Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was out front, on the final lap, for the first time in 105 races.

“About the only way the Coca-Cola 600 could have upstaged the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 was for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to celebrate in Victory Lane. Too bad Junior ran out of gas,” wrote ESPN.com’s David Newton. “In a blink of an eye it was over.”

NASCAR races are a bit different from commercial carpet cleaning, but our salesperson Mary can relate to running out of gas. She has had trouble recently completing the race to land jobs.

She has been doing very well and has even surprised you, the owner, with her tough-minded selling and opportunity generation. She has been getting leads.

At your regular weekly meeting you both review some recent proposals that she has submitted. Neither of you can figure out why your competitors, instead of Mary, have landed those jobs.

Right in front of you are four files of “A” list customers that asked Mary for bids, but didn’t result in work. What to do? What is happening? Are you too expensive? Is Mary missing something?

Getting creative

During her tenure with you, you have learned that Mary loves college basketball. So do you. And you are passionate about the success that John Wooden had at UCLA from 1964-1975, winning 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons. A dynasty!

Mary knows the statistics but does not remember the man — the coach — John Wooden. How did he do it? You both talk about this a bit, but you then hand her a DVD with an HBO feature on the “UCLA Dynasty.” You ask her to watch it that night, along with reviewing what happened at that NASCAR race you remember so vividly.

The next day, when she comes in, it is like a light bulb is shining above her head. “I think it is my salesmanship that is causing us to lose these proposals,” she admits.

From the DVD, Mary noted a very powerful sequence where players during the span of the 12 years all had part in completing a sentence, while the camera went from person to person, each saying a word or two. They all repeated how on the first day of practice Wooden would have everyone, from a first year to a fourth year player, such as Kareem Abdul Jabber, practice putting on their socks and tying their shoes correctly. He would actually verbalize the instructions and they all had to do it while he said it.

Mary said they she was doing everything right, calling, setting up the appointments, meeting with the customer and completing the walk-through. Then she would go back to present the proposal and then the process would simply stall out.

Her calls went unreturned, e-mails were ignored and nothing was coming back in response.

Her race came to an end right at the finish line with no victory of a new contract in hand. She ran out of gas!

Back to the basics

Mary came to realize that the NASCAR team had to do the same thing that Wooden’s players had to do. Winners must “do all the small, basic things right,” while having an overall plan.

Yes, it is always, always the basics that pave the way to a positive end result.

Mary understood that somewhere in her process she was not doing something right; she was out of step and not following basic sales principles. So you both reviewed what she was doing. You agreed that sending out mailers was fine; the material was effective; telephone calling was obviously working as she was getting appointments.

It was in both the appointment (the walk-through) and the fact that Mary used the word “presented” to the customer that tipped you both off.  

Mary was losing her personal touch; she was not focusing in on the customer’s pain at the walk-through. She had become mechanical, creating a presentation, while not listening. She wasn’t asking enough questions — yes, she had slipped away from the basics without realizing it.

When the time came for the “presentation,” instead of having a conversation with and about the customer and how the proposal would solve the customer’s pain, Mary came off as just another technical-oriented carpet cleaner who was more interested in talking about herself and her company.

You came up with a plan to start reviewing basic selling practices. You both realize that you can’t take the simplest task for granted. Not in NASCAR, not in basketball, and especially not in commercial carpet cleaning sales.

Fred Geyen is president of the Geyen Group (www.GeyenGroup.com). His background includes commercial product sales and program development for residential, commercial and disaster restoration with ServiceMaster. He has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED-AP O+M) designation and is on the board of directors with the LMCCA. Geyen can be contacted at (612) 799-5111.