It was a rainy day as Caitlin drove home from her job at Detailed Designs for the last time. It was the third time she heard that her services would no longer be needed from her most recent employer. She’d been shuffled from engineering firm to engineering firm. The story was always the same. Her new engineering firm was always glad to hire her on as an expert in designing natatoria, commonly known as swimming pools. Then they would run out of natatoria design work for her to do and would lay her off. Her boss would be quite cordial, giving her a generous severance check, and tell her it wasn’t about her. It was just the nature of their business.
Caitlin was determined to change this cycle of lay-offs and start her own natatorium specialty design company. She was convinced that, while individual design firms didn’t have a consistent workload for her, she could get multiple engineering firms to keep her busy. After a few phone calls to her previous employers, she was convinced that they would be interested in hiring her as a contract engineer when they had the need.
Caitlin named her new firm, “Swimming Designs”. While the name seemed corny; it seemed to attract recreation centers, schools, and recreation districts who were interested in her services. While Caitlin received a lot of interest in her ability, she could not seem to get anyone to purchase her design services. She got really close with a high school that wanted to add a pool to their building; but then lost the job when another firm offered a lower design fee to do the work.
Caitlin knew that her severance money would run out in a few months; and she desperately needed to get work. A friend recommended that she call Coach Russ, a business coach, to see if he could help her out. Russ agreed to a phone call with Caitlin to better understand her problem.
After they dispensed with the introductions, Coach Russ asked, “Tell me about what is preventing Swimming Designs to become successful?”
Caitlin said, “I seem to attract a lot of clients who want to construct swimming facilities, but I’m not able to convince them to use me to design their natatoria.”
Russ responded, “It sounds like you’re doing good marketing, but are struggling with sales.”
“What’s the difference? Isn’t sales and marketing the same thing?”
“No it’s not. Marketing is the act of getting the people you want to notice you. Sales is the act of converting those prospective clients into paying customers.”
Almost ignoring this tidbit, Caitlin complained, “The last job I lost to an engineering firm who doesn’t even specialize in designing natatoria.”
“Why do you think this other company was picked over you?”
“I think it was because of their low price.”
“Did you educate the client on why they would receive a better value, if you designed their swimming facility?”
“I’m just not that good at selling. The other company won because they didn’t care about the quality of pool the customer would get; and they convinced the customer their low price of design was the only consideration. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a sales person. I can’t deceive the customer the way my competitor did.”
Russ asked, “What is your opinion of sales people?”
“What do you mean?”
“When I say ‘Sales Person’, what comes to your mind?”
“I guess I think of someone who tries to get you to buy something you don’t need.”
“What do you think is preventing you from becoming a good sales person?”
Caitlin thought about it for a few seconds and then responded, “I guess I’m just not prepared to lie, cheat and steal to get customers to buy from me.”
This was not the first time Russ had heard this low opinion of sales people. Unfortunately, there were enough unscrupulous sales people in the world, that it was not rare for someone new to selling to get this impression.
Russ responded, “Caitlin, I believe you probably have a viable business as a design specialist in swimming pools. However, there’s a lot you may need to learn about selling. What do you say?”
“I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a sales person. I am just too honest.”
“I understand that you believe that sales people are dishonest; but you just told me that you lost a recent sale because your competitor convinced your prospective client that they only needed to consider price to make their decision. How did you educate your customer on how to make the right decision?”
“You mean, why didn’t I convince the buyer to choose me?”
“Not necessarily. I mean, why didn’t you educate your prospect on how to make the best decision for themselves?”
Caitlin responded, “I don’t know how to communicate those things in a way that sounds convincing. It always sounds like I’m just trying to get the client to pick me; and I feel uncomfortable.”
“Let’s say that you were able to convince the customer that your higher price would give the customer a better result. Do you think that is lying?”
“Do you think you ARE the best designer for the client you just lost to your competitor?”
“Your inability to sell is what is propagating poor decisions by your prospective customers. Selling is not about lying to your customers. It’s about educating your customers to make the best decision for themselves. How would you feel about sales, if you thought about selling this way?”
“I like educating people about my expertise. If this is what sales is about, I may like selling.”
After this initial meeting, Russ helped Caitlin put together bullet points on why her expertise was superior to a traditional design firm that didn’t have her special knowledge about natatoria. She practiced several times with Russ on delivering sales conversations with prospective clients and clearly articulating how her firm was superior to her competition. Russ helped Caitlin identify a clear sales process that allowed her to educate her prospective client about aspects of swimming pools that left her non-specialized competition speechless. In fact, many engineering firms hired Swimming Designs to be a part of their design team when they had natatorium design needs.
It wasn’t long before Caitlin had to hire and train other natatoria designers on how to create awesome designs for her growing list of customers. Ironically, Caitlin had left all of the design to her new staff; and she was the dedicated Sales Person. How on earth could she have thought only a few years earlier that she needed to lie, cheat and steal in order to sell?
As a business coach, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they have always hoped for, but never thought possible. If you’d like to develop a successful business mindset, I urge you to sign up for the free Business Success Wheel exercise below to see how you can grow yourself as a successful business owner.
Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster. I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”. I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace. I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013. I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.
As a long-time small business owner, I know how hard it is to create the business of your dreams while struggling with the financial realities of attracting prospects, converting those prospects into high-paying customers, and making money for you and your family. My biggest mistake in my past was not seeking the advice of wise counsel sooner than I did. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. I help my clients see exactly what they need to work on in their business by doing the Business Wheel Exercise. If you’d like to try it out, sign up to the right. It’s completely free.