A Sales Aerobics for Engineers® Defining Moment Guest Post by Gary S. Hart
Getting the sale was my priority until I realized that priority was holding me back from real success. When author Howell Raines coined the phrase “defining moment” as a reporter for the N.Y. Times in 1983, he had no idea it would become part of our lexicon. And that is how defining moments are. We do not predict them or expect them, but when they happen our lives are forever different. And so it was for me when I found a better way to sell.
“Get the order, close the sale, and bring us wheelbarrows filled with money” is what management drills into the minds of the sales team. Our job is to bring in business and if we do not, we will be out of a job. Meeting monthly, quarterly, and annual quotas, earning commissions and bonuses can keep you trapped in a vicious cycle.
Doing what was the right thing for my customer put me at odds with my superiors in my first few positions. Finding a balance between my clients and management was challenging. I needed my job and needed my customers too.
Ten years into my sales career, I was hired as V.P. of Sales and Marketing for a machine tool distributor where I continued selling. During my first year, I met Bob, president of a manufacturing company in Kansas. Life was geopolitical back then. Because he did not yet know me, being a New York sales guy was a strike against me. My specialty in computer automated manufacturing made me somewhat of a necessary evil.
Over the next couple of years, we spoke from time to time about everything from the industry and changes in manufacturing technology to the economy and his corporate needs. He told me his story about how he and his partner began with nothing and developed what became the best machine in its class.
Documentation Storage Technology, a major manufacturer of hard drives, went belly up in 1986. There were two finance companies involved, one of which was Chase whom I had a relationship with. Chase had me handle two large machining centers. The other bank placed two sister machines in auction with the rest of the facility.
Bob had been searching for one of these machines. After a couple of phone calls and sending him a proposal, Bob called me in a tirade. “You damn New York hustlers. You’re trying to sell me the machines coming up in Stu’s auction.”
“There’s four of them Bob. Do you have the auction brochure handy? Compare the serial numbers on my proposal and the auctioneer’s brochure.”
“You’re right Hart, they’re different. I’m sorry. The newer one in the auction has a feature I’d like, but if I can’t get it a good price, I’ll buy one of yours. Are you going down to Florida for the sale?”
We met in Florida and spent the evening at a reception held at a hotel filled with a bunch of other industry folks. The next day, we bid together and against each other. We had fun and started our friendship. The machine at the auction went higher than he was willing to bid. The following morning, after a stop at the Kennedy Space Center, we went to look at my equipment with his maintenance foreman. We were about to close a $100,000 sale when I was interrupted by a phone call from the auctioneer.
My Defining Moment
The auction buyer had backed out of his purchase due to a mistake in the advertised specs. Bob was the second high bidder and the auctioneer wanted to sell Bob their machine. Telling Bob was going to cost me a sale. So would not telling him. We could shake hands on a deal, but the auctioneer would track him down. Bob would back out of our deal and worse, our relationship – along with my reputation – would be worthless.
I told Bob what happened and helped him negotiate with the auctioneer right there on the spot. You probably think I’m crazy, but Bob and I did millions of dollars in business together for many years. Not only did he endorse me and make countless referrals, but whenever needed, he gave me a glowing reference to a potential client of mine. My wife and I spent his 50th birthday with his wife and another couple. After I left the business, we went on a little bird hunting trip together.
This is one of many relationships that happened to turn into good, long term business. I was taught the mechanisms of sales, how to pitch and present, the art of persuasion, and the skill of rhetoric. But I did not sell. My clients made buying decisions that included me, because I brought more to their company than iron, nuts and bolts, better features, or a lower price.
There are many different ways to earn business. Over four decades, I have sold and led sales teams through short and long sales cycles, in industries from advertising to technology. I’ve found that developing quality relationships founded on trust and mutual respect, by doing “the right thing for my customer,” was the method that consistently produced the most sustainable, profitable sales.
Salespeople’s motives are commonly prejudged as self-serving. Let’s face it, it’s our job is to get business, and buyers anticipate aggressive and shady selling tactics. It is up to you to create an image of trust, and for you to prove you have the values and qualities that mutually beneficial relationships are founded upon.
Your greatest success will be achieved when you stop selling and build quality relationships.
Growing up in the projects of Brooklyn taught me how to find opportunities in adversity. My passion for people led me to a career in sales and marketing that began in 1972 at age seventeen. As VP of Sales & Marketing, I led our team to an 800% sales increase during the very rough economy of the early 1980s. I’ve been at the helm for numerous startups. Now I write and speak about “relationship selling” and marketing.