Imagine speeding down the straightaway in a racecar heading for the wall. You know you have to turn left at some point but when? At 200 mph, it turns out that you and me will start that turn 750 yards from the wall, assuming we find ourselves in that situation. And aren’t we pretty good drivers? We can feel when it’s safe, right? When folks like us get behind the wheel of a racecar (a rare event for sure and not short of challenges), it turns out, we consistently start the turn at about that point. A professional racer, on the other hand, waits, to move the apex of that turn further along the corner, so he or she can punch it into the next straightaway with maximum speed and efficiency. Of course there are braking and throttle skills at work as well, but I'm more interested in the timing.
I confess I’m too afraid to try this myself so I learned about it from a former professional NASCAR driver turned businessman. He said that he would start the turn closer to 250 yards. When common folk like me sit next to him for a spin, he said, many end up wetting themselves with fright. No joke. At that range, without understanding what the car can really do, we’re convinced we’re going to hit the wall. We turn too early. We believe there is no other option, for certain death awaits us with any further delay to make that turn. But if we make the turn when we think it feels right, we will surely lose the race.
What does this have to do with sales? Think for a moment about closing an opportunity. What is the difference between a typical salesperson, comprising 74% of all salespeople, and one of the elite 6% who can hunt and close and don’t have too many personal weaknesses getting in their way?
- Typical salespeople go for the close too early. They panic, afraid they'll hit the wall.
- The elite will wait for the right moment, further along the selling track.
- The bigger the deal, the more anxious the rest of us are to move things along. We're afraid we'll lose the deal.
- When home plate looks a little too fuzzy, the elite recognize it as a mirage and back things up a bit.
When typical salespeople ride shotgun with elites and watch them wait with patience through awkward silences, they wet themselves. I think this has actually happened. So might there be other times in the sales process that experience and knowledge will demand extra patience and thought?
- When you get the call from someone who says they did their research, know what they need, and are ready to buy, what do you do? If you give them a price, what besides price will be your differentiation?
- When someone you just called says they want to see a demo and find out what you can do for them, what do you do? If you show them a demo and tell them what you can do for them, how will you find out what they really need? What do you have left to trade for that information?
- When someone says they are gathering information for the boss and need a proposal from you by Thursday, what do you do? If you give them a proposal by Thursday, aren’t you just one line on their Excel spreadsheet?
Usually, we need to back up to move forward, to slow down to speed up, and to go deeper to go further. If we’re really paying attention, sometimes we can’t even start the sales process until we understand the organizational issues of the buyer. We may need to simply ask them. “Are you ready for the changes we might bring? Who is clinging to the older version? What happens if they get upset at the 11th hour? Who else cares about this? Why is it important? What if it doesn’t happen?”
Are you comfortable asking these questions? Who on your sales team moves too quickly, believes they have a deal about to close, and finds themselves chasing a prospect who’s gone into hiding? Who has the ability to walk a prospect back in the process to ask enough good questions to learn when to time the close appropriately?
I asked my racecar-driving business friend how the drivers could be so fearless. He said they weren’t fearless. They just appeared that way. They know exactly what they are doing. Elite salespeople appear fearless too. They use tough questioning, herculean patience, and controlled silence to create closing opportunities that actually close. Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization, see how your team stacks up against these elites, and find out what needs to happen to get your whole team revved up to take your business to the checkered flag.Image credit: actionsports / 123RF Stock Photo