Woodworkers, in particular those who come to the craft for love of it, are generally reluctant salespeople. Enthused though they may be about the work they do — even to the point of describing their projects in yawn-provoking detail to friends and family — many would rather run for the table saw than actually try to sell a prospective customer on their abilities.
Part of it, maybe the biggest part, is fear of rejection, and sales is nothing if not nearly constant rejection. You can do a lot to reduce the number of rejections by knowing your market. But even then, there will always be somebody who will offer a better deal than you, or at least what looks like one. So getting used to taking “no” for an answer will always go hand-in-hand with selling, no matter what your product may be.
There really are no good and bad salespeople, just those who haven’t learned this lesson — or refuse to.
But let’s say you have overcome your fear of rejection. You make the calls, you have work, things are generally good, but there’s that one customer you just know you could do a better job for, and he won’t even give you the time of day. You leave messages. You send e-mails. You drop off cards and brochures. Nothing. What then?
For starters, be sure you are barking up the right tree. This may seem a basic part of qualifying a prospective customer, but when faced with constant ignorance in the form of unreturned calls, e-mails and unacknowledged visits, I like to start back at the beginning and confirm that I am pursuing the right person.
That is because, sadly, the business world is full of two types of people: those who like to pretend they can make buying decisions but really can’t (also known as Power Freaks), and those who lack common courtesy (a.k.a., Jerks).
If the person you are trying to reach falls into either of those categories, you are definitely barking up the wrong tree. But how can you tell, and what can you do about it? Let’s take the second type first.
When you have a long string of unreturned phone messages, e-mails, etc., there are only two possible reasons: (1) the person is no longer with the company (or is on extended leave), which happens, or (2) he or she lacks common courtesy, making him or her, say it with me, “a Jerk.”
So, you need to find out what’s going on. That is easy enough. Begin by calling the main number. Identify yourself to whomever answers and graciously enlist his or her help. “I’ve been trying to reach so-and-so for three months, but I always get his voicemail. Is he still with the company?”
If they answer “yes,” say, “Well, maybe you can help me out. I’ve left him several messages, but he never calls me back, so I’m thinking maybe I’m pursuing the wrong guy.” Then briefly describe what your company does and ask if there is someone else you should be chasing down.
If not, you have two choices: Move on to potentially greener pastures or stay the course. Advice for those masochists choosing the latter option is coming up shortly.
Meanwhile, some clues that you are dealing with a Power Freak: He is almost unbelievably easy to reach, loooooves to talk, talk, talk and you never get anywhere with him.
Dealing with the Power Freak demands a delicate approach. After all, you can’t just blurt, “Look, buddy, I’m tired of going in circles with you. Who’s in charge around there?”
Actually, you can. You will just do it with a little more subtlety. After all, while you don’t know exactly to whom in the organization he may be related, you do know that he at least has been courteous. So, up the ante: “You know, Jim, I really appreciate your willingness to help me get my foot in the door at XYZ Company. We’re eager to work for you. Who do you think I should talk to next?”
This approach not only satisfies the Power Freak’s desire to feel like he is in control of your destiny, but the phrase “eager to work for you” strokes his illusions of grandeur. The next thing you hear may very well be the name of the person you should have been talking to all along.
If not, keep pushing for it whenever you call, tactfully, until either he caves or you decide your time can be better spent working on other prospects.
Now, if you are among those who opted to keep trying with the Jerk, despite at least 20 good reasons not to, try this:
Write a personal note, and I mean handwritten, saying that you have tried and tried to reach him, he must be a very busy guy, blah blah blah — but you are confident (use that word) that you can provide work that is gorgeous, on budget, on time, whatever your instincts tell you he is after.
Close the note with the day and time you will call to follow up (three days later, max) and say you will need just five minutes of his time, for which you are willing to pay in advance. Sign the note, then attach a five-dollar bill and your business card. Put it all in a plain envelope with only your contact’s name on it, in large, handwritten letters. Then deliver the envelope to his office.
Call when you said you would. Tell whomever answers (or your contact’s voicemail) that you left some information for him the other day and are calling to review it, as promised.
Give your name, and if he hasn’t called back within half an hour, call yourself to confirm he is there. (Even Jerks have meetings and emergencies.)
Assuming you are rebuffed again, file this prospective customer’s contact information appropriately: In the trash can. You are finally free to get on with your life. Best of all, discovering the depth of this Jerk’s idiocy only cost you five bucks.
Anthony Noel has written for the magazine since 1994. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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