By Paul Reilly

Do you ever feel like opportunity is knocking…but on someone else’s door?

Early in my career, I took my sales manager on the milk run. You know what I’m talking about. We visited my best, most profitable customers. Of course, beforehand, I encouraged my customers to share their experience with our organization, and they did. I was flooded with flattery (in front of my boss). But that all changed on this next call. My manager decided it was time to take me to school.

We approached a large power plant. This was one of my most profitable customers. This customer needed training on our new fastening system. My manager asked about other growth opportunities. I arrogantly said, “We’re getting nearly everything we can here. If we sell it and they need it, they buy it from me.”

The visit was going great. We trained the new employees, and I convinced the customer to stock up on material while we were there. I had the PO and we were getting ready to leave. But then my manager pulled out our catalog and said, “Thank you for your loyalty. As one of our valued customers, I’d like to get your feedback. We’re always trying to raise awareness of our product lines…” He thumbed through to the second half of the catalog. “In addition to the power tools you’re currently buying, we also offer struts, clamps, grinding discs, and grinding wheels. We’d appreciate an opportunity to showcase these products to you. Can Paul follow-up with you on these items?”

The customer said, “Of course. I had no idea you sold all these products.”

I thought to myself, “How could I miss these opportunities?” I felt like a moron. One of my largest customers was only buying half of our lines. And they didn’t even know we offered the other half. Lesson learned.

What led to the missed opportunity? It was my assumption. Assuming I had all the business reduced my awareness. I stopped looking for growth opportunities. Why look for an opportunity that wasn’t there?

Capturing new opportunities hinges on your ability to challenge your mindset and change your plan. Try these two techniques before calling on your next opportunity.

Suspend your assumptions. Before visiting a customer or prospect, on paper, list your assumptions about the opportunity. Assumptions of their product needs, industry, preferences, etc. The simple act of listing these assumptions will symbolically vacate them from your mind. With a clean slate, you will see new opportunities. Incorporate this exercise into your pre-call routine.

Create a pliable plan. Have a focused, primary objective and an open-ended, secondary objective. The primary objective is the core reason for the call. Perhaps the customer wants a product demo or has a unique problem. Once you address the primary objective, move on to the second. Develop a curious mindset and ask a few open-ended questions. For example:

  • In addition to ____________, what other issues are you experiencing?
  • Once we solve this problem, what other priorities are you focused on?
  • Once this project is complete, what are you working on next?

These questions will generate deeper conversations and unveil new opportunities.

Back to the opening…

In the car, my manager asked me, “What happened?” I offered my explanation. He recognized this moment as a coaching opportunity. And he shared this valuable lesson:

“Paul, if you’re going to make assumptions, assume there is always more opportunity. And before you make a call, remove the blinders. Look around and see what’s missing. As Yogi Berra famously said, ‘You can observe a lot just by watching.’”

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