Practicing the Three‐Foot Rule of Sales

By Tom Hopkins

Many businesspeople subscribe to the three‐foot rule when it comes to sales prospecting: Anyone who comes within three feet of them is worth talking to about their product, service, or business.

When you get comfortable with what you’re selling and with talking to people about it, apply this strategy. All you need to do is say, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.” Pay attention to the people you talk to. Notice something about them you can compliment.

For example, if you’re a woman and you’re talking to another woman, you can say, “That’s a great purse (or dress, or coat). Where did you find it?” After she answers, go on with another question about her response or bring up something else you have in common, such as why you’re standing in line at the grocery store at 11:00 p.m. After you establish a little bit of rapport, that’s when you can bring up the subject of your idea, product, or service.

Ask a question such as, “Have you ever found a product to get gum off kids’ sneakers?” (if what you sell gets gum off sneakers). Or use a question such as, “Have you been to the new gift shop on Fifth and Grovers?” (if the new shop is your shop). If you market security products, you can say, “I see you carry mace on your key ring. It makes you feel a bit more secure, doesn’t it?” When she answers in the affirmative, talk about the great security product that you found (and sell). Personal testimony moves more products than any other method.

One man has gotten some of his best leads from fellow elevator passengers whom he knew only as long as it took to ride six floors up or down! Many business contacts have been made while standing in checkout lines at the grocery store or order lines at the coffee shop. Be ready to talk about your product or service wherever you go — and don’t pass up any opportunity to speak with a prospective client.

Get creative with how you seek out information. For example, car handlers at valet parking services can be a valuable source of information. They discover a lot about people by their cars and how they treat the valets, and they overhear conversations about business. Don’t encourage people to eavesdrop on your behalf, but never turn away a valuable source of leads, either.

If you’ve been trying to get an appointment with Mr. Warbucks, and the valet knows he’s in the restaurant and will be leaving promptly at 9 p.m., it may be convenient for you to be next in line at that time, don’t you think?

So how do you handle these brief encounters with people and get leads to build your business? This method won’t bring you great leads every time. Even so, why walk by a potentially beneficial opportunity without knocking? So here’s what you do:

Grab a few of your business cards. (Salespeople are notorious for ordering thousands of business cards at a time. In fact, you can often tell the people who are newest to sales by the huge bulge of cards in their pockets. So make sure you start with just a few.) Across the front of each card, in very neat handwriting, write, “Thank You.” (Hopefully, you haven’t printed every one of your vital statistics on the cards; if you did, you may have no room to print your Thank You.)

When you meet a new person — someone who has entered your three‐foot space — be warm and friendly. Introduce yourself and ask what his business is or why he’s at that place. Making such banter sort of obligates him to do the same. When he asks what your business is, you simply hand him one of your cards. Most people take whatever is handed them as long as their hands aren’t already full. (Thousands of servers of legal documents requesting your presence in court can’t be wrong!)

When the prospect gives you the courtesy of looking at the card, he’ll probably ask about that Thank You. (Curiosity gets the better of most people, and they blurt out their questions almost as a matter of reflex.) That’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. At that point, you simply smile and say these words:

I guess I’m thanking you in advance for, hopefully, the opportunity someday to serve your [whatever your business is] needs.

Be sure to use those words exactly. I guess makes it sound spontaneous. Thanking you in advance shows that you’re a nice person. Hopefully shows humility. Someday places your offer way out into the limbo of the future; it’s a very passive, nonthreatening word. Serve your needs elevates your prospect to a place of importance in your life — and everyone needs to feel important. When someone feels like he’s important to you, he’s more likely to make a move that can help you.

He’ll probably do one of four things, any one of which is a move in the right direction for you:

  • He’ll agree to call you to discuss it further.

  • He’ll give you a time to call him to discuss it further.

  • He’ll ask you to send something.

  • He won’t be interested, but he’ll refer you to someone who may be interested in what you have to offer.

What have you got now? A lot more than you had a moment ago, standing there in line waiting to order your coffee. You’ve got a prospect . . . with a bonus opportunity of getting referrals.