Article and photo by Michael Pearce
On a visit to southern France recently, I walked to and across the Pont du Gard. It’s a
phenomenal engineering feat built by the Romans around 19 BC that delivered an
estimated 52 million gallons of water to Nîmes every day. And it successfully did so until the
1950’s! As I walked across and thought about its astounding durability I was reminded that,
while we need to innovate and change our sales approach as technology and culture demands, there are still some fundamental “laws of sales” that, like the Pont Du Gard, have stood the test of time.
A Bit of Interesting History
The aqueduct was built to channel water from the springs of the Fontaine d'Eure near Uzès to the castellum divisorum (a holding basin) in Nîmes. From there, it was distributed to fountains,baths and private homes around the city. The straight-line distance is only about 12 miles but the aqueduct takes a 31 mile winding route.
The Fontaine d'Eure, at 249 ft. above sea level, is only 56 ft. higher than the basin in Nîmes, but this provided a sufficient gradient to sustain a steady flow of water to the 50,000 inhabitants of the Roman city. The aqueduct's average gradient varies widely along its course, but is as little as 1 in 20,000 in some sections.
The reason for the disparity in gradients is that a uniform gradient would have meant that the Pont du Gard would have been unfeasibly high, given the limitations of technology of the time. One section, required an extraordinary degree of accuracy to allow for a fall of only ¼
of an inch in 330 ft.
The Pont du Gard was constructed largely without the use of mortar or clamps. It contains an estimated 50,400 tons of limestone extracted from a quarry located approximately 2,300 ft. downstream. The builders had the blocks precisely cut, numbered and inscribed with specific locations to fit perfectly together by friction alone.
The aqueduct is credited to Augustus’ son-in-law, Marcus Agrippa, the senior magistrate
responsible for the water supply of Rome and its colonies. It is believed to have taken 800 to 1,000 workers about fifteen years to build.
How does that connect to sales you ask? The sales laws that follow are every bit as durable as
this extraordinary engineering feat. They deserve to be regularly reviewed. Consider it performing necessary maintenance!
• The sale is “closed” when it can be referenced!
The times have imposed another change on us. While referrals have always been important, it has traditionally been a more one on one personal issue, but now referrals and references are a matter of public knowledge. It’s rather like throwing a rock in a pool. In the past, the rock just sank, now the ripple effect goes on for a long, long time. Social media has given everyone the ability to seek a “reference” and they do! The truly great know that receiving a purchase order isn’t the end of the sale, it’s merely the beginning. But too many believe the sale is official when the service/product has been delivered. That is still a bit pre-mature to celebrate. The sale that matters most is the sale that meets the customer’s requirements in a way that results in a referencable customer. References matter for more than just future
business and general favorable awareness, they also shorten the sales cycle, which is a
critical element in todays need for high performance and effectiveness. It is said that
80% of all commercial sales occur after the 5th contact. A meaningful reference can cut the time and sales expense by nearly 40%! Consider that 76% of all people who get a good personal reference buy.
• Don’t misinterpret “the customer is always right.” The customer is right
about his desires, perhaps even his requirements. But too often they really don’t know what they don’t know. The skilled and effective sales person knows and accepts that they have
come to have their salesperson add value to their purchase decision. An example is a
woman at a cosmetics counter - they’ve been applying their cosmetics for years, they
know exactly how they want to look, yet they ask question after question at the counter.
Why? Because the cosmetic sales person is experienced and trained with the latest
products and may have good ideas and greater knowledge. Customers want to be
educated. They want to be shown a better way and have their needs/requirements
refined to take advantage of current products/services and methods. They don’t want to
make a mistake and be “sold” what they asked for, when they could have done better
with some expert input and guidance. They need their sales people to listen, interpret
their comments, then offer a solution that adds value to the transaction. The truly skilled
salespeople know and practice this in every sale.
• Respect the buyer’s process
. Truly successful sales people know they have a superior ability to “take the customer out of the market.” In other words, they know that they have been successful in establishing the trust-bond, and in matching their services/products well with customer’s requirements, so that when the customer buys, they know the customer will buy from them. They accept that they cannot and should not try to materially alter the buyer’s process, for doing so will violate the trust-bond, and likely result in sacrificing margin. Far too often, those in desperate need to meet a quota deadline will offer a concession to win a deal earlier than the customer was prepared to authorize. In many cases the incentive comes in the form of a price reduction. “If I could get a lower price, would you order this month?” It’s a lose/lose question:
o The trust-bond has been broken. The customer now knows he didn’t get the best his sales person could have offered.
o The sales person has sacrificed margin, making the transaction and his company less profitable.
o The customer must do abnormal things to make the sale happen, which he’ll
resent, but more importantly, he’ll learn from the experience and know exactly
how and when to buy in the future, reducing the value of all future sales as well!
It is much better to manage the pipeline better, spend more time developing prospects
and less time chasing deals that really aren't qualified deals. Developing enough
opportunities in the sales funnel insures the requisite number will materialize, without
adversely impacting the normal and natural course of events with any single customer.
benefits of any product or service. People buy from people they trust and sales people who add value to the relationship. Notice I didn’t say a person they like, which is important too, but less so than the trust bond. Too many organizations teach their sales people all about the features and benefits of their products/services, but they fail to focus in either their coaching or their measurement standards on this key element of truth—the trust bond matters!
• Form, Feel and Fee.
When people buy, they emotionally rate these three areas every time they purchase. Violating any one of them can often be the reason for a lost sale:
Form: “Does it meet or exceed my requirements; has he listened to me and designed a solution that works for us?”
Feel “Does this feel like a person and an organization I’d like to do business with, and do I believe they will deliver as promised?”
Fee “Is it a fair price and within my ability to pay it?”
• Be wary of the “yes” that isn’t an order.
The great sales people over time have realized they must learn to be discerning enough to know when they haven't yet successfully matched their services/products with the customers’ requirements. Too often the customer is unable to “just say no,” so we continue to call on them hoping for a miraculous conversion. And they do occur! But the cost of the sale is nearly always too expensive, especially when you factor in the cost of lost opportunity. Other potential sales may have gone to competitors uncontested, as there was no time available to develop them. Customers can recognize the “yes” that comes from following the path of least resistance versus the path of a disciplined methodology. When the sales manager asks if an account closed and was the order placed, and the answer is, “not yet, but they said they’d like to meet again” we’ve potentially allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of
the “easiest yes.” This can be avoided by setting goals and objectives for each customer
contact that will advance the sale. It may not always go as hoped or expected, but at least
it will be a planned sales call with a defined objective against which we can measure the
success of the call. Avoid the “yes” that does not mean you’ve won the sale, but does
impose additional expensive time, effort and sales cost.
Additional articles can be found on my website at www.focusedonrevenue.com or my
blog at: http://michaelbpearce.blogspot.com/
If I can serve you or answer any questions, I can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org; or on 425-830-4156