The Little Things

If you watch a football practice session, you’ll hear coaches yelling different things: telling a wide receiver to turn up field and run to the end zone or barking at a quarterback to set his feet before the throw. At some point, though, they’ll all eventually say the same thing: “The small stuff is what wins or loses football games.” What does this have to do with sales? Contrary to that now-famous saying, make sure you sweat the small stuff—because it’s the small stuff that separates the true professional from the average salesperson.

There are many ways to set ourselves apart, but let’s take this lesson from football. The quarterback who in practice takes the extra half-second to set his feet completes in January the pass that sends his team to the Super Bowl. The quarterback who failed to take that half-second throws an interception that ends his season. A small thing like setting your feet in a practice in August can make the difference in a game in January.

Much like a completed pass, a completed sale is the result of a thousand small actions successfully completed by the salesperson. On the surface, some may seem unimportant, but a closer look reveals that a “small” detail can be vitally important. Let’s go through a sale from beginning to end and point out the things that separate the average salesperson from the exceptional salesperson.

‘Howdy, ma’am!’ How many times have you walked into a store and had a salesperson say, “What can I help you with today?” Sounds okay, right? It’s okay if you’re after only one sale and don’t care about repeat business or establishing a customer base. But if you’re an exceptional salesperson, you always go the extra mile. How about this: “Hi, welcome to the _____ store, it’s a pleasure to see you. What can I get you to drink?” It might not sound much different, but it is.

In the first example, the salesperson has done nothing to establish a relationship with the customer. The second salesperson has. The average salesperson is trying to make one sale to one customer; the exceptional salesperson is trying to make many sales to the same customer.

A learning experience. Take time to learn what your customer wants and needs. For example, the average salesperson who learns a customer would like to purchase an engagement ring for his longtime girlfriend will probably show the customer two or three different rings. If the customer decides to buy, great; if not … oh, well, another customer will come along in a few minutes.

The exceptional salesperson takes the time to do some homework before he gets to the display case. He’ll learn about the likes and dislikes of the customer and his girlfriend, what’s important in selecting a diamond, what metal she prefers, how he’s going to pop the question, and so on.

Customers know more about what they want than the salesperson does, and it’s up to the salesperson to discover these wants and needs. It probably takes only a five- to 10-minute conversation to gather this type of information, but it’s amazing how few salespeople are willing to invest that time.

Working together. Now that you have begun to establish a relationship with your customer, the two of you can start the process of narrowing down the choices and finding exactly what the customer wants. That’s not to say that you won’t encounter objections or that every sale will be smooth sailing; even exceptional salespeople are going to run into objections, especially with larger purchases. But the thing that separates you from the average salesperson is your ability to deal with the objections and find a way to satisfy your customer.

The average salesperson is liable to have a step-by-step approach on how to deal with every type of objection he may encounter. This tactic may succeed some of the time, but often the needs of the customer won’t be met. The exceptional salesperson who has established a relationship with the customer will have a better feel for what it takes to satisfy every customer. Remember, even though two customers may have the same objection, the salesperson can’t always use the same tools to overcome that objection. What satisfies one customer may not satisfy the next.

For example, when shopping for a new car, a customer’s most common objection is to the price. The average salesperson will probably respond, “It does seem a little expensive, but I think the advantages will more than offset the price.” That may or may not work, depending on the customer, but it won’t satisfy every customer who objects to the price. The exceptional salesperson will dig deeper to find the customer’s “real” objection to the price.

A customer who is hesitant about the price of the car will feel more comfortable making the purchase once he learns that the monthly payment is well within his price range. The average salesperson will try to counter the price objection with a simple, one-size-fits-all approach; the exceptional salesperson will take five minutes to narrow down the objection and address the customer’s “real” concern. Small things, like five minutes of your time, make all the difference.

Closing time. Now that you have determined exactly what your customer wants and have handled all of his or her objections, you’re ready to close the sale. If you have done an exceptional job up to this point, however, a closing technique might be unnecessary. The whole point of taking the extra time and doing the small stuff is so the customer will say, “I’ll take it,” without your having to “close” the sale.

If a salesperson does have to close a sale, chances are the customer is not completely comfortable with his or her decision to buy. But there are exceptions to every rule, so even if you have done everything right, you still may have to close the deal. And just as with the selling techniques discussed above, each close must be tailored to each customer’s needs.

Bits and pieces. There are a few other things that may seem like small stuff, but they make quite an impact.

The first is a thank-you note. Writing thank-you notes is a lost art, and too many salespeople never take advantage of what they can do for you—especially if you are selling luxury items such as furniture, pianos, or jewelry. These customers have put their trust in you to help them make a major purchase, and the least you can do is write a simple note thanking them for their purchase and for their trust. Nothing long or complicated—just let them know you appreciate their business and offer your services for any future needs they may have. And remember, chances are good that your competitors are not writing thank-you notes, so this is one small thing you can do that will bring customers back to you.

Follow-up telephone calls are even more personal than thank-you notes. Also, since you’re speaking to the customer you can gain feedback at the same time. For example, if the customer is happy with his or her purchase, then you can say something like, “I’m glad you’re happy with your purchase, and I look forward to seeing you in the future.” If they’re not satisfied with their purchase, then you have the opportunity to make it right. You can find out what the problems or concerns are and address them. Most people won’t go back to a store or a salesperson if there is a problem; if you make that call, however, they will remember your above-and-beyond service. And once you’ve addressed their concerns, they will be not only satisfied but also likely to come back to make more purchases.

Finally, when you provide exceptional service to your customers and pay attention to the details, customers remember and tend to tell their friends—and referrals are the lifeblood of any salesperson. So make sure you are the salesperson making follow-up calls and writing thank-you notes.

Remember: The salesperson who takes the time to do the little things is the one who winds up winning big. Five minutes of work can lead to a lifetime of repeat business.

Author, trainer, consultant, and speaker Brad Huisken is president of IAS Training and the author of the books I’m a Salesman! Not a Ph.D. and Munchies for Salespeople: Sales Tips You Can Sink Your Teeth Into! He developed the PMSA Relationship Selling Program, the Professional Sales Management Course, The Mystery Shoppers Kit, and The Weekly Sales Training Meeting video series, as well as aptitude tests and proficiency exams for new hires, current sales staff, and sales managers. Huisken and his staff of trained professionals conduct in-house training and consulting all over North America on an ongoing basis. He also publishes a free weekly newsletter called “Sales Insight.” For a free subscription or moreinformation, contact IAS Training at (800) 248-7703, fax (303) 936-9581, e-mail:, or visit

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