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Opening, rather than closing, is the most important phase of selling because it’s binary. It’s akin to doing science without Newton’s first law or acknowledging gravity. It’s like trying to be a fighter but not being able to throw an effective punch.


We all need “a whack to the side of the head” to snap us out of daydreaming just like Edward de Bono advocated all those years ago. Yet most salespeople are glass-jawed fools because they plan to merely hit their number with spoon-fed leads from marketing, inside sales, or social media activity, sprinkled with a little of their own extra effort.

Wake up! Get off the canvas! Sniff the smelling salts of truth. You’re behind on points, so you’ve gotta find a way to win with a one-two-three knockout combo! Over and over and over again; stick and jab, stick and jab, absorb the knocks; grind it out . . . and then boom!

Professional selling is highly competitive, and there is constant pressure as you battle your inner demons, slugging it out against client apathy, barriers to engagement, and desperate competition. It goes 12 rounds, often 14, and it’s sometimes the technical knockout that wins when a razor-thin margin separates you from your competitor.

You don’t lose sales, competitors outsell you—and the biggest competitor you’ll ever face is doing nothing, aka the apathetic status quo. That’s Ali, that’s Frasier, that’s Tyson . . . for those who really know boxing, that’s Pacquiao or Roberto Duran. Everyone should watch Hands of Stone, about the versatile Panamanian brawler Duran, arguably one of the greatest of all time, who beat Sugar Ray Leonard with strategic combos.

Boxing has so many parallels to sales, so any great boxing movie, including Raging Bull, can teach the modern seller much. The biggest battles you’ll face are from within. The discipline is not to expend too much energy in the first round, to be strategic rather than use brute force, to truly know your competition, and to leverage weaknesses. And these are just some examples.

You’re only as good as your last win. Many fail and live lives of quiet desperation behind a professionally smiling facade. A sales career can be brutal. Delivering revenue is the only thing that protects you, but revenue is an outcome, not an activity.

A properly qualified pipeline is required to generate revenue, and a high level of intelligent activity is what’s needed to create a pipeline. As a salesperson, the cure of all ills is profitable revenue; lots of revenue is fueled by a big sales pipeline, which also removes the pressure from selling.

“The first commitment to action is to land the first meeting with a dream prospect,” says Anthony Iannarino. You can read 10,000 other sales books from any era, but their points will be moot if you can’t break through, start a conversation, and then carry the right value narrative. Negotiation—moot. Closing tactics—moot. SPIN selling—moot.

So effective prospecting and landing meetings solves the fundamental challenge in all sales environments on the planet: getting to the table with the right agenda and narrative. If you open properly, you’ll set the tone on value, earn subsequent meetings, and anchor the deal. Beginnings are important, and first impressions count. The greatest forest is contained in a single seed.

Both Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount and now COMBO Prospecting by me focus on how to break through and engage a prospect. Combinations are the key: Call, voice mail and email (all in under two minutes), and consider adding a text message, LinkedIn, InMail, and Twitter DM for initial outreach.

Craig Rosenberg from TOPO, along with Jeb Blount, refers to the “triple touch.” They understand the reality that success depends on persistent outreach. The TOPO Sales Development Benchmark Report published in 2014 revealed that 8–12 touches with individuals, not organizations, were needed in a concentrated period for any campaign to be effective. The report also highlighted the importance of driving outreach over multiple channels, including voice.

If you are a seller who can’t land C-level meetings yourself, then you’re not where you need to be to survive, let alone prosper. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read 1,000 books and can recite famous quotes and Challenger theories (CEB) from memory. It doesn’t matter if you can do Miller Heiman ninja black belt histrionic hand motions with a sheaf of gold and blue sheets bristling from your pocket.

Knowledge is not power in sales—the devil is in the details. “It’s a paradox of basics,” says Jeb Blount, author of Fanatical Prospecting, which is my recommended companion for COMBO Prospecting.

You could be the best listener, be the best asker of questions, and have the tightest sales process and methodology known to man. Without a prospect in front of you, it’s all wasted effort and nothing is going to happen. Reach out and touch someone, preferably with a phone, followed by an email, and then by a LinkedIn InMail or maybe a connection request.

Execution is everything. Bias toward actions, not ideas, will take you the farthest the fastest. Laboring over the perfect email or InMail may seem brilliant, but think of the paradox of relevancy. Michael Jordan spent 10,000 hours shooting three-pointers to become the winningest player ever in the game, and Gretzky’s greatness was built the same way. Likewise, Donald Bradman, the greatest cricketer of all time, practiced hitting a golf ball against a corrugated rainwater tank for hours, using a single stump to hone his hand-eye coordination and reflexes.

Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” We must “sharpen our sales story” per Mike Weinberg, but once you’ve got it and understand which customers are analogous to your existing customers, go chop down a forest with massive, masterful action.

You don’t have to overthink it once you have a message that’s resonating the right way in a target vertical. A seller who hits 20 prospects with the most perfectly tailored targeted email in one week will never catch a seller who has a sharp template and calls, voice mails, and emails 50 targets every day.

To do this, you must hold these concepts about right action in your mind. Analysis paralysis, procrastination, and perfectionism are ineffective. Thinking that there is some magic bullet that you can put in a social selling message that will get you a meeting or deal is just self-delusion.

There have been many research studies citing that it takes 7–12 touches to land a meeting. The issue really is that you can’t just spam the same message over and over again to achieve those numbers because you’ll be deleted. Enable, educate, and walk your prospect up a ladder of engagement the whole way. Social plays a role but within a holistic strategy. Here is what effective outreach activity looks like:

Day 1: COMBO.
Day 2: Social engagement.
Day 3: White paper.
Day 4: A quote by them in social.
Day 5: A SlideShare.
Day 6: A case study.

The essential thing is to absolutely add value to the cadence every time. You can use software such as SalesLoft Cadence or CRM system tasks to ensure that you are staying organized on your touches. You can also just make a manual spreadsheet and add a column next to the account with the contact name and last touch.

If you’re only working 50 accounts per quarter, you’ll start to remember every contact that you are mining and get a sense for who the ringleader is and how often you’ve been communicating with them by multiple channels.

What I’ve created here with COMBO is a way to open effectively and consistently with a high degree of prediction. If you select 100 key accounts, you’ll be able to open opportunities with 20 of them in the first two quarters.

I’ve road tested these theories with mentees in multiple global markets from California to New York to London to Singapore to Sydney, with companies selling highly disruptive software.

Opening, rather than closing, is the most important phase of selling because it’s binary. It’s akin to doing science without Newton’s first law or acknowledging gravity. It’s like trying to be a fighter but not being able to throw an effective punch.

COMBO Prospecting will land a meeting in a down economy, it will land a meeting even if you don’t have a solution yet. Just like boxing, a combination of a kidney shot, rib shot, and uppercut is more damaging than a single punch.

Sure, Mike Tyson might throw the hardest punch ever and get a knockout—if it’s landed. But it’s too risky to put all your eggs in one basket. The same goes for prospecting channels because when you pattern-interrupt someone, there’s a flurry of designed activity with flashes of brilliance.

But in the context of sales, this technique is anything but hostile; it’s assertive and in the client’s best interest.


This excerpt is from COMBO Prospecting, published by The American Management Association (AMACOM) and you may order it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/081443911X/.

About the author

Tony Hughes

Tony Hughes

Tony is an international keynote speaker, best selling author, leading professional selling educator, award-winning…

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