As a young salesperson, I didn’t know much, but as the oldest of three brothers, I knew how to win an argument. I went to great lengths to wield my persuasion skills. In meetings with prospects, against all odds, I built muscles around powering through a series of features and advantages of my product or service. Building momentum, I would read body language, and lacking anything but total affirmation (or submission), I would leverage all the convincing skills I could muster. When time ran out, I found the most common outcome was a heavy dose of resistance, often followed by a cordial dismissal. I took a breath, thanked the decision maker and went on to my next duel. This went on for a few months. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be surprised to learn I was not meeting my sales goals. I remember walking into my Sales Manager’s office and telling him that he’d made a mistake putting me in a sales position – I was not a good sales person. I was getting an enormous amount of rejection. I asked him to reassign me to operations where things were more black and white – and in my control, sort of speak. He agreed that that might be an option, but before he did that, he wanted to ride along with me one day, making sales calls.

The next week, we met early for coffee and donuts to review our itinerary for the day, before we went about our work. Our first stop was to the largest account in my territory. My contact was a senior buyer who had purchased more products and services in a year than I’d sale in my career. As we were walking to the front door of the building, he said, “Let me take this one. You listen and watch, and then we can discuss once we’re back in the car.” The receptionist rang Martha’s line and reported that she’d be right with us. After a few minutes, she came through the lobby door to greet us. I shook her hand and introduced my boss. She shook his hand, told him it was nice to meet him and asked us if we’d like a cup of coffee. Of course, I said, “No thank you.” I never accepted coffee at a client’s office, besides we still had a half-cup each in the car. My boss said, “Thank you. I’d love a cup, black please.” Well, not much to learn here. He’s already inconveniencing her and we haven’t stepped foot in her office.

As we sat across from Martha, at her desk, my boss asked, “Do you mind if I set my coffee on your desk?” Really? This guy’s blowing it. “Not at all,” she replied. He thanked her, and asked her how long she’d been with the company. She told him it had been over 20-years. He asked her what she felt were the biggest changes in her job, since she started. We’d been there for almost 10-minutes and he hadn’t even so much as said a word about our products. How on earth does he expect her to be able to buy something she doesn’t know anything about? Martha began to explain to us that she is now being encouraged, in fact, being measured on vendor quality and service. She went on to talk about how, in the near future, she’d be buying more from fewer quality vendors.

Then my boss really blew it. He said, “Well, I know you have others besides ourselves who you could choose as a supplier. In fact, some even have a broader line of products.” Oh my, I’ve got to get this guy away from her. I’m going to lose my biggest account. Why isn’t he trying to convince her that we have the best offering? He went on, “Product breadth is important, with your new initiative. It sounds like quality service is also a key. Can you tell me more about that?” Martha pulled out a binder on their new program and actually shared that vendor quality was considered the primary goal. My boss asked her about the measurables of their program and she went on to explain that on-time delivery, sub-assembly services and strong warranty programs were important to her attaining her goals. She went on to politely inform my boss that although our product warranty policy was good; her experience with our company would likely limit future purchases from us. We didn’t offer sub-assembly services and although some items that were ordered were sent on time, there always seemed to be items back ordered. Again, he misses an opportunity to convince her that our service was superior,

“I know our competition offers sub-assembly services. Can you share with me the assemblies that you are looking for?”

Martha was delighted to share. In closing, my boss says, “As we’ve discussed, we understand you have options, and we are not currently able to earn additional business for the reasons we’ve discussed. If you don’t mind, when Mark and I return to the office, we’re going to review the components that make up these sub-assemblies and run a report on your highest volume purchased components. I will investigate our ability to assemble these items for you, and also, if you could give us some commitment of quantity over the next three months, I will stock these items to assure 100% on-time delivery. If we do that, is there any reason we couldn’t enjoy more business from you?” Martha didn’t take long to respond affirmatively and added that she is very interested in having two reliable sources for these products, one being our company. What was that? Without ever working to overcome an objection, without any need to convince or pitch, my boss had gained a commitment to increasing our sales in one of largest accounts – in fact, he may have saved our business there.

At the end of the day, my boss and I discussed our day. Every call that day went something like the first. No pitch, no heavy persuasion or overcoming objections – no friction, no pull. I told him that when I sold, I often felt like I was trying to convince or pursued buyers, then they’d state some objection and we’d enter into something like a game of tug-o-war with each other. He smiled and with both hands in front of him, exploding open, he said, “Drop the rope!”