Editor’s Note: With this post, we hereby throw the door wide open for your great true sales stories! See info at the end of the post.
If you are in sales you are used to surprises – some good?, some not so much?. They are, in many ways, an occupational hazard. And of course in sales how you react to surprises can often determine the tone and indeed length of your relationship with a prospect/customer going forward.
I experienced a somewhat extreme example of something coming completely out of left field during a sales call some years back. We had been invited to take part in the dreaded “bake-off” by a prospect. For those of you not familiar with this concept, the “bake-off”? is where a prospect shortlists a number of vendors and then invites each one in turn to come in and present their solution to whatever buying committee they have assembled. In our case we were set to present to a group of about ten people comprised of executives and function heads from across the prospect’s organization. On our side was a team of three; our sales rep, our VP of Sales and myself who was CEO at the time.
The presentation started off in the way most of these do, with a lot of niceties being exchanged, some small talk and then formal introductions. One of their senior executives mentioned that their CEO might “pop-in” during the meeting. Nothing unusual for a busy CEO…or so we thought.?
Our sales rep began her presentation at the front of the room with our VP of Sales close by to help out, while I sat to the back of the room near the door offering interjections and support whenever needed. Everything was going pretty smoothly for the first 30-40 minutes. Our sales rep was doing her usual excellent job in engaging the group in a discovery session and the interaction and energy was great.?
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I noticed that someone was slowly opening the door into the room. I turned to look in time to see a man in his mid-50’s, wearing jeans and a plaid shirt (everyone else in the room was suited and booted, this being the East Coast) holding a broom handle which he was using as a pretend walking-stick, imitating a very old man struggling to walk.
As you can imagine, the room went somewhat quiet. Our sales rep stopped presenting for a moment, a bit nonplussed as to what to do next.
Things then took an even more bizarre turn when the man – whom I had now gathered was their CEO simply because of the lack of reaction by the prospect team – took the broom handle, put it between his legs like a hobby horse?, and galloped around the large conference table shouting “giddy-up!” ?
While he completed his lap I continued to notice that his team either looked down or smiled furtively at each other. At that moment I thought, “Hold on, this is some kind of test.” So when the man finally brought his broom/horse to a halt near me, I stood up and said “You must be the CEO. I am John Golden, CEO of XYZ,” and I stuck out my hand to shake his. He smiled at me, nodded, and promptly left the room.? At that point, I simply said “Well we are glad your CEO could visit with us! So let’s get back to the presentation.” Our sales rep, being the professional she was, then just launched back in as if nothing had happened.?
When the meeting concluded, our closest contact at the prospect company sat down with us and told us that the CEO liked to spring surprises on vendor companies to see how they reacted. By our non-reaction and taking it in stride, we had aced the test.? They went on to tell us of other examples of their CEO’s unorthodox approach, such as his scheduling a fire drill during another product presentation, thereby forcing the vendor to present to him in the parking lot!
The lesson we all took away was to stay focused and calm, whatever surprise crops up during a sales cycle; think about how your reaction is going to be perceived before reacting.
(I am sure there are those of you who think this is a made-up story used to illustrate a point – I assure you it isn’t, it actually happened and I have two witnesses from my own team to prove it!).
Do you have an interesting, funny? or educational? a story about a sales call or sales cycle? We would love to hear it! There are always great lessons to be learned from front-line experiences, and I am sure you have some really entertaining tales to tell. Just send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.