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Rule 1: Throw Out the BallThe legendary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar had a motto: "Make something happen before lunch."
Many people think that, in holding to this motto, Lazar meant that his goal was to finalize a new deal every day before lunch. Something tells me, though, that even with a client list that included such luminaries as Humphrey Bogart, Vladimir Nabokov, Truman Capote, Richard Nixon, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and many, many others, Lazar probably didn't close a movie deal or land a multimillion-dollar book contract every single business day of the year. After all, there are at least 250 working days in a year. That's a lot of books and movies to sell! So what did Lazar mean when he talked about "making something happen"?
Here's one theory. Perhaps Hollywood's greatest agent simply meant that he wanted to move at least one relationship forward each and every day. In fact, I believe that that daily habit - identifying something two people can agree is worth moving forward on - is a recipe for success in virtually every area of human endeavor.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. You're about to read dialogues from two telephone calls that actually took place. Each call moved its relationship forward to a new stage. People who follow Lazar's example, and make things happen before lunch, get into the habit of asking for action in this way - and measuring the relationship by what happens next.
The first exchange was a call I made to the CEO of a major national telecommunications company. Initially, he was resistant to meet with me. Before I'd made contact with him on that call, he'd never heard of me or my organization. Here's how the call concluded:
Me: I'd really like to meet with you to so we can talk about what we've been able to do for some of the companies in your industry.
Prospect: (Cutting in.) Why don't you just send me some literature first so I can get a better idea of what your company does?
Me: Actually, I really prefer not to mail literature. Why don't we just get together instead? How's next Wednesday at one?
Prospect: Ahh. Gee, Wednesday's booked. It would have to be Friday.
Me: Friday, then. One o'clock? Prospect: Okay. Friday at one.
By standing my ground and making a concrete suggestion for a date and time, I was able to set an appointment. That face-to-face meeting eventually turned into a sales training contract, one that was worth well over a quarter of a million dollars. It was a good thing I asked for the meeting that second time!
How about the other exchange? Well, this was a call that allowed me to move forward on my goal of re-recruiting a superb trainer named Steve Bookbinder. Steve had once worked for us, but had decided to change course and to seek opportunities elsewhere. Meanwhile, our training business grew, and grew, and grew. Before long, we had reached a point where we needed someone who knew our company's material inside and out, who could handle a new program on a moment's notice, and who could deliver our training sessions with unparalleled authority and confidence. Since we pride ourselves on hiring trainers who really do sell on the front lines, the person also had to be an extraordinary sales professional. That was a tall order!
The call I made started the process that brought Steve back to our company. I remember it clearly. Here's how it wrapped up:
Me: You know what? I think you should come in and talk to me about working for us again.
(Pause.) Steve: Well, how do I know it's the right step?
Me: Let's talk about it. Come in to the office. We'll go over everything. Come in on Monday morning. Let's find a way to make sure this step matches up with what you want to do next.
Steve: Look, I'm flattered. It's just - I don't want to make a mistake.
Me: We're not going to make a mistake. Why don't you come in so we can talk it over?
Steve: You're sure? Me: I'm sure. It's time to come home.
Steve: All right. We'll talk it over. I'll see you Monday.
Since Steve rejoined our company, he's become our lead trainer and once again claimed his place as an invaluable member of the sales team. Steve has had a lot to do with the dramatic growth we've experienced in the past six years. But that's not why I'm telling you about the call.
What I want you to notice is that, in each of the two calls, I did not attain my objective instantly. I had to resume control of the conversation (tactfully, but firmly) and reposition myself to set up action that would allow me to discuss something that I firmly believed to be in the interests of both parties.
I had to stay focused, had to keep from getting flustered, and had to avoid getting sidetracked. Most important of all, I had to suggest a specific course of action without apology or hesitation.
I had to take responsibility for making something happen - for moving the relationship forward.
During our sales training programs, we always toss out a small plastic ball toward one of the participants. Ninetynine times out of a hundred, the person we throw the ball to catches it and throws it back. Why do you suppose we would build something like that into a training program for salespeople?
Building relationships with business contacts is a lot like playing ball. We have to take responsibility for getting prospects to play ball with us. We have to take the initiative to throw the ball out in the first place. When we do this, the other person must react somehow - by dropping the ball, or by deflecting it, or by avoiding it altogether, or by catching it and throwing it back. Often, we have to be ready to throw the ball again, so the other person can catch it.
But we do have to take the initiative to throw the ball first. We have to say, "Let's meet Wednesday so I can tell you about what we've been able to do for other companies in your industry." We have to say, "Come in on Monday morning so we can talk about how to make this work for you the second time around."
To get the most we possibly can out of our lives and our relationships, we have to take responsibility for making something happen. We have to ask for action from the other person. I believe this principle applies to everyone, not just to salespeople. Not all of us earn a living as professional salespeople, but we are all selling ideas to everyone we meet all the time. And that means we all stand to benefit by learning how to move relationships forward.
This book is about selling your ideas, whether that means getting an appointment from a reluctant CEO, winning the allegiance of a potential superstar contributor, or accomplishing virtually anything else that's worthwhile and involves other people.
I sell each and every day - and so do you, whether you realize it or not. In fact, everyone sells. But not everyone sells effectively. To sell effectively, you have to be willing to practice asking for action, not just once, but several times. Tactfully, of course. But you do have to ask. That's the secret of making something happen before lunch. Ultimately, that's what all 50 of the rules in this book are about.
The most successful people I know are those who have made a habit of taking the initiative in their business relationships. They persistently "throw out the ball" -just as I did in the two conversations you read a moment ago - to see what happens. The art of making something happen before lunch is nothing more or less than the art of throwing out enough balls, and getting the right people to play ball with you.
Think about that for a moment. If I throw a ball to you, and you catch it and throw it back to me, there's a relationship. By the same token, if you catch the ball, drop it on the floor, and turn and walk away, there really isn't a relationship yet. But at least I know where I stand!
In this book, you will learn how to get the right people to play ball with you. You will learn how to take the initiative, throw out a suggestion, and move your relationship forward to a Next Step that makes sense to both parties. With practice, that habit of throwing out the ball will become second nature to you. And you'll be on your way to mastering the neglected art of making something happen before lunch...