- Blog post
My Greatest Sale: The prospect finally pushed me too far
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. Chuck Cohen, Senior Account Manager for Yellow Book, tells of a sale he thought was gone for good.
Earlier in my career, I learned a very important lesson about how to treat customers.
I used to handle them like they were fine china. I tiptoed around them. Tried to tell them what they wanted to hear. No matter how frustrated I felt, I never let it show. I was always nice, cheerful, pleasant and patient.
Then one day, a very important prospect just pushed me too far.
I’d been calling on him for months. He represented a huge piece of business – the buyer for a 300-store chain.
Saw us as a commodity
At the time, I was selling painters’ pants to retail paint stores. It was an uphill climb: The prospect saw our products as commodities. Still, opportunities like that don’t come along often, and I vowed to do what it took to win the business.
I tried all the standard approaches. I talked features and benefits. I offered faster delivery, custom orders – anything to get us out of the commodity category. He was always willing to see me. But nothing moved him.
I was getting more and more frustrated. I figured he was just using me for window dressing, so that nobody could accuse him of playing favorites. But as long his door was open, I vowed to keep knocking.
Finally, it was crunch time. The prospect was lining up suppliers for the coming year. If I didn’t get the order now, I’d be locked out for an entire year. But when I called on him, he didn’t want to talk. “I’m not looking at that category right now,” he said.
I asked, “Well, what categories are you looking at?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” he huffed.
Did I really say that?
That’s when I sort of lost it. “Tell me,” I said. “What exactly is it that you do for a living?”
There was a long silence as the prospect stared at me across his desk.
“Excuse me?” he said.
I couldn’t stop myself. “Look, I’ve called on you dozens of times. You never say yes and you never say no. So I’m just wondering … what do you do for a living?”
“We’re done here,” he said. “Get out of my office.”
Okay, so you can’t win them all.
You can imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from the buyer a few days later. “We’re going to carry your line,” he told me.
When I came in for the order, he smiled at me and said, “You’re a real bulldog, aren’t you? I respect that.”
Of course, I’ve tried not to insult any more customers. But this sale taught me the value of being real. Prospects hear from well-prepared, professional, polite salespeople all day long. All that polish can get in the way. Buyers want to know who you really are. You can’t connect unless you’re willing to let your guard down and show your true self.