A painful sales lesson…

The young salesman hurried into his branch office very early that morning to meet with his sales manager. He did not have an appointment but he knew if he were there early enough, he would get a meeting and was very excited at the prospect.

He was coming towards the end of his fourth week in his first ever sales and was selling financial services. He had undergone a week of intensive product training at the company’s head office and since then had been cold calling on the telephone day after day, week after week, trying as hard as he could to make appointments to present and sell his services. His Sales Manager had told him that once he had made his first few sales, and providing he did as he had been taught, he would soon be getting referrals from his customers and would be able to ease back on the frustrating, time consuming and somewhat ineffective cold calling sessions.

The reason he was so excited to meet with his sales manager that morning was because the previous evening, he had made his very first sale and he wanted to hand the client’s applications forms and cheque for the investment plan directly to his manager. He expected to bask in the warm glow of congratulations he was sure he would receive.

At precisely eight o clock his sales manager, Bernie Redstock, strode through the main office doors, across the sales floor, into his private office and closed the door. The salesman waited for one minute, walked up to Bernie’s office door, knocked boldly and waited for a response. What seemed like an eternity later, but was in reality no more than a few seconds, the invitation came to enter.

Bernie was seated at his desk and the young salesman strode up to it, held out the application and cheque, placed it gently down on the desk in front of his manager and said proudly, “There you are Bernie – my first sale!” 

Bernie looked down at the application through his half moon glasses perched on the end of his nose, and without looking up, replied “Well done young man”. He then removed his glasses, looked up, stared at the salesman with piercing eyes and in a quiet voice asked the question…

“And how many referrals did you get?”

The young salesman stood there almost paralyzed.  It had been drilled into him by Bernie time and time again during his branch sales training that getting referrals was as important – more important even – than getting the sale. In his excitement at making his first sale, he had simply forgotten to ask; so he told the truth.

“I’m really sorry Bernie, I just forgot to ask.”

“Well, here is what I am going to do” said Bernie. “I’m going to personally send the application in to Head Office BUT with my instructions to withhold any commission payment to you until I notify them otherwise. I will notify them to pay you that commission only when you have been back to these clients and have got yourself at least two referrals. Do I make myself clear BRUCE?”

Yes – I was that salesman and as luck would have it, and bad luck in this case, the client who I had sold the policy to had left for a four week cruise that morning and it was going to be some time before I could get back to see them again, obtain my two referrals and get paid my commission. I did eventually do so, was paid my commission and sold polices to both those referrals.

That incident took place over thirty years ago but I remember it as clearly as if it had happened this morning. That event changed the course of my sales career and my life. From then on I was totally committed to doing anything and everything I could to remember to ask for referrals at every opportunity and to develop more ways of generating referrals. By doing so, I rapidly became one of the top salespeople in the UK financial services industry and went on to build several successful businesses of my own, all on the basis of generating a significant amount of the business through referrals.

This was an excerpt from my recent book: Winning Sales Referrals – A step by step process for winning all the sales you could ever want, just from referrals.  More info here


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