Twelve years ago I had a painful and embarrassing experience that not only provided an invaluable lesson, but also helped define the future of my career.
I had just walked away from a company where I was the top performing salesperson on a team of 15. The owners sold the business to a gigantic public company and within days, the new senior management pretty much wrecked everything I loved about the organization. I resigned to join a just-past-start-up learning management system company that sold to Fortune 500 clients through a channel partner. I was assured that this partner had a comprehensive learning offering, a professional sales organization, and entrenched relationships with many companies that were our ideal target accounts.
However, nothing about the sales process of my new company seemed right. When I’d ask questions about proactively pursuing prospects with the partner, my boss told me just to wait. “Wait?” Wait for what? I was to wait for our partner to summon me to “presentation” where we could “demo” our great system. Hmm. Three of my least favorite words in the same sentence: wait, presentation, demo. I still shake my head when I recall the story.
During my third week on the job word came from our partner that they had secured a presentation and demo for us with one of their blue-chip clients on the east coast. I was too new to fly solo, so a colleague with technical expertise and I plunked down two grand for airfare and headed to New Jersey. Our partner’s award-winning senior account manager picked us up at the airport and shared his plan for the meeting with his client. Since he was a supposed sales rock star, and, after all, it was his client, I deferred to his judgment and went along. Rock star said he would “tee up our demo” with a few slides and then we’d be off to the races.
The whole thing felt wrong. There was no mention of dialoguing with the client. We knew almost nothing about their situation or why they agreed to the meeting. I couldn’t grasp why we would be presenting before doing discovery work. And our partner’s rock star had not mentioned anything about trying to find out more from the client early on in the meeting – before our demo. I should have spoken up. But I didn’t.
The train wreck that ensued is as burned in my memory as anything in my career. Our partner kicked off the meeting and put up slide after self-focused slide. The first slides were pictures of his company’s large campus. Really. Then logos of his company’s big name clients. Then flow charts and diagrams highlighting their magnificent processes. It was a sight to behold. Slide after self-focused slide. It was painful. Not one question made its way out of his mouth. We didn’t learn a thing to help us tailor the demo to their situation. It was awful. And an embarrassing disaster.
What a painful lesson. The next day I wrote a long and angry document recapping what went wrong and what to do differently in the future. I promised myself, never again.
Never again would I let someone else dictate my sales process.
- Never again would I defer to someone else because of seniority, reputation or the fact that they were more entrenched in an account.
- I would never again agree to do a presentation or demo prior to performing the necessary discovery work to understand the client’ situation.
- If ever prematurely forced into a making a presentation, I would take control and turn the beginning of the meeting into a dialogue to discover more about the potential client’s vision, needs, desires, buying process, etc.
We all have stories of situations where we knew something was wrong, but for whatever reason, chose to remain silent. For me, that day in New Jersey was a defining moment where I emphatically committed “never again!”
Mike Weinberg leads The New Sales Coach consultancy where he coaches sales teams and sales leaders, and consults senior executives on sales force turnarounds. He has the been top-performing salesperson in three different organizations and his specialty is new business development. Top Sales World recently named Mike a “Top 50 Sales Influencer for 2012” and his first book, “New Sales. Simplified.” will be released in September, 2012.
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