A number of years ago I was working in a company where I had developed a speciality role selling equipment into the aero engine component refurbishment industry. As such I would travel the length and breadth of the UK whenever there was an enquiry for our products and services or to prospect for new business. Whilst usually I would work alone when an enquiry came in from an area where we would have either an employed salesperson or a commissioned agent I would accompany them as they would maintain the customer contact and relationship once equipment had been sold and supplied.
On one particular occasion that sticks out in my mind we had an enquiry for a simple machine from a company based in Scotland. I telephoned our responsible salesperson for the territory and we agreed to visit together. As the company was a 5 hour drive from my home I suggested we should meet at 7 to 7:30 am at a point half way to the destination. As we lived in different parts of the country we could drive their independently, park one car and travel the rest of the way together to discuss the strategy for the call, etc… “You’ll be there on your own then”, said my colleague. “I’m not getting up at 5 am; they don’t pay me for that!” he said. That was the first thing that struck me about this experience as I have always had the philosophy that a salesperson should maximise their face-to-face selling time in a day to maximise their chances of success so for me this was something you just should be doing. He was adamant though he wasn’t going to and eventually we agreed to meet at 09:30.
In the drive together we talked about what had been discussed with the contact we had; he knew what he needed (and it seemed appropriate subject to our verifying a few things in the call), he had the money and was in a position of authority to proceed and place the order. Significantly he knew all of this because he had been talking to our competition about a very similar piece of equipment. (In fact they had the march on us as they were already in, talking, had demonstrated their machine and had quoted). He was simply testing that the price they had quoted was fair and at the market value (he wanted to be sure he wasn’t paying too much). He also had some of their equipment already and was happy with it.
When we arrived at the company we met our prospect and within no more than 60 minutes we had verified what he thought he needed was the appropriate solution, explained that we could offer this as well and that we believed it was right for him, had satisfied him that our machine was equivalent to that he had already seen demonstrated by our competition and then differentiated our offer in terms of support and approach. Most importantly when I was satisfied we had been thorough enough I had asked him for and got his order for our machine.
Getting back in the car afterwards I was elated and in celebrating hadn’t noticed that my colleague wasn’t sharing my enthusiasm for what had just happened. As we talked it soon became clear why I had asked for the order and he hadn’t, as for me that was the obvious step to take.
“You shouldn’t have done that!” he said. “Sorry … done what?” I asked puzzled. “Got the order”, he replied. Curious, I asked him what he meant. He stated that we hadn’t run trials or demonstrated our machine and that was what he would have done. I explained to him that in the call the contact had told us enough (and what he hadn’t told I had questioned) to be sure our machine would do what he needed and was satisfied that the competition’s machine did and as such there was no need for any of that. “In fact on the basis he was ready to place the order and had only contacted us as a verification the only thing we could have achieved by taking time to do those things when they weren’t necessary was to have ensured (our competition) won it”, I told him amazed at what he had just said, and clearly still thought. I explained if I had any sort of doubt I would have followed that course of action ensuring he agreed it was prudent and would be prepared to extend his deadline. As it was the machines were simple, very similar and his requirement was well within both machines’ capabilities and I knew enough about both machines to have made that decision.
Funny that – as a salesperson I saw that (asking for the order) as exactly what my job was – the rest is just the means to the end. Yet it’s amazing how many salespeople I have met over the years who just don’t get it!
And as a footnote to the story, not only did the company buy that one machine from us; in the years I was involved with them they also bought another 3 machines from us. Realising we were at that point in that first call (and so was the prospect) proved to be a very valuable decision.
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