A simple triangle sketched on a soiled bar napkin changed my selling and changed my life. It happened 30 years ago as I sat at the bar in a dark, smoky café in Amsterdam. I thought I knew how to sell. A top salesman at my company, they already called me their “sales superstar.” I’d had all the best sales training — features and benefits, overcoming objections, and my favorite, “ABC” (always be closing). But still, I didn’t know how to sell. Not the right way. Not the way that makes selling easy.

Next to me sat a Dutch native, “Petric.” I never learned his last name. Sadly, at the end of a long evening of strong drink, I failed to get his business card. We discovered that we both were in sales, and I soon learned that he was the top producer in all of Europe in some sort of industrial electronics. After several drinks, Petric leaned in and asked if I wanted to know his success secret. “Yes, of course.”

He grabbed a cocktail napkin and at the top wrote the Dutch for “sales triangle” then drew a triangle divided by horizontal lines into three equal parts. Each section represented one of the three major activities of a sale and the relative amount of time a salesperson spends on that task.

Petric said this was how he used to sell, how most salespeople still sell. The letter R was in the top, smallest third of the triangle and stood for the word “relationship.” Petric pointed out that the tiny tip of the triangle reflects how most salespeople spend little time on creating a relationship with a prospect.

The middle section of the triangle was labeled P for “product.” Petric stated that this is where salespeople pitch their product, usually with no context or focus, so that we have to present all of our products and services.

The letter C in the bottom, largest section of the triangle, stood for “close,” that miserable, wretched and usually futile effort salespeople have to make to get the prospect to buy something — anything.

The secret revealed

After he showed me how I and most salespeople sell, Petric sketched out another triangle, but this time drew it upside down. The three sales phases, however, remained in the same order. This simple inversion changed everything. Now, we spend the most time discovering and identifying the prospect’s greatest needs, his biggest pain points, his career goals. Now, we know what problems to agitate to create a powerful demand for a solution. Now, we know how we can best help him solve his most painful problems.

Note that you spend no less time on the product presentation than before; but now it’s a laser-targeted sales pitch for a solution.

With the old selling style, the close was not just the most time-consuming phase of the sale, it was the most painful. Now that we know the prospect’s pain point and can present the product as a spot-on solution, the close becomes the least time-consuming phase of the sale. And the easiest. If you’ve done your job well and you’ve also qualified the prospect as to budget, there can be no objection. The prospect has told you he needs your solution. It’s not unusual for the prospect to close himself.

The Sales Triangle, as revealed to me by Petric many years ago in a smoky Amsterdam bar, helped make me a top producer. Follow the lesson of the Sales Triangle and it will drive you to the top, as well.

Excerpted from the book DO OR DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success.

Griswold is an agency growth consultant and author of DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success. His Agency Growth Mastermind Network helps agency leaders reform-proof their firm. Reach him at (615) 656-5974, nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com, or through 21stCenturyAgency.com

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