Color Code Your Way to a Brighter Sales Future

Forgive the tongue in cheek title. I couldn’t help myself. At times, I have a bit of a humorous and smart-ass approach to sales training. I believe that a sense of humor is essential to surviving a sales career. About the title, it’s not meant to be malicious. In fact, I speak to myself in this manner: “Well Jack, it’s time to get out the crayons and color yourself some money!” Then I go to work coloring my sales activity in an effort to strike gold.

I loved to color as a kid. As a grandparent, I love it even more. Colors make you feel things. There are books on the subject. You can go online and Google the psychological tendencies and effects that different colors have on the psyche.

I was a successful sales person before being promoted to sales manager, then sales trainer when I was with Cox. Even before I sold data based marketing, which is what we called “targeted direct mail” back then, I worked for a sign company. I know from firsthand experience how changing a color here or there can evoke different responses. Why am I talking about my personal experiences more than normal? Because I am TOTALLY CONVINCED from live experience that color matters. So, listen, all you numbers addicts who think they don’t matter, I’m going to tell you how colors affect your numbers in the most intense way! Indulge me.

The Colored Pencils Experiment:

I will harken back to my first color experiment. I was working a trade show booth as many sales professionals have done in Dallas. I was managing a sign company for a man who taught me much about sales fundamentals named, well, I’ll call him Fred. Fred ended up being a not so nice guy, but was, none-the-less, a savvy and educated salesman. He had built a nice sign company business and, at this particular tradeshow, we were in front of an impressive sign display with running water and special effects. We billed ourselves as the Walt Disney of the sign business. We built signs that smoked, flickered, twirled, spouted water – whatever! We built signs that worked to get our customers the attention they wanted. We experimented with different color schemes for different SIC’s and knew that results varied when we adjusted the colors.

We had boxes of colored pencils at this particular trade show — nice, upscale pencils with a rubbery exterior — to give away to folks who visited the booth. I was setting up and asked, “Well, Fred, what color should we put out first?” He replied, “Put an assortment out and let them take what they want.” That got me to thinking that I should try a little experiment: I would track which colors went first.

I laid five pencils of each color at the front of the display table where the trade show traffic passed by, many of them stopping to view our impressive “sign on the ground” at the back of our booth. Our brochures, business cards and other ad specialty give-a-ways were at the front of the table for them to chuck in their brief cases, purses and show bags. Five of each it was: a robust yellow, a brick red, a royal blue, a stout medium orange, a charcoal gray and some dark black mechanical pencils (I don’t know why we didn’t order green for this show).

What happened over the course of the three days was so consistent it was burned into my salesman memory. I replenished the full complement of colors every couple of hours. Traffic was lively, business people from all over Texas and the neighboring states attended. Here is the consistent order in which the pencils disappeared: yellow, orange, red, blue, gray, then black. Without fail, when I got to talking and didn’t replenish for a while, I would be down to some grays, but even more black pencils. With few exceptions, the brighter the color, the faster they disappeared. After I’d set back up again, the first folks to approach grabbed a yellow or orange writing instrument most every time. The pattern established in this setting, where they had free choice and no encouragement in any one direction, was amazing.

The second day, I started to note the exceptions after a conservative looking business man took a black pencil, then asked if he could have one more. After I agreed, he took a gray one. I then started to make notes about what types of people preferred what colors. Corporate folks leaned toward the blue through black range, while the “mom and pops” preferred the brighter colors. To elaborate, the women favored yellow and red, the non-corporate men favored orange and blue.

I’ll stop there with the analysis of the free colored pencils, but hopefully you are convinced, as I have been for years, that colors illicit a response. Little did I know, more than 25 years later, I would cite my experiment in a post about utilizing color code for a higher profit! I didn’t even have an e-mail address yet! This evidence came to me before I even sold my first targeted direct mail campaign. The internal reactions to different colors are a part of a person’s first impression DNA. I will not delve any deeper into the psychology of colors and their effect on human behavior in the sales arena. I hope that, even if you didn’t at the beginning, you now agree that colors do matter. If not – the rest of this article is fodder and you can go on to something else. If you do agree, this could be a life changing article, one which can help you manage yourself to a higher level of organization and psychological motivation.

The STOP LIGHT METHOD:
I can’t remember the origin of the method I recommend you incorporate, but I know I began using it shortly after I began prospecting for direct mail clients at Cox. I take no credit for its creation, but am a convert to and preacher of it. It’s simplicity and performance are beautiful and here’s the main reason why: we have the colors of the stop light indelibly etched into our minds ever since we first started driving. Red means stop, green means go, and there is the all important yellow: the one that means we make questionable judgment calls from time to time. I remember one judgment call my oldest daughter made when she was learning to drive which almost marked the end of us both. But, I digress. We obviously survived that yellow light.

Here is my first BOLD, CONVICTED statement about CRM’s. “If the one you use doesn’t give you the ability top color code GET RID OF IT!” You are better off with a simple Excel spread sheet that allows you to color a line than the world’s most elaborate CRM with (I hate this old saying) “all the bells and whistles.”

Colors matter. How colors make you or your sale staff feel can make all the difference in the world.

