This post is a bit of a divergence from my previous posts about selling and sales experiences here at NewzSocial. I was recently reminded of a sales call that changed my life and set me down the path of “solution” selling many years ago. I decided it might be fun to share this real life experience as a junior sales guy in my first sales job. It might also bring a smile to a few old sales dogs.
I will describe the environment I was selling in and the types of prospecting activities I used to find leads. I will then describe a particular sales process and the result.
Fresh out of business school I landed a job with NCR Corporation. They sent me back east for sales training and corporate indoctrination. After the first nine week training session, the class of 31 college grads were sent back into their territories to sell a PC to a small or medium sized business. If you sold a PC in the three months of time allocated you were allowed to keep your job and go to the 2nd round of training and indoctrination. I should mention that this was back in the mid 1980’s. PC’s were still early in their evolution and were worth $5,000 – $10,000 for a pretty basic system.
We were set loose to find prospects and sell them a PC for their business with Wordstar and Lotus123. There was no such thing as voice mail, SMB targeted lists, Webex, LinkedIn, inter-corporate email, websites or other tools we take for granted today to accelerate deals and processes. We sold the old fashioned way… door-to-door.
I would literally drive to industrial areas and go from building to building politely asking the front receptionist who the IT person and/or general manager was. I would also write down the names of various businesses in the area so that I might be able to do some telephone prospecting. I would prepare a list of company names, look them up in the phone book and call the main number to inquire who the IT person / GM was. This proved far more efficient at gathering the information versus making physical calls. I would then have the secretary queue up & process my introductory letter on the Wang word processor. I would have to give her no less than 24 hours notice on any request – in writing. Then, I would manually mail out 100 letters per week. I would now have 100 telephone calls to follow up on my letters for the week after.
Within a couple weeks I managed to find my first prospect. It was a small industrial parts distributor with a warehouse full of inventory and no computer system. I made an appointment with the owner of the company. I asked him all the questions I had been taught to ask in order to build my business case for Wordstar and Lotus123. How many inventory items, value of inventory, average turn rates etc. All his records were manual and while he knew his business, he was not quite sure of the specifics on a lot of my questions. Talk about a perfect set up I thought, this was going to be easy. I secured his commitment to have a follow up meeting where I would present my solution.
I set about pitching my solution on how Wordstar and Lotus could solve all the owner’s problems. He listened politely for about ten minutes then stood up and said “Son, appreciate the effort you have made but please stop talking. You should look up information about Accpac and not waste your time with this Wordstar and Lotus nonsense. And you should also look into getting a suit that fits properly. Now get out.”
This was a gut wrenching failure in my first attempted sales process. I was devastated. I contemplated my life, career choice etc for several hours that day. I checked with other members of my training class on how they were doing. Many of them had already figured out that the solution provided to us was not working. I did my research after that day. I actively sought out information on Accpac and a variety of other PC accounting software solutions for MS-DOS.
I found resellers that sold and supported a variety of accounting software systems that would work on NCR PCs. While these firms refused to sell NCR PCs, some did agree to work deals with me if I brought them a lead.
My prospecting activity went in to overdrive. I was making hundreds of cold calls. I was able to find more than a dozen qualified prospects for accounting software where they also needed a PC. I made dozens of sales calls with old accounting software guys beside me. I was in awe of how the owners of small businesses were really interested in the solution I was now presenting.
With one month left to go, I sold my first PC. Then I sold another, and another. My confidence really started to take off. I had figured out the magic formula. Work hard, work smart, listen to what the client is telling you and sell them something that solves a real problem.
While the emotional impact of the original failure was enormous, it helped me shift to a go-to-market strategy that better suited the real problem PCs were solving for SMBs back in the mid 80’s. This was the first time (not to be the last), that I learned the hard way what a compelling value proposition did for me and that it better resonate with my prospect.
Today’s Recommendation: “Hope is not a strategy” by Rick Page.
My Ask of you: Tell me about your first, unpleasant sales experience.
Note: special apologies go out to Jill Rowley for using the term “prospect”. It was necessary given the ancient story I was telling.