Everybody in business, including myself, loves a good dollop of “gravy.” In this context, of course, gravy means business that literally falls in your lap: the prospect who calls to say, “I’m ready to buy,” the customer who contacts you to make another purchase, the order form that arrives with a check in the mail.

What’s wrong with a little gravy? Nothing, as long as it’s consumed in moderation. A little gravy, in fact, is a healthy part of a salesperson’s diet. Leads that arrive as done deals are good for your attitude, and you are entitled to them. As Yankees great Lefty Gomez famously said, “I would rather be lucky than good.”

Unfortunately, some salespeople love gravy too much; they even learn to exist on the stuff. They stop prospecting for business, and they wait for the phone to ring. They live on whatever happens to come in the door. They are devoted followers of the gravy diet. And, sooner or later, the Gravy Diet always leaves them starving.

Why? Because salespeople who live off incoming leads have relinquished ownership of their future and their income. Their success or failure is then driven by factors beyond their scope of control, namely luck, good fortune and a fair wind. Whether they make their sales numbers — and mortgage payment — each month comes down to whether the telephone rings. And that, my friends, is no way to live your life, salesperson or otherwise.

Gravy addicts, take note: You do not control the events that sustain your gravy supply. Customers go out of business. Or they merge. Headquarters relocate. New decision-makers arrive who bring new vendors with them. Budgets are cut.

In short, you lose business through no fault of your own. These are events beyond your scope of control — yet they occur with regularity. Each time they do, one of only two things happens: Either you get a new customer to replace them, or your income decreases. The elephant in the selling room is this: If you have no method of replacing lost business or, worse, you are apathetic about it, you will eventually run out of gravy.

Having worked with thousands of sales people, I can tell you there is a great mental divide between high-sales achievers and the rest of the selling population when it comes to the subject of gravy.

High achievers do not follow the gravy diet. To them, gravy is a dietary supplement, an unexpected and welcome treat. Instead of living on gravy, they develop and implement a robust outbound marketing program. They have a system for consistently getting new business that centers on the following skills:

  • Marketing — specifically, creating selling opportunities through prospecting;
  • Referrals — getting new customers through existing, satisfied ones;
  • Branding — becoming known for their personal skill and expertise;
  • Networking — using the power of who you know to generate leads; and
  • Ethics — building a reputation of integrity in all business dealings.

So how does a sales person lessen his or her dependence on the gravy diet? Here are five corresponding steps that reduce gravy dependency and improve sales vitality and business health.

  • Learn how to become effective at prospecting. Invest in high-quality educational tools that teach you how to do the fundamentals: handle gatekeepers, get access to decision-makers and gain agreement for appointments.
  • Ask every satisfied customer you have for a referral to others in the company. Don’t just say, “Who do you know who ____?” Be specific. “Do you have a (title) or someone in a similar capacity who might have some interest in what we do for you?” This makes it easy for them to help you.
  • Start an e-newsletter or blog for customers. Focus on giving them high-value ideas that will help them in their business. Ask every client you have for an email address, and send them your ideas once a month.
  • Don’t harass friends for referrals. Good networking happens because people know what you do and give your name to someone else who is looking for what you provide. Make sure that all of your contacts are well educated on what you provide and include them on your newsletter list.

It is worth noting that following the principles outlined above has the ironic benefit of — you guessed it — dramatically increasing your gravy supply. Enjoy — but have the self-discipline to stick to your plan. After all, maintaining focus is the key to success in all diets, including that of a successful salesperson.

A final, important note regarding gravy: One of the best bloggers and sales experts on the Internet is my counterpart, Jeb Blount. I encourage you to visit his Web site, www.salesgravy.com, and register there today.

Landy Chase, M.B.A., CSP, is an expert who specializes in speaking to corporations and associations on professional selling and sales management topics. His latest book, “Competitive Selling,” was named an Editor’s Choice Best Books of 2010 selection and is available on www.amazon.com. To book Landy for your next sales meeting, visit his Web site at www.sellingrevolution.com or call (800) 370-8026

To read last week’s Words from the Wise, click here.

For more tips on successful selling, see:

8 ways to increase your sales success

Sales Sizzlers: Emotions Are the Key to Consistent Sales Success, Part 1

Tale of the tape: Set goals and objectives