Aug 14, 2023 • Podcast

Why are we missing opportunities?

Paul helps you recognize just how many opportunities you’re leaving on the table.

Show Notes

One of the great benefits of having a longstanding relationship with a customer is also one of the greatest threats to growing that business—familiarity.

Become “unfamiliar” with your existing customers and bring a fresh set of eyes to see the new opportunities you could pursue with them.

What business is coming to you because the buyer can’t find the solution anywhere else? Recognize and capture those opportunities.

What opportunities are your competitors overlooking? Each unmet need creates an opportunity.

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Why are we missing opportunities?

(Transcribed from podcast)

Let’s get right to it. Recently, on a discovery sales call, I was talking to a group of sales leaders, and one of the topics that came up was, “How do we capture more opportunities within our existing customer base?” So we’re going to kind of answer that question, but we need to really focus on why we are missing opportunities to begin with. That’s more important because once we understand why we are missing opportunities within our existing customer base, we know what to look for. We know how to solve the root issue. So that’s what we’re going to focus on first.

Now, before we get into that topic, just a reminder. Now is the time to get your copy of Selling Through Tough Times. You know, tough times are on the horizon. You’re starting to see more volatility in the market. Anecdotally, when I’m talking to business leaders, what they’ve noticed is that business is starting to shift. Supply and demand are now balancing out. It’s no longer a seller’s market. We’re facing what could be a potentially tough recession here in the next year, year and a half. So now is the time to pick up your copy of this book; apply the principles. And one of the things we talk about in the book is how to find more opportunities. We talk about the unique opportunities that tough times create. There’s several practical examples, and I’m actually going to mention a few on today’s episode. So pick up your copy. It’s available wherever you get your books.

So let’s get right into that question: Why are we missing opportunities? There are two core reasons that salespeople miss opportunities to grow with existing customers. The first is what we call familiarity. You become more familiar with the customer. Although familiarity leads to greater relationships with your customers—you get to know them, how they think what’s important to them—this also means that opportunities to grow hide in plain sight. You think about this. If you have an existing customer who you call on every couple of weeks just to check in, just to see how things are going. You stop by, you visit their office, you say hello, you order some products, you demo a new product. What happens is you get caught into a routine. That routine will expedite the customer experience, but what it also is doing, it’s creating an environment where opportunities to grow hide in plain sight. You just get stuck in your old ways.

And this is similar to the second core reason that we miss those opportunities. And that is, as salespeople, we have blinders on. As salespeople are introduced to new product—their company will launch a new product or a new service—there’s always a strong focus to get out there, to present it, to demonstrate it, to show everyone about this brand new product. Well, the salesperson puts on “new-product blinders.” Just like a horse with blinders on, so it stays completely focused on what’s in front of it. Well, salespeople do the same thing. We have those new-product blinders, new-service blinders, new-model blinders, whatever it may be, and we go visit our existing customers with that single goal in mind—which is to sell that new product. Now, since we are so focused on selling that new product, we miss opportunities to grow in other areas, and other areas that are more relevant to that customer.

Let’s not forget that when corporations make a huge push to go out there and sell a new product or new service, in some ways that can be seller-focused thinking. So, we need to shift our mindset. We need to become unfamiliar with our customers and we need to remove those blinders. And so, if we are going to capture those opportunities, two things need to take place. Number one, we have to remain open to new opportunities. And number two, we have to make the choice to change. You know, this really highlights how entrepreneurs are great salespeople. And when I talk about openness to change, wanted to share a couple examples from Selling Through Tough Times.

In 1924, a restaurateur was overwhelmed with crowds on a holiday weekend. He was running out of food, but people were still showing up. All he had left was lettuce. So not wanting to turn people away, the owner concocted a dressing using basic ingredients. Caesar Cardini poured the dressing over the lettuce and the very first Caesar salad was made.

So, you think about this. First of all, Caesar was open—he was open to opportunity. His restaurant was being overwhelmed. He was running out of food—the very product that he was selling. But he didn’t want to turn anyone away, so he decided to remain open to this opportunity. And he took a chance to change. He concocted this dressing, he served it to his guests, and it was a hit, obviously. I love a good Caesar salad.

Now, similar example, because it involves food. Alright, so in 1898, a batch of wheat-based dough was left out overnight, causing it to ferment, which means it was a little more pliable, and it started to fill out a little. Well, the baker decided not to throw it out. Instead, he rolled out the dough, creating large, thin flakes. The baker, who you may know, William Kellogg, experimented with these flakes and eventually created Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. So I share both of these examples, man, because I’m, I’m really hungry right now. It’s the afternoon and I’m ready for a snack. So, I’m going to get one soon, maybe some cereal. But when these entrepreneurs were faced with an opportunity, they captured it. They took the chance to change.

Now, what’s also interesting, and this is just a sidebar, some of you may have heard these stories before. In both those examples, whether it’s 1898 or in 1924, both of these examples happened during recessionary or depression-era times. And you have to wonder, just on a side note, did these tough times create an opportunity? If I’m that restaurant owner and I’m in the middle of a recession where people are not spending money like they usually do, I look at every interaction as an opportunity to make money, right? The owner of that restaurant may have thought at some level, “I can’t afford to turn anyone away. We’re in the middle of a recession.” Is that what he was thinking?

