Sales Is A Game: 5 Lessons From Solitaire


(By James Bahm) Throughout my career, I’ve had several colleagues tell me that, “Sales is a game.” I think it was early 1996 when I remember hearing it for the first time, and it never left me. While one can compare sales to many games, I’m going with solitaire.

Here are several illustrations drawn from the game everyone couldn’t wait to play once they hooked up their new computer in 1996! In no particular order:

What seems like the most obvious move may be the worst move.

You may have met with countless clients in a particular vertical throughout your career, and you’ve gotten comfortable with taking the same approach – after all, if it’s worked before, it should work again, right? Not necessarily.

Never assume you know what a client needs before you have a conversation with them.  Case in point: I had a divorce attorney I worked with in another market who wanted to capture leads. I pitched a search retargeting campaign, and over several months, I constantly changed the allocation of the number of ads on desktop vs. mobile searches and moved the entire campaign to mobile because that’s where the unhappy spouse could privately search for an attorney.

While this is a solid tactic, it may not be the right tactic for every divorce lawyer. The only way to know for certain is to be completely ignorant of any solution until you’ve had a conversation with the client.

Let the process play itself out.

Tom Petty nailed it: The waiting is the hardest part! Of course, sellers are known for being extremely patient people, aren’t we?

You put an amazing presentation together, and due to the decision maker being in another market, you had to conduct the CNA virtually, then they asked you to please email the presentation because they’d be out of the country on a business trip. It may look like you erred in emailing it, and some time goes by with no word from them, and your GSM keeps asking for updates.

Then, a day later the email comes back with a signed agreement and a note that reads: “You nailed everything we discussed! Can’t wait to get started.”

You can play everything perfectly, make some progress, and still lose.

Arkansas recently played Kentucky and what the Razorbacks accomplished on the road at Rupp Arena was impressive: They made 27 of 28 free throws, had 10 steals, 13 assists, and shot 53% from the field… and lost. If you follow college hoops, you know that more times than not, if you play that well, you’re going to win.

I had a chance for a competitive knockout when I was with Xerox. I remember my agent owner telling me he was glad I got the opportunity to knock out the competition; however, in each of the previous attempts to win the bid our agency lost because the owner of the company was a cousin of someone at the competition’s office. Despite submitting a bit that saved them considerably, and securing approval from Rochester on the pricing, we lost out.

This is analogous to those games of Solitaire when you deal the cards and there are no moves on the board, then you go through all 24 cards and still have no moves to make.  The game was over as soon as you took the meeting.

The more “games” you play, the more potential traps you recognize.

This is a hard lesson to learn. Using spec spots is a great way to close new business; however, never give a prospect any advertising copy until they sign an agreement with you. It’s too easy for them to love your spot and then send it to the competition and air it on their station. Please raise your hand if you’ve experienced this.

That is one potential trap. A few others that I’ve come across are A) “Accidentally” giving you the wrong credit card number – 4 times in a row; B) They love the sponsorship, but they keep asking if the rate can be discounted for XYZ reason; C) If you have Scarborough in your market and your prospect keeps asking for numbers on some obscure demographic. I had a prospect who asked me for some such data, and I replied, “Unfortunately, I will not do that. What you are asking for is such a minute portion of our audience. Why would you want to limit your potential customers to a very minute percentage of the market?”

He thought for a moment, chuckled, acknowledged the data I’d given was adequate, and signed a six-month campaign.

You must look back at what went wrong to make corrections.

Unfortunately, sales doesn’t have an undo button, nor are you able to select “Replay Game” when you lose the sale. However, you do have the opportunity to look back on the process so you can avoid the same mistakes on the next call – if you are honest with yourself.

Take a moment to look back on the last few deals you lost. What went wrong?  Could you have asked better questions during the CNA? Did you recommend the wrong solution?  Were you impatient? Did you start a losing game despite the advice of others?  Did you opt for the obvious when there was a better alternative?

There are more illustrations I’ll talk about next time.  For now, take an audit of your recent misses and start to keep track of them.  You might be surprised at what the data show.

Bottom Line: Increasing your closing percentage depends entirely on you and how much effort you put into improving your game.

What are some of the “games” you’ve experienced throughout your career? Let me know in the comments below.

James Bahm has more than 30 years experience in broadcasting, sales and marketing, and recruiting and hiring and is currently working on the follow-up to Don’t Yuck My Yum! and can be reached via email: [email protected]. Read James’ Radio Ink archives here.


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