Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Sales consultant Spider Lockhart, of Selling Management Partners in Ann Arbor, MI, tells the story of a sale he walked away from early in his career — and how his honesty paid off in the long run.

I hadn’t been in my job long. I’d recently switched from selling insurance to industrial sales. Now I was selling complex and expensive technology to manufacturers. My prospect, Neil, was new in his job too. He worked for an auto parts manufacturer. The owners desperately needed to cut their manufacturing costs.

Our system was state of the art, and had a big price advantage over the competition.

Neil wanted a proposal. Fast. His bosses saw the potential savings and they were breathing down his neck.

Techies were all for it
I was no technical expert, so I went back to our engineers. They jumped on the opportunity and offered their recommendations. “Are you sure this will meet the client’s needs?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” they told me.

But in sales, you learn to read between the lines. I wasn’t 100% convinced they were as confident as they sounded. On the other hand, I was looking at a pretty substantial commission. And my technical experts were giving me a green light.

When I met with Neil, I decided the only fair thing to do was to lay everything on the table – the risks as well as the opportunities. It had to be his call, I thought.

He was ready to buy. But he was so anxious. He kept picking things up from his desk and putting them down. So I made a pretty reckless decision on the spot.

“Don’t do it,” I said. “Don’t buy this system,” I told him.

He just looked at me.

“Neil, it’s too risky,” I told him. “You’re still new in your job. This is complex stuff. It could be disastrous.”

“Well, thanks for your honesty,” Neil said.

I never did get that sale. Even so, I consider it my greatest sale because I refused to sell the wrong solution to my customer. But I sure could have used that commission.

What goes around …
Years later, we were selling to a much larger company. We’d made the finals and the company had asked us to present to its buying committee.

When I walked into the room, I got two surprises. Surprise #1: The company had asked our competitor to sit in on our meeting. Surprise #2: Guess who the CFO was? “Hi, Neil,” I said.

He played it cool, but his eyes were smiling. “It’s been a while,” he said.

The competitor was much larger and better-known than us, and I guess they figured they’d quickly put us in our place. They trashed our system. Said it wasn’t up to the job. All but accused us of being a fly-by-night outfit that couldn’t be trusted.

I just let them talk.

Because I already had the sale. I could see it in Neil’s eyes.

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