Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How To Ruin Your Own Good Luck

A sales representative (note: not ‘professional) selling ancillary small business technology to what my company offers dropped in on our office unannounced in hopes of eventually solidifying a referral partnership.   His thought process for prospecting was sound enough.  We are regularly asked for recommendations on where to buy his products, and we can’t offer them ourselves for logistical purposes.  Plus, he would have never gotten much traction over the phone with such a vanilla product. 


Ringing the doorbell just as my General Manager was coming back to the office from a late lunch, he had no idea that he’d just bumped into a decision maker who had recently been burned by a competitor offering basically the same services.  My GM was in a conversational mood and in no rush to dive back into spreadsheets following a satisfying meal, so he was receptive to a mostly me-too elevator pitch with an interesting twist that seemingly could help us eliminate some startup apprehension in our own sales process.  This got him a friendly introduction to me, followed by an hour long meeting about our mutual capabilities and limitations, and eventually leading into permission to buy my team breakfast and their morning’s ear over coffee.  So far, so good.


It turns sour on the morning of his breakfast when he shows up late with stale doughnuts and no partner or accompanying presentation.  Clearly flustered in front of a room of captive potential referral partners, he promptly displays a faulty and insincere understanding of our product in a stammering speech delivered with his arms crossed and brow scrunching ever tighter with sweaty anxiety.  After 5 minutes of awkwardly stumbling through a summary of his employer’s mostly irrelevant history and services, the partner shows up unapologetic and eager to impress.  He laughs alone at his own poorly timed humor, slips some shiny marketing collateral on the table and launches into the same ill advised summary pitch we had just endured.  This time with unduly assumed swagger. 


Comically unaware of their audience’s dissatisfaction with the quality of their meeting and breakfast pastry, this dynamic duo then proceeds to incomprehensibly botch the answers to several questions that I had laid out for them in bullet points as areas of concern in emails confirming their appointment.  My team knows me well enough to sense when my fuse has burned too long in silence.  They’re giggling and sharing knowing glances.  Bracing myself for the anguish of restraint, I tap my watch and rush the meeting towards a close by citing concern for getting my people ready at their workstations by the start of business. 


I later apologized to my team for wasting their time and encouraged them to view their morning as a lesson in what not to do.  For some reason – maybe pity – I wrote the presenters an email thanking them for breakfast and reminding them to send me some geographic coverage information that was promised during the misguided FAQ.  Aside from an occasional mocking reference, they were a thing of the past.


Then one morning, against my better intuition, an opportunity arose where someone on my team felt they could lock up a deal by recommending the services of our not-so-long-forgotten presenters.  Eyeing revenue goals instead of my own good reason, I gave permission to send out the referral. The decision nearly cost us the deal when the presenters tried to raise their pricing 10% from their initial proposal at the time of close.  I was livid, and I let them know it over the phone and through email, but I absorbed their apologies without excessive resistance in hopes of avoiding unnecessary and unproductive tension.  I washed my hands of these guys and told my team to do the same.


A month later I am in the midst of training a new hire when I hear a knock on my office door.  It’s our slow talking, inexplicably pompous, price hiking hero again.  This time he’s got an over eager sales engineer at his side.  “I just thought I’d drop in and see how things are going.”  I’m thrown off.  “Umm, everything’s great.  I‘m just in the middle of training and didn’t think we’d hear from you again after you failed to follow up from our meeting and almost ruined the only deal we brought you in on.”  He flips his shaggy southern comb-over and adjusts his obnoxiously modern square rim glasses.  “I was hoping maybe I could take you out to lunch sometime to talk about how we can better work together.”  “You know what, I’m busy now, but shoot me an email and maybe we’ll get together some time.” He leaves.


About 30 minutes afterwards I take a trip down the hall to make rounds with my troops when I’m blown away to find the intrusive duo chatting up one of my best reps during peak business hours.  Summoning my last drop of decorum, I pull up a chair and wait for a pause in the conversation where I can remind all parties that my rep has important work to be done that afternoon.  Then, it happens, “So, you guys should always recommend our services to your customers on every call” is his reply to an explanation about our product he’s already heard three times that inherently implies why we can’t recommend his services on most occasions.  Dryly, “Get out.”  “Should we get going?” “Yes, and don’t ever come back so long as I work for this company.”  Everyone in the room tests my glare to see if I’m kidding.  “Brian, where did we…”  I can’t engage in this conversation.  “Just go guys.  I can’t have my sales professionals exposed to you anymore.  I’m afraid they’ll pick up bad habits.”


