- Blog post
My Greatest Sale: We couldn’t match rivals’ track record
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. Eric Baron, founder of The Baron Group in Westport, CT, recounts how he crafted a sales presentation that won the most critical sale of his career.
Not long after we’d launched our training company, we had a chance to compete for a multiyear contract with a Fortune 500 company. The stakes were huge. The contract would jump-start our new company, establish a solid financial base and and give us a great credential.
But the obstacles were huge, too. We were going up against well-known industry leaders. To the prospect, we must have seemed like a risky choice. As individuals we all had deep experience, but as a company we lacked the other firms’ track record of success.
I’d managed to get us an audience with the team that would make the selection. But we were clearly the underdog.
The presentation was do or die. But what could we say about our new company that would put us on the same level as our competition?
So we didn’t even try. Other than the basics, we barely talked about our firm. Instead, we put our entire focus on the prospect and its needs.
Getting the needs right
As every seller knows, needs identification can be risky. If you hit the mark, you have a chance to show customers that you understand their business. But if you miss, the whole presentation falls apart. It’s especially challenging when you’re presenting to a group. Everyone has his or her own agenda.
My contact at the company had given us his views. But that was only one perspective.
To make sure we got the needs right, we:
1. Did field work. To prepare for the presentation, we visited the company’s sales locations. We posed as customers and took notes. We identified service gaps and translated them into training needs. That exercise confirmed much of what we’d been told. But it also allowed us to bring fresh insights to the meeting.
2. Quoted the boss. Yes, multiple buyers have multiple agendas. But one agenda matters most: the boss’s.
In this case, the CEO had recently given a major speech outlining his strategic vision. So we linked each of the needs we’d identified to the CEO’s priorities, quoting his own words wherever possible. Everyone could see how we’d help them get what the boss wanted.
3. Created dialogue. We didn’t presume to tell these experienced managers that we knew what was best for their business. We opened by saying, “Here are your needs, as we understand them.” Then we stopped – and invited feedback.
From then on, it wasn’t just our presentation. Everyone was involved in the give-and-take.
We felt good after the meeting, but we were still the long shot.
A few days later, my contact called to say we’d won the business. “The others just talked about themselves,” he said. “You were the only ones who understood us.”
This was my greatest sale because it became the foundation for how we sell. We’ve been in business nearly 30 years, but we resist the temptation to talk about ourselves. Instead, we talk about the prospect’s needs – as we understand them.