Selling is a numbers game.
New life insurance agents are sometimes taught the “100/10/3 formula:” You must approach one hundred people to get 10 appointments and three customers. The exact numbers will be different for lawyers, but in any kind of selling you must approach a large number of prospects in order to get a small number of sales.
In his book 101 Marketing Strategies for Accounting, Law, Consulting, and Professional Services Firms, Troy Waugh (p. 227) talks about the need to “succeed by failing more:”
All advertising, public relations and direct mail programs have failure rates (non-response) that exceed 95%. But the one to five percent success can create excellent leads and pay for all your efforts.
Fortunately, the numbers are not quite this high for most professional service firms. At McKinsey & Company, one of the most successful consulting firms in the world, every director in the firm is responsible for marketing, using the “2/4/8 rule:” constantly work on two assignments, four proposals, and eight new prospects. McKinsey does not have an internal marketing department, because they recognize that all senior staff are responsible for marketing.
It can take significant time to build relationships with all these people, and the best way to build relationships is with face-to-face meetings. When Don Schrello analyzed data from McGraw-Hill, Cahners, and other sources regarding face-to-face selling for both goods and services, he found that over eighty percent of the time, sales professionals require at least five face-to-face meetings to close a sale.
In the SPIN® Selling Fieldbook (p. 42), Neil Rackham’s data on major account sales are even more daunting: “Fewer than 10% of calls actually result in a [decision of] an Order or No Sale.”
Add all these facts together, and it becomes clear that finding new clients takes an enormous amount of persistence, and the ability to shrug off rejection, week after week. As Mike Bosworth put it in Solution Selling (p. 83), “Sales always has been and always will be a numbers game—no matter how good you become, not everyone will buy from you.”
The fact that you will be dealing with large numbers means that you will need to be organized and systematic in managing your interactions with all these prospects.
According to Jim Cathcart in the book Relationship Selling (p. 100), “The way to recognize a true sales professional is to look at what he or she does after the sale.”
In every industry, it is far more expensive to win business from a new client than from an old one. Even if there’s no more money for you in this year’s budget, next year’s budget is just 12 months away or less.
Think about what you might do to stay top of mind with each client, from newsletters to personal updates.
Cathcart suggests keeping in touch with everything from clipped magazine articles to handwritten notes, and a regular account review to uncover both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Publicize the positive, and fix the negative.
And when you lose a sale, keep in touch with those people too. If you find ways to help people, they will remember you, they will come back to you, they will tell their friends, and sooner or later some of them will buy.
The key to long-term selling is “don’t stop.” Look past today’s victories and losses, and focus on building relationships that will be the foundation of your long-term success.
And on the inevitable days when progress feels slow, give yourself a pep talk about the fact that sales is a numbers game. If you knock on enough doors saying the right thing, your share will open.
As Calvin Coolidge famously summed it up:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination are omnipotent.
The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
This post was adapted from my book the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.