This guy showed up with a hot prospect at the right time in the right place.  He glided into an appointment with the gatekeeper, then straight into a layup of a presentation to the troops who can deliver his technology to end-users.  All this on luck alone.  A sales professional would have seized the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the opportunity so as to deliver the optimal presentation and follow it up by providing all the materials and resources needed to make the partnership a success out of the gate.  This guys is no professional.   He waited for opportunities to talk instead of listening.  He showed up to a meeting late and unprepared.  He spoke without charisma or care.  He invaded my office and inhibited the productivity of my reps. All this without a smidgeon of self-awareness or expertise in sales execution. 


Unfortunately for this hack, his employer and his customers, he’d never read this blog or any other publication intended to help him grow as a professional.  He’s a loser.  Thank you for reading.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

PetSmart Understands The Power Of Great Timing Coupled With The Right Question

After my bulldog Hammer shattered his 3rd keg bucket expressing his extreme dislike for being soaked in a soapy tub of warm water, I decided to give the good folks at PetSmart their shot at ridding him of his monthly buildup of stink. I dropped the odorous pooch off for the basic bath and nail clipping service, and for the (borderline) reasonable price of about $24 got him back two hours later wagging his tail and smelling like fresh flowers in morning sunshine. I was fully satisfied with the results of my moderate splurge.

My cell phone rang three weeks later and a friendly voice identified himself as a representative from PetSmart inquiring about whether Hammer could use another bath. I was on my way into a meeting and gave him a soft blowoff, mumbling something about being “all taken care of” and appreciating the call. The PetSmart rep, unfazed, next asked me “Are you sure he’s not smelling up the house or in need of a nail clipping?” He had me. Nobody wants guests walking into their home to be overpowered by the smell of a dog just to be scratched up by the offending canine. “You know what, let me know how early I can bring him in tomorrow morning and I’ll pick him up when you’re done.” The PetSmart rep had been trained to casually and succinctly hit on my pain points so that it felt like I was doing myself a favor for buying what he had to sell.

This is was small sell, so (as per the main theme of SPIN Selling) it was fairly easy to close with the right line of questioning intended to reveal value. It also helped their cause that I was a repeat customer where the weather had just turned warm enough to make a bulldog’s aroma go sour after just a short jog around the block. But still, they called at the right time, made a great impression and immediately hit on their value to me without any blathering whatsoever. Kudos PetSmart. You’re SaleSmart too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sales As A Profession

The assumption that sales aptitude is born instead of learned coupled with the unrelenting stereotype of a mythological and unscrupulous used car salesman has built a culture of shame amongst sales professionals who should be holding their heads high amongst the more traditionally lauded members of the highly paid white collar caste.  It doesn’t either that the intricacies of your product knowledge and industry expertise in casual conversation do little to captivate anyone other than potential buyers themselves.  Still, it is time that the Salesman claims his due regard as the universal driving force of business development.  Bankers, lawyers, and accountants beware!


Listen in during introductions in any upwardly mobile social gathering, and you will surely see that there is a direct relationship between the number of certificates on an office wall and eagerness to share auto-biographical professional details.  The Salesman is a charming and equally proficient provider for his family, but he’d rather not get into the details of his profession for fear of drawing the conversation into an inevitable dead end.  Members of the legal, medical, financial services and myriad other immediately recognizable professions get conciliatory nods of approval just for identifying their industry.  The Salesman waits for his turn to come and says “I’m in sales” or possibly “I’m in insert product category sales” while praying internally for a lack of follow up questions.  Then, it comes, “Oh, what do you sell?”, and the Salesman searches for the right words to gain understanding quickly without seeming standoffish or spurring further questions.  All because he makes his money by persuading people to purchase a product that he strongly believes will be to their benefit.  This trend of self-suppression can only be reversed by a concerted effort to declare our collective profession with pride.  “I’m in sales, so I help people find the insert product type that best suits their needs!”


Perhaps I’m being over idealistic and self-righteous, but I’m not slinking away anymore.  Who’s coming with me?