My Greatest Sale: What was my prospect thinking?
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My Greatest Sale: What was my prospect thinking?

Editor’s Note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople made a challenging sale despite price objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. In this Greatest Sale, Paul Cherry, managing partner of Performance Based Results in Wilmington, DE, recounts a sale that still influences how he approaches prospective buyers today.

My Greatest Sale happened many years ago. Yes, it was a big sale, but that’s not what makes it so memorable. I think about it often because it taught me something about the dangers of making assumptions.

A prospect had sent in an inquiry card, asking that we contact him. It was a hot lead, so of course, I called him immediately.

He was out of the office. I left a detailed voice mail, asking him to call me back.

A couple of days later, I hadn’t heard from him. I called him back. And got his voice mail again. A few more days went by with no callback. No real surprise there, of course. He was probably just busy.

My hot lead went cold
On my next call, I didn’t leave a message. I stayed on the phone until I could talk to a live person. After a couple of transfers, I got hold of his administrative assistant.

Who was I with? she asked. No, she wasn’t aware he’d asked us to call him. No, she didn’t know what he might have been interested in. Yes, she’d ask him to give us a call. As you can imagine, nothing came of that attempt either.

Over the next few months, it was more of the same. I lost count of the number of messages I left with the assistant and in voice mail – all with absolutely no response. What was the prospect thinking? Had he lost interest? Found another vendor? Had he decided I was too annoying?

A different approach
I had some notepaper that looked like $100 bills. I took a sheet, wrote a short message on the back, signed my name and added my phone number. Then I crumpled up the note, stuffed it into a 9 x 12 envelope and mailed it, lumps and all, to the prospect.

Gimmicky? Sure. It’s not the kind of thing I’d usually try. But that’s why I did it. It wasn’t about being cute. I just had to do something different.

It worked. “Man, you sure are persistent,” the prospect said when he called. “I like that.” I got an appointment, got the assignment, and got a great long-term client.

So what had he been thinking?
Later, after I got to know my customer better, I asked what had happened with all those messages I’d left. Had I been too annoying? Was that why he’d put me off?

“Not at all,” he said. “I meant to call you back. It’s just that other priorities got in the way. But I really did need your help. When I got your note I decided it was time to act.”

My Greatest Sale taught me two important lessons:

  1. No response doesn’t mean no interest. Until you get feedback from prospects, you really don’t know what they’re thinking. They could be on the verge of saying yes.
  2. If prospects want you to stop, they’ll let you know. My prospect didn’t want me to give up; he simply had his own timetable. And when he was finally ready to move forward, I was the one he called – because I was the one who’d been calling him!

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