Jill Konrath


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Why I Can't Catch a Taxi -- And You Can't Sell


Several weeks ago I was in New York City doing a workshop for a client. I left early to meet with the VP of Sales before the session began. At the front desk of the hotel, when I asked for directions to the coffee shop, I discovered it was almost eight blocks away -- which was a shocker since I thought it was just around the corner. 

Dhail cabang! Now I was going to be late. So, I called Herb to let him know that I was walking as fast as I could. When I got him on the line, he said, "Get a cab. It'll just take a minute."

"That's okay," I replied. "I like to walk."

But here's the truth. I am a total taxi failure. They never stop for me. I can boldly step out into the street to flag one down just like New Yorkers do -- and they drive right past me like I don't even exist. It's happened so often, that I've given up on it.

Clearly I was not born to be a taxi rider.

Over lunch, I finally fessed up to Herb and his leadership team. They laughed at me -- and then let me in on a dirty little secret. If the lights on top of the taxi were on, they already had a passenger. If they were unlit, they were for hire.

Duh! No one ever told me that before. In Minnesota, where I live, everyone has a car. We've never learned the appropriate taxi-flagging techniques. And, I can assure you that it's not an innate skill.

What does that have to do with sales? Over the years, hundreds (or maybe thousands) of people have said to me, "I just can't sell" or "I'm just not a natural born salesperson."

Here's the deal. Sales is every bit as much of a skill as taxi-flagging. If you're having trouble, it's because you just don't know how -- yet!

  • If no one ever gets back to you, it's because you don't know how to pique their curiosity.
  • If you keep hearing the same objections, it's because you don't know how to eliminate them.
  • If you keep losing to the same competitor, it's because you haven't figured out how to to beat them.
  • If your prospects stay with the status quo too often, it's because you haven't helped them understand the value of changing.

But once you learn these things, everything changes. I can't wait to go back to NYC with my newfound knowledge. This time, I'm confident I'll catch a taxi.

YOUR TURN: Has anything like this ever happened to you? What did it take to finally figure out that you just weren't doing it right? Please share your story in the space below.

Jill KonrathJill Konrath is an internationally recognized sales strategist. As author of two bestselling books, SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies, she's a frequent speaker at sales meetings and conferences. For more fresh ideas, download her free Prospecting Toolkit.


