the long game

We all learn lesson throughout our working lives. Some are good lessons, some are a little painful. Some of those lessons we remember, some we forget. Hopefully, we learn to apply the good lessons as frequently as possible and not repeat those painful ones too often.

One of those lessons I learned a long time ago, was to play the long game when it comes to sales. So, what do I mean when I say, “the long game”? The long game means understanding that actions today may pay off at some future point with unknown timing.

The long game is understanding that people are different. Whereas some people need to buy immediately, others prefer to do preliminary research before buying. On the other hand, some customers have existing relationships or inventory that precludes them making any immediate changes but are now entertaining other suppliers.

Never know which ones

A lot of people think of sales as a one-hit wonder, whereby if someone doesn’t buy immediately, they are dismissed, and you simply move on to the next prospect. To be fair, some industries have created this environment. What is far worse, is that many individual salespeople operate this way regardless of their industry and think this is perfectly acceptable. Their attitude is, if you’re not buying, you’re simply wasting their time.

Fortunately, professional salespeople don’t work that way. They know the value of playing the long game. They’re focused on building relationships. They are patient and provide whatever information the prospect requires, all the while knowing many of these prospects will never convert to a sale. As frustrating as that can be, they also know that quite a few will eventually turn into clients. Unfortunately, they never know which ones.

So, the lesson I learned, was when I first started out in sales after leaving my career as a truck driver. Needless to say, I had very little sales training, but I had good instincts and had availed myself to every sales book I could get my hands in order to become proficient.

I decided this wasn’t for me

The job was selling flexible packaging, which was a fancy word for plastic bags, the majority of which were custom printed. I had no territory or existing accounts and was free to travel within reason to generate business. My prospect list covered everything from boutiques, chain stores, manufacturing and agriculture. Pretty much anyone who used plastic bags. This was a volume business because the set up costs for custom printing was high and therefore had to be amortized over thousands of units.

Because of the sheer number of bags companies had to order became quite an obstacle. Regardless if our quality was better or price was cheaper, I constantly faced this existing inventory issue. Although I kept both my spirits and head up, it eventually started to take its toll. Even though I managed to get a few orders here and there, this lack of success, eventually got the best of me and after a full year, I decided this wasn’t for me.

Funny thing is, I wasn’t on commission and I wasn’t being pressured by the owner of the company to up my performance, other than the occasional enquiry of my plans for the day. So, I probably could have stuck it out for a while longer. But alas, I decided to leave.

When I handed in my resignation, I remember getting berated by the owner over how much he had invested in me. I couldn’t disagree, as he had been more than generous, in supplying a car and all expenses along with a decent salary. Suffice to say he was none to happy. But I just wasn’t able to generate many sales and I was getting into quite a funk over it.

Then a funny thing happened

Over the next few months, I kept hearing through the grapevine how disappointed he was in me.  Little did he know I was also a little discouraged with this sales career I had chosen. Then a funny thing happened.

It all started with a few orders trickling in and then they just kept on coming. Within a couple of months, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of orders were placed. These orders came from a number of those accounts that I had visited over that year of cold calling. In today’s numbers, I would estimate the value of those orders would be close to a million dollars. It was at this moment that I learned the value of playing the long game.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that after months of being criticized by the owner for leaving, he quickly changed his tune and began telling people how good I had been. Not something that happens very often.

Although we try to uncover customers needs and overcome their objections, there are plenty of times when you just can’t make a sale. Keeping in touch, following up and being patient has paid off more times than I can remember. The best part of playing the long game is when you least expect it the phone rings and someone wants to place an order. It makes for a real good day!

You may also enjoy The 80/20 Rules of Sales

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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