When I first started my sales career, I was a virtual sponge. I was on a mission to learn as much as I could in the shortest possible time. I looked to the experts for guidance and took their advice as the gospel truth.
One of my hot prospects at the time was a growing construction firm. I was working with Tinsey, a very articulate woman who told me she was making the copier decision for her company.
Shortly after our first meeting, I read a book that said salespeople shouldn't waste their time on the underlings. Instead, they should work directly with the ultimate decision maker - the person who had the power to say "yes" or "no."
That was a real wake-up call for me. I didn't know that and had been calling at the wrong level. Tinsey was simply the administrative assistant to the CEO. Clearly I needed to take some corrective action - fast.
So I immediately called the company to set up an appointment to meet with the head honcho about the pending copier decision. When he agreed to get together, I was ecstatic.
I spent a lot of time prepping for that meeting. I wanted it to be a smashing success. As I waited in the lobby, I couldn't help but feel pleased with myself for recouping from the terrible position I'd been in earlier. No more selling to peons for me!
Suddenly Tinsey appeared around the corner. Surprised to see me, she asked, "What are you doing here, Jill?"
"I'm here to see Mr. Big," I replied, suddenly not so sure that the tactic I'd taken was the right one.
"What for?" she demanded.
I answered lamely, "I'm here to talk with him about your copier decision."
Hearing that, she launched into a tirade of such a magnitude that I'd never encountered before.
"I told you," she raged, "that I was making this decision. Not Mr. Big! Me. Who do you think you are going around my back to meet with him?"
She was right in my face, shaking her finger about two inches from my nose. I'd never made anyone so mad in my entire life and it was in my new job that I loved.
I was appalled. Mortified. And suddenly very light-headed and shaky. I fainted dead away right there in the middle of the lobby.
The next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor in a very unladylike position looking up at a crowd of people gathered around me.
They were all talking at once: "Are you okay? Do you need some water? Should we call a doctor?"
Embarrassed to my core, I kept shaking my head to clear it and telling everyone, "I'm all right. I'm all right." After sitting on the floor for a few moments I finally felt good enough to stand up again, albeit a bit shakily.
I looked at Tinsey and apologized. She suggested it would be a good idea if I left and not bother to come back. I followed her directions explicitly and never returned.
Why am I telling you this? Because at its core, selling is about people. It's not a bunch of cheap tricks and techniques to manipulate someone to buy from you.
If I'd thought for two minutes about how my actions could be perceived by Tinsey, I would never have bypassed her and contacted her boss directly.
But I didn't. I simply thought about my own goal and what I could do to accomplish it.
You may laugh at my story and think, "Jill, how dumb can you be?" But, I would suggest that you're probably doing a whole lot of stupid things too. And you'll never know about it unless you filter your own behavior through a client filter.
Here are several more important lessons you can learn from my major blunder:
- Once you're working with someone it's never appropriate to go around them without their knowledge. They'll get mad. Furious. It's a normal human reaction.
- Don't make assumptions about people's decision-making power simply based on their title. Check out how decisions are made, who else is involved and what has to be done before they make a change. In my case, Tinsey had full authority to make the choice. Her boss wanted nothing to do with it. He'd simply given her a budget to stay within.
- If you discover you're at the wrong level, you need to find a valid business reason to get to the right decision maker. Most of all, it needs to make sense from the perspective of your current contact in the account. If it doesn't and you go behind their backs, they'll find a way to sabotage you.
- Have your current contact bring you to meet their boss or colleague. Go WITH, not around. Think about why they might want to do this. What value could they get from setting up this meeting? They'll never do it just to be nice for you. Somehow you need to find out how they can come out a winner by arranging this appointment.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Often there's no way to determine the decision maker until you get in. So you need to plan for what you'll do if you're not with the right person. I always mention that speaking to the chief sales officer is imperative for the success of the project. Invariably that opens the door to the final decision maker.
Finally, I'd like you to think about your own sales bloopers. Each one of them is truly a valuable learning experience that holds the potential to make you a much better sales person.
No matter how long you've been selling, you're not immune from making mistakes. The key is to mine the gold in them so you keep getting better.
P.S. That was the only time in my whole life that I ever fainted!