A Fresh Pair of Eyes

Gene Wilder       Back when I was a sales manager for a major metropolitan radio station, a rookie salesperson asked me one day to come on a call with him. “I feel like this client is really close,” he said, “but I’m not sure what to do next.” Of course I said I would go.

A few days later we met with the prospective client. It was clear to me that my sales rep had done a good job — there had been several face to face meetings during which the client’s budget and goals had been clearly determined. The rep had prepared and presented a workable radio schedule. My sales rep and the client went over all this stuff while I sat there mostly listening and nodding a lot. All the pieces were in place. The presentation concluded with smiles and words of agreement.

Then…nothing. For an awkward minute no one spoke. And in a flash of managerial brilliance it struck me: the sales rep had done everything except to ask for the order! So I cleared my throat managerially and said to the client, “Um, well, Karen, it sounds like this plan will work well for you. Would you like to start next Monday?” She beamed (with relief, I suspect) and said, “Sure, that would be great!” Sale closed, contract signed. We all smiled and shook hands and left the office.

In the car on the way back to the radio station the account rep thanked me profusely and sang my praises. I was brilliant! I was insightful! But no, I thought to myself…all I really brought to the table was a fresh pair of eyes. I was able to see something that was painfully obvious where my sales rep could not. The sale was 100% ready to close — all that was needed was the slightest nudge. Someone had to do the obvious and ask for the order.

Thinking back on that episode causes me to wonder: are there relationships I’m managing now where I can’t see the obvious? Are there donors who haven’t given simply because I haven’t asked? Maybe I need a fresh pair of eyes to help me see how to move those relationships forward. I know there are people in my worklife who would do that for me, just as I would for them. And I suspect that in no time at all I could come up with a list of several “stalled” relationships where some new insight would be in order.

Perhaps it’s time for me to overcome my hesitation, swallow my pride, and let someone else help me see more clearly with a fresh pair of eyes.


Too Nice to Decide

Indecisive       Do you have a prospect who is too nice to make a decision?

Sometimes the people we find most enjoyable to deal with can be the most frustrating — that is, if we’re trying to get them to make a decision. Those of us in fundraising and in sales know this experience well. We establish a wonderful, warm relationship with a prospect. We build rapport over time. We gain trust. They seem to look forward to our calls or visits. Eventually we earn the right to ask for the order, or the gift, so we ask. And in return for all our work, we get — indecision. Vacillation. The sound of crickets.

The problem is, some of our most warm-hearted, most relational prospects seem to have a terrible time making a decision!

Why does this phenomenon happen? Why do some of the nicest people we deal with turn out to be the most indecisive? Seems to me there are a couple of common reasons. Maybe we haven’t given them enough information. Maybe we haven’t given them enough time. Or maybe — just maybe — they don’t want to hurt our feelings.

Whatever the reason, when this happens, you and I are in a bit of a dilemma. Push too hard for the order or the gift and we run the risk of alienating the prospect. But if we tread too lightly in the interest of maintaining the relationship, we remain in a state of indecision and paralysis. If we’re intent on closing the sale or getting the gift, it’s incumbent on us to figure out what’s going on. The best way to do that, as we know, is to ask.

Maybe our obvious first question could be a simple one: “Have I given you enough information?” Chances are we have, but it’s good to double check. Pinning down any missing data might help us get the conversation off dead center.

The second question, about whether they need more time, is trickier. If we ask, “Have I given you enough time?” they may say “No” just to keep on delaying. It’s probably better to pin down a specific time when we can ask again. We might say, “Will there be a better time soon when we can talk about this again?” Or “I understand if you’re not sure right now. How about if we talk about this again next Tuesday?” Our goal is closure, and this might help.

But I’ll bet you a dollar (just a figure of speech…) that the real problem with the indecisive prospect is quite likely that they don’t want to hurt our feelings by turning down our proposal. If we suspect that’s what’s going on, we can make it easier for them to be honest with us. If the trust level in the relationship is as high as we think it is, it should be fairly simple for us to have an honest conversation that can put them at ease. Let them know they can be straightforward with us. Let them know we appreciate the relationship very much.  And let them know that it’s okay if the answer is “No” or if our proposal was somehow off target. Hopefully our honesty will defuse the tension our relational prospect is feeling and open the door to continued conversation, and maybe a positive decision down the line.

Note to self: when I have a highly relational prospect who can’t make a decision, I owe them the gift of honesty. They’ll thank me for it — and we’ll keep the relationship alive and productive. Maybe they just like me too much to say “No!”

“I Almost Got Him to a ‘Maybe.'”

Some years ago a friend of mine was sales manager for a radio station back east. One day one of his newer sales reps came back to the office all excited.

“How did the call go?” my friend asked.

“Great! Just great!” replied the young rep enthusiastically. “I made the presentation and played the spec tape and he really liked it.”

“Well,” said my friend, “did you ask for the order?”

“Yep,” replied the sales rep, beaming proudly. “And I almost got him to a ‘Maybe.'”

Having been in both sales and fundraising I can understand the young man’s excitement. To the untrained ear, “maybe” sounds so much better than “no.” And since he was a rookie sales rep his naivete can be forgiven. However (and I’m saying this to myself) one of the characteristics of a strong salesperson or a strong fundraiser is thick-skinned self-appraisal coupled with clear-eyed realism. If you ask for the order, or for the donation, and the best you can say is “I almost got him to a ‘Maybe,'” I’m afraid you’re farther from success with that prospect than you think!

My friend the sales manager gently but firmly informed his eager young protege that an “almost maybe” is a long, long way from “yes.” And I’m sure the sales rep’s enthusiasm dimmed somewhat. But he learned what all of us in sales and fundraising have had to learn: that while “yes” is best, a clear-cut “no” is typically preferable to a wishy-washy “maybe.” After all, when the prospect is completely non-committal, what’s the next step? You don’t have one.

So like we said a few posts ago, always close for something — even if the answer is “no.”

Always Close for Something!

True confession time: I used to be a Professional Visitor. Or at least I felt like one.

Oh, I thought I was an account executive for a major metropolitan radio station, but more times than not it was as if I was really getting paid just to visit. I recall too many episodes spending time with certain prospective accounts, sitting in their offices exchanging pleasantries over coffee for an hour or so, only to walk away with absolutely no clue what was supposed to happen next. My Sales Manager, Mac, would ask me how the meeting went. “Great,” I would say, “I was with him for an hour!” “So,” Mac would ask, “what’s your follow-up strategy? When is the next buy up? What’s the next step with this guy?”

“Um…” I would answer, staring at my shoes. I had no clue. The client and I had talked about everything except the real reason I was there! Finally after one too many of these frustrating conversations, Mac blew a cloud of cigarette smoke my way and said to me in exasperation, “Remember — always close for something!”

Now I’m a fundraiser, but Mac’s advice still resonates. Always close for something. What could that something be? Well, a gift, obviously — but if it’s not time for that, how about closing for the next appointment? Closing for a follow-up call? Closing for a site visit? Closing for a written proposal? Closing for some information? Even closing for the next time you plan to call and say hello? Clearly we fundraisers value our relationships with our donors, but it seems to me we should always be moving those relationship gently and appropriately toward that next gift, that larger commitment, that new initiative. It’s why we’re here. I shouldn’t have that deer-in-the-headlights stare when my boss asks me what’s my next step with a significant donor.

Mac said it more than 30 years ago: “Always close for something.” Thanks, Mac — good advice that still applies!