If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get  

I had just accepted a position as Director of Sales for a rep firm that provided Backup Batteries, DC Power Plants, and Installation service.

One of my first tasks was to set our sales department strategy for the coming year. Upon reviewing the sales history, I discovered that the company’s battery sales accounted for 85% of the revenue. Additionally, the data showed that only 18% of our battery customers purchased other products too.

I viewed this as an opportunity, so one of our strategic objectives for the year would be to sell other products and services to existing battery customers.

A few months later the owner of our firm asked me to start handling one of his major customers, Contel. I soon discovered this Telecom Service provider only purchased batteries from us.

I scheduled a meeting with them to review the coming year’s forecast and new battery product offerings. In line with our strategic objective, I started planning the meeting strategy and what tactics to employ during the sales call that would lead to selling this very good customer some of our other products.

Contel’s key decision maker was a senior engineer named Lee. I learned that Lee had worked for one of our competitors, Lorain Power, earlier in his career.

The Plan I devised was to proceed as normal with the meeting agenda of reviewing forecast and all their battery needs. Once this portion of the meeting was completed I would thank them for their battery business, then ask one more question: Why had they never purchased any DC Power Plants?

I figured Lee’s response would be something along the line that he was more familiar with Lorain products and trusted the design since he had once worked there. So, my response to this answer would be to explain how our product offering had been designed by engineers that worked at Lorain previously. They had not taken Lorain’s design, but they did utilize what had been learned about the product performance and features to design a new DC Plant. It was not a “Me Too” product, but an improved updated product offering.

I was then prepared to review the product specifications illustrating the differentiation of our product as compared to the competitor showing that we offered a much more favorable solution.

Upon completing this exercise and answering any of their questions, I would ask for the opportunity to bid a project.

I thought this to be a simple yet sound tactical plan. It was in line with our strategic goals and I had done my homework to understand the account.

The day arrived for the meeting and I went in with full confidence because I was prepared. The first part of the meeting went as planned and then came the time for the big question.

I said “Lee, we really appreciate your loyalty as a battery customer, but during the review of your order history, I noticed that Contel has not purchased any of our DC Power plants or services. May I ask why?”

I then waited for his response. It might have been only 3 to 5 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity in that room full of engineers. Everyone’s eyes were glued on Lee.

Lee sat back in his chair, rubbed his chin and then sat forward again looking up at me and said, “Fred, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t recall anyone asking us to buy any other products or services from your company”. He then sat back in his chair again and relaxed. Now all the eyes were on me.

Wow, all that planning, and studying was great, but this response was not one I expected.

Admittedly, a shot of excitement went through me because he had just tossed me a softball and I was about to hit it out of the park. It was all I could do to not jump in too quickly and start doing a victory lap.

I gathered my composure, smiled easily and said, “I’m asking you now, could we provide a bid for your next DC Power Plant project?”

Again, I followed the golden rule – ask the question then, shut up and listen.

Lee looked around the room at one of his associate engineers and said, “Joe, please provide Fred’s team with the RFQ for the two new central office projects”. Lee then looked at me and said, “Fred, when you receive the bid package call me and I will walk you through any questions on these projects”.

We won both those projects! Full EF&I (Engineer, Furnish & Install). The two projects were worth more profit than a full year of battery sales to Contel.

All we had to do was ASK.

I often tell this story during sales training sessions to point out several sales philosophies and tactics. I have listed some lessons learned. What can you add as a lesson learned?

  1. Do your homework before a sales call and have a strategic objective for the call.
  2. Review the tactics you will employ to achieve the desired objective.
  3. Map out the questions you will ask with possible answers you may get back, then your responses or additional questions. This prepares you ahead of time allowing you to focus on what the customer is saying rather than thinking “oh my gosh, what will I say next!”
  4. Understand how to communicate effectively, asking questions and listening. After asking a question, always stop talking and listen. Allow them to deliberate and come up with an answer. Silence at this point is very powerful.
  5. The most important lesson is to always ask for the order. This may be an actual order, or it may be a meeting or an opportunity to bid but whatever the objective you need to ask the question.

I have constantly said to my sales teams.   “IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET!”

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post. I would enjoy hearing from you.


Fred Lewis