Add intense desire to practiced presentations and you'll definitely have terrific execution. In his inspiring poem, The Will to Win, Berton Braley describes the essential mindset:

If you'll simply go after that thing that you want.

With all your capacity,

Strength and sagacity,

Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,

If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,

Nor sickness nor pain

Of body or brain

Can turn you away from the thing that you want,

If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,

You'll get it!

No matter how you do with those New Year's resolutions to lose weight, the goal of increasing sales is one best achieved by planning first, then taking action. Don't put it off, start today, because there is a lot of hard work ahead. As 60 Minutes' resident curmudgeon Andy Rooney bserved: "Patience is a virtue. Impatience is a virtue too." Happy selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston, Tex. She welcomes your questions and comments. You can visit her web site at www.savvyselling.biz or contact her at michelle.nichols@savvyselling.biz