Or you think about Will Kellogg. Now this again, in 1898, we were on the tail-end of the depression of 1893 and that’s depression, not recession. So, five-year-long depression. You have to wonder if Will Kellogg was thinking, “Gee, someone left out all of this dough and now it’s ruined. What am I going to do with it? I’m just going to throw it out.” Or was he thinking, “You know what? Someone left this out. We can’t afford to throw it away. We can’t be wasteful. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. We are just trying to recover from a depression.” And so, maybe he thought, is there anything salvageable here? He was open to the opportunity, and they both took the chance to change.

So, as you’re thinking about, “Okay, how can I change? Where are these opportunities,” I want to challenge you. Are you really looking for those opportunities to change? Are you really? Or are you just focused on what you’re trying to do? Do you have those blinders on? Are you just focusing on familiarity?

Let me share a couple of practical examples. And this is how we can capture more opportunities. I want you to ask yourself—whether you’re a salesperson, a small business owner, whoever you are—what business is coming to you because they can’t find this product or that service anywhere else? Think about that question. Take a look at your customer interactions. Ask yourself, okay, what business is coming to you because you offer a service or product that they just can’t find anywhere else? And this product or service may not be a core part of your business. It probably is not a core part of your business. You see, by recognizing these opportunities, it gives you an opportunity to grow.

For example, I remember selling in the construction industry. I remember meeting a colleague at one point, and he sold insulation foam—a pretty commoditized product—but this customer, he couldn’t find foam that was easy to install. And that’s until he was just researching online. He found this company, found the product, found a distributor that sells it, and he started buying some of it. And the salesperson noticed that this customer kept coming and buying cases of this foam. Now, A case of foam was maybe a couple hundred dollars, and it wasn’t a huge part of this salesperson’s business, but he noticed that a new customer started buying this newer product that they were selling, and he called up the customer and just asked questions.

And he started asking, and the customer said, “Yeah,” he goes, “You guys have the best foam. I mean, it’s so easy to install. It performs great. I haven’t found foam like this anywhere else.”

And the salesperson started asking more questions: “So what do you do? What is your business?”

And the guy said, “Well, I’m a specialty contractor. I go in and I retrofit buildings and homes and I make them more environmentally friendly.”

And this was pre Yeti cooler, but, basically, what he was doing, he was retrofitting buildings and homes so that they were like the Yeti cooler. Hey, we keep it cold when it needs to be cold. We keep it hot when it needs to be hot. And so the salesperson recognized an opportunity.

He said, “Well, how many companies like yours are out there?”

And he said, “Yeah, there’s tons of them. He goes, “We have an association that we’re all part of. You should get involved.” And the salesperson got involved, captured more opportunities, more opportunities. And he became like the go-to supplier of this specialty foam. That’s a salesperson who captured an opportunity. The salesperson was open to the opportunity and made the choice to change.

So that’s one example. Now, another question that you may think about—. Ask yourself, “What opportunities are companies overlooking?” There is certain business out there that some companies just don’t want. Maybe it’s too labor intensive. Maybe it doesn’t fit their core product. But remember that each unmet need creates an opportunity. And so, one salesperson I was working with—this was during the Great Recession—he found that, during tough times, like a recession, people are not buying as much new equipment, but they are fixing their old equipment. They are putting band aids on it trying to get it to work because they don’t want to invest the money. This salesperson made it a habit to go out there and focus on selling spare parts and pieces.

Now, what’s interesting about this, yes, he was making more calls, but he was also opening more doors. Because almost every customer that he would interact with, he noticed that there was an unmet need that the competition wasn’t filling. And since there was an unmet need, the door was opened. He would go in; he would provide service. He would provide spare parts. He met that need and that put him in a position as a value creator. And what he’s doing right there is he’s spending more time with these new prospects. He’s spending more time with his existing customers. And when you pair time with opportunity, you’re going to perform better. This salesperson was able to sell at extremely high margins during an era where we faced one of the greatest economic downturns we’ve ever experienced. He was able to sell at higher margins than ever before, and he still ended up hitting his quota. And again, it’s because this individual was focusing on opportunities that his competition was missing. Again, he was open to opportunities, and he made the choice to change. He stopped selling new equipment, started selling the parts and pieces to fix the old.

So, one final thought here is, as we begin wrapping things up. Salespeople, sales leaders, business owners that are listening to this episode, one thing I want you to do again is be aware that opportunities to grow hide in plain sight. Bring a fresh set of eyes in when you’re meeting with customers. And also, remove the blinders; don’t just focus on selling one product. But again, your mantra has to be, “Okay, I’m going to be open to opportunities and I’m going to make the choice to change.” That’s what the Caesar salad guy did. That’s what Will Kellogg did. That’s what the two salespeople did that I mentioned. Stay open to opportunities. Make the choice to change.

Everyone, thank you for tuning in today. If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a colleague, a business owner. Whoever needs to hear this message, share it with them.

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