But at least you eat your banana right, right ? 
From our amazing friend Terri Sjodin. 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:46 AM by Guy Vago
I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for making me laugh. 
I want to acknowledge your for sharing this story. Shows me you don't mind eating or sharing humble pie. 
In this case, you just didn't know how. Not knowing how to do something is a wonderful place to be. You can learn oodles about yourself by taking the first step without knowing. 
My biggest "coaching" moment happened in Nov. 2011. I think it will make you laugh. http://endgamebusiness.com/blog/so-you-think-you-cant-dance/ 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:52 AM by Steve Borek
I remember when I learned that tip. It seems counter-intuitive to me, why wouldn't the light be ON when they are AVAILABLE? Have learned a lot from you over the years!!
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:52 AM by Beth M. Anderson
Jill - catching a taxi with the light on is like making a sales call on a prospect who has already solved their problem with a product from your competitor. 
A good friend, (and good salesperson), took me on a call where he knew the owner of the business personally. About 2/3rds of the way into our presentation, the prospect stopped him and said, "I wish you had been here two weeks ago. I already bought everything." 
Needless to say, I never let my friend forget that one. Salesmanship 101 - Qualify, qualify, and re-qualify. Better prospects = better outcomes. 
And if a competitor consistently beats you with (what in most industries seems to be commodity type offerings), lead with a product or service they don't have. Don't try to take them on head-to-head until you've proven yourself with something your competition can't (or won't)offer. In some cases, it might be something as simple as better payment terms, more reliable product delivery, or easier returns.
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:08 AM by Barcodeguy
Barcodeguy, I agree it's a great idea to widen the playing field with your entire product offering. 
I don't like the idea of "leading." Prospects are smart. They know when they're being sold and will resist. 
In working my sales clients, I focus on the discovery call and the pain they're trying to relieve. The more time you spend in the pain, you'll have a clearer picture of their issue. Your prospect will connect with you. 
So, even if you don't have anything different than your competitor, differentiate yourself by being the best listener.
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:15 AM by Steve Borek
My story is a little different, instead of analyzing my losses to try and figure out why I lost I did a won sales analysis and figured out what made me win.  
For 20 years I was just a lucky sales person - always in the right place at EXACTLY the fight time - and then in the spring of 2002 it stopped. 
So in the summer of 2002 I reflected on all my six, seven, and eight figure wins and that's when I realized there was a pattern behind all my wins. 
Analyzing my wins helped me see what was hiding in plain sight and resulted in the creation of Trigger Event Selling.  
If anyone else would like to do the same thing they can use my Won Sales Analysis template available at <strong>http://WonSalesAnalysis.com</strong>.  
I hope this adds value to the conversation.  
Have an 'eventful' week! 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:25 AM by Craig Elias - Creator of Trigger Event Selling
I can catch a taxi (I'm not so sure I knew about the yellow light deal).  
I'm new to sales. Now, I can listen for the need and be more confident about making a sale. 
I'm on my way. See you when I get there.
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:33 AM by kanmko
Jill - Great blog post! 
So true, so simple, and yet sometimes the obvious eludes us.  
In addition to the others on your list below "If you're having trouble, it's because you just don't know how -- yet!", I'd add - if you can't get in touch with your prospect, have you made sure you have their direct contact information? 
I can't tell you how many times I've seen a situation where the sales rep has a GREAT call with someone they found and has even scheduled the next call, but only has the company switchboard number and didn't ask for the direct line. Surprising, but true! 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:34 AM by Beth Avery
Great comments and great lessons to be learned! 
Had you not eaten some humble pie, you still wouldn't know the answer to your problem...How to make the next sale (successfully hail a cab). 
You went to your mentor to discover what you were doing wrong! 
How many of us (especially men) INSIST on trying to reinvent the wheel - if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That may have been great advice from our parents not to give up, but in most cases, we may only have that one chance to make THAT sale to THAT client. 
I have found that following the system your mentors have in place is the best course of action because they have "already been there, done that, lost the sale." 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:52 AM by Rick Lockhart Caldwell, Esq.
That's too funny. often, when I see a tourist having a hard time, I'll go over to them and tell them "look for the light" - it's quite a metaphor for business too, isn't it?
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 9:15 AM by Beatrice Johnston
In the world of taxi analogies, my taxi is parked at the taxi stand, awaiting a horde of people who know what a taxi is, don't need to be told why my taxi is better than the taxi behind me and are willing to pay a fair price for the ride without negotiating. I don't drive the streets calling out to people "taxi for hire." It's been working. Okay, on rereading this, it sounds like a commodity. I'm not. So the analogy doesn't work 100 percent. But the idea of magnetic marketing still works. So I'm not sitting in the taxi line, I'm near where people would expect to find a taxi and they see my reprints of newspaper reviewers saying "best ride, bar none."  
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 9:17 AM by Dan Janal
While I can appreciate the anology of catching a taxi, the answer is still wrong. A taxi is available when the light is on. It is unavailable if the center light is off or the "off duty" lights are on or if all lights are off. 
Sales is about listening and verifying the situation so the customer gets the best results. If the details are wrong, then everyone suffers since the solution will not be successful if it is answering with invalid data. Jill, I hope this helps you catch a cab quickly.
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 9:26 AM by David Rosen
Knowing what the lights (or customer signals) mean is very useful. Unfortunately, you have the code to the taxi lights exactly backwards. 
When just the center is lit, highlighting the medallion number, the cab is available. 
When the medallion number, as well as the side lamps are lit, the cab is off-duty. 
When no lights are lit, the cab already has a fare they are bringing to a destination. 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 9:40 AM by Tony Mayo
I'm going through it right now with Good Reader on my new iPad. To view .pdfs you need to crop out the borders, then unlock horizontal scrolling, use a one finger double tap to zoom, two finger single single tap to unzoom, three finger singlt tap to turn on and off the border icons . . . whew! it's work, but makes all the difference when you're an old guy trying to look techy!!!! :)
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:16 PM by John Schaefer
Great examples Jill,  
It's as basic as finding (or being where) hungry and thirsty people are. Cafes at railway stations, ice cream vans at tourist attractions etc.  
Hence trade shows, forums, What (fill in the blank)? magazines. 
I blogged about the 'Sales Trapper' role recently, in addition to hunters and farmers. 
Find where buyers congregate. 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 3:06 PM by Mark Stonham
Excellent post! 
Lot of entrepreneurs think they can not only sell, but do it better than you. It is akin to me telling Tom Brady that I could have thrown a better pass to Wes Welker and won the SB.  
I explain to them, if they care to listen, that to be a competent sales person, you need five levels of competence that take years and years to master. Gone are the days where cold calling, knowledge about the product/servcices and persistence won the day. I wish it was like that today. 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 3:51 PM by Jay
This post reminded me of a time when I was foolish enough to try and catch a cab in Istanbul during rush hour. My anxiety grew as each "empty" cab drove by. What was I doing wrong wrong? I watched other people hail cabs successfully just down the street from me. In my desperation, I carefully observed a man who held out two fingers and had a cab stop instantly. I finally got it! A hand meant you'll pay regular fare and two fingers meant double. I tried 3 fingers and a cab stopped for me immediately. Cost me a fortune to get to my hotel but I was so relieved. What I learned was that just like in sales, sometimes it's just a matter upping your offering. Sometimes. 
Thanks for the great post Jill. 
Bill Cinar
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:35 PM by Bill Cinar
wow - powerfull info
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 9:31 PM by stu shaw
How did you get back to the hotel? Why didn't you hail a cab after the meeting at the coffee shop and start right then? :) I was surprised your story did not end that way - you are such a go getter.
Posted @ Friday, April 20, 2012 6:54 AM by audrey
Thanks for all the comments & great advice. Couple things I learned: 
- When you're learning a new skill, it's really easy to get it wrong at first -- even though you think you have it right. Everyone who lives in NYC told me I had it backwards. Aargh! 
- I should have practiced my taxi flagging skills right away so I wouldn't go home and forget! 
- Metaphors are great learning tools. I love the other ones that you all shared too.
Posted @ Friday, April 20, 2012 9:37 AM by Jill Konrath
Thanks for sharing this. Per me it seems...we should be prepared to the situations and then go ahead.
Posted @ Monday, April 23, 2012 5:23 AM by Gints
So, what you seem to be missing in your conclusion here is that usually my light is on and I'm not in the market to buy whatever you're selling. I'm not getting back to you because I don't want what you're selling. I keep giving you the same objection because it's the truth. And, the status quo is working just fine and will continue working for the foreseeable future, thank you very much...
Posted @ Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:14 PM by Jerry
Jill - As a Sales Manager tasked with training new sales people, I show them this clip from "Scent of a Women" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2zTd_YwTvo 
Sales is like the tango...when you slip, just keep going. No mistakes in the Tango!!
Posted @ Tuesday, April 09, 2013 5:03 PM by Will
Great video and message from the Scent of a Woman! Everyone should watch it to get over their worries about perfection.
Posted @ Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:57 AM by Jill Konrath
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