Let’s say approximately thirty lines fit on a page of your CRM or Excel spread sheet. If you were using the Stop Light Method and looking at the first thirty prospects on your sheet, every line possible should have a color.

Here are how the colors should be assigned:

Red is for the idiots. These are the prospects, be they individuals, families or institutions who are true idiots that you no longer want in your life. They could be legitimate jerks or possibly those unfortunate consumers who have decided to purchase elsewhere. Either way, they are no longer a prospect and don’t deserve any more of your time.

Yellow is for Suspects or Future Buyers. These are folks who are new to the buying process and need to be worked on for a while and changed from a suspect into prospect. People who have interest, but aren’t quite ready for whatever reason: they need to close on a house first, recover from a medical procedure, get home from abroad etc., etc. These are the folks you massage into a presentation over a period of time, sometimes days, sometimes years. These are the those relationships you keep working on in anticipation of that “one fine day.”

Green means GO! These are the prospects who give you permission to meet with them and allow you to present your recommendations. These are the prospects you figure your closing ratio on and figure your commission checks on. These people are the promised land. They are what you labor for – that true chance to make recommendations, then ultimately a sale. Green is GO. Green is GOOD.

Actually they are ALL GOOD. The colors that is. We can define the enemy as the uncolored lines on your list of prospects. Your enemies are the lines without a color. White in this system is not a color. It means a status has not been assigned, usually because the patient is non-responsive. I will not set a standard for all to live by when it comes to how many attempts a rep makes before they categorize a prospect red, but that day does come to some white line items. My number is ten in any combination. At least half attempts should be phone calls, but the others may be texts, e-mails, FB interaction, carrier pigeon, whatever. Different people respond to different things these days, so be sure you work them thoroughly before you assign them Red. The Red is Dead status is pretty final. Even after that you should be double sure they have been included in the company e-mail catalog so they get reached out to in that manner. Remember that “no” today doesn’t always mean “no” tomorrow. That elusive dimension called timing always plays a part in the sales game.

Here is the desired effect on the sale professional on any given morning: they pull up their prospect list and the page is full of red, yellow, green, and white line items, each one a prospect in one status or another. What happens psychologically to the person starting their prospecting day is a huge dose of perspective right upside the head. After beginning a number of mornings this way, they get used to processing how many greens there are in ratio to the other colors and begin to get a “feeling” for what it takes to turn as many as possible of these leads into green. That feeling should be turned into a number, because some semblance of managing by the numbers remains important in sales management. But remember: feelings create numbers NOT vice versa.

It is immeasurably important that they leave the greens on the pages. These are the victories. These are the experiences which immediately remind them that success with quality activity is imminent and that they have tasted it! They don’t see it as a number or a digit among other digits. It’s a color that reminds them of their successes and feeds their confidence.

The yellow reminds them at a glance that there is much work to be done in converting yellow into either red or greens. They become conditioned to appreciate the reds and take pride that they have identified a person who will no longer be a drain on their valuable sales time. And you remember the old saying from grandpa’s era: time is what? So, yellow is the second place after the associate has worked their greens. Why green first? Because you confirm your appointments and prepare for your presentations and excite those who are closest to being a buyer first. These are the premium relationships. Always work your greens first. After you are satisfied that they are as warm and fuzzy as possible, you go back to the yellows and begin once more the qualifying and disqualifying process. As time goes on, your catalog of yellows gets so large that there is no way you can get to but a fraction of them daily. Now, you are in a fertile position, when you spend the first half of your day making sure your greens stay green and then move on to the yellows to convert as many of them as possible into a color.

CAUTION: make time everyday for the enemy which are the uncolored line items. There should never be but a few per page. Remember, we are coloring our way to profitability. Quality activity equals sales. If you babysit the color coding, you will perform quality activity and not only see your progress, but, more importantly, inwardly “feel” your progress. This is a great motivator to feel your progress every day as opposed to talking about numbers which, though valuable are as unexciting as hell must be.

So in summary: we are already programmed to feel and understand the colors in the Stop Light Method. If we follow them up, and babysit colors to a new status and assign whites to a color, we will always feel our progress. The simplicity and effectiveness of this system is beautiful. And oh! Here is another word colors can inspire! Fun. The stark reality is, that if you and/or your company are using a code other than colors, you are stuck in an un-fun and boring routine which can be a de-motivator. Sales should be fun, not humdrum. You are better off to input all your leads twice (once in a CRM and once in an Excel spreadsheet) if your CRM does not color code and work them off of the Excel spreadsheet than to look at numbers or words only. That’s like asking someone who loves music to drive across the country without any. And none of us will argue about music being another thing which evokes emotion, correct? When people are involved, feelings are important. That’s that.

To summarize the summary: Prospects International (you knew there was a pitch coming sooner or later, right?) is developing, and will soon have ready for human consumption, a CRMM which will be based upon color coding. It will also have piano industry specific marketing support and prompts built in. For a brief description, look at the definition of Piano Leads on our home page.

Alright, kids, it’s time now. Pick up those crayons and have some fun! Or why be a sales pro?

Happy Selling,

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