Did that buyer just refer to me as an a$$hole?? Yup!
Paul Cassar and Mike Webber successfully built and ran VideoEgg/SAY Media in Canada for years. They grew the business from the dirt and are still legends to me, their teammates, and hopefully to a legion of Canadian buyers too. Part of their success is based on knowing that successful face-to-face sales meetings require extensive preparation and organization. However, not everything goes according to plan, as we learned from a sales call that blew up in our face.
The main product VideoEgg brought to the market was of high value to the customer an incredibly sexy (yes, ad units can be "sexy"). Because our offering was creative-based with broad customization possibilities, our meetings with buyers often evolved into discussions that ignited juices and veered in multiple directions. Therefore, maintaining control of sales meetings with buyers was a must.
One particular sales call the three of us ran in Toronto left us speechless and writing apology notes. (That's Paul, Mike and myself above just after the meeting...feeling a bit off.) The meeting had the makings of an all-time great one for the year: there were highly strategic threads tossed around, and overall great banter. Peppering the amiable verbal jousting were intense discussions about our business model and the buyer’s marketing objectives. It was one of the liveliest – and fun – sales calls I had ever been on. There was a lot of laughter and the meeting spiraled quickly into a scene you’d often see at a bar amongst friends.
One particular sales call we ran in Toronto left us speechless and writing apology notes.
Paul, Mike and myself were really connecting with three of the four buyers in the room. And then there was that one kid who was quiet…hanging in the corner of the room, slightly pushed back from the table. Observing. There were six excited participants in that room enthusiastically engaging, and one “witness” sitting slightly removed: that one kid off in the corner who said nothing.
Well of course, there weren’t enough back-slaps and high-fives to go around amongst Paul, Mike and me as we descended in the elevator after the meeting. We came, we saw, we kicked butt…the order would be coming in any day now.
Five minutes after we left the agency’s office, my phone rang and it was our President who calmly, yet directly said, “what the hell just happened at that agency?”
Confidently, yet confused, I answered, “uhh, well we aced it…HUH? What’s up?”
He replied, “Then why did I just see a tweet that said ‘just finished meeting with VideoEgg and those guys are a bunch of a$$holes who don’t know what they’re doing’”.
Paul, Mike and I were stunned. We stood on the curb reciting details of the meeting to Prez Troy Young on the phone. Admittedly, Paul and myself had been diagnosed years earlier with BPS (Big Personality Syndrome…there’s a pill for it, just watch sports on the weekend and you’ll see an ad), and Mike was no shrinking violent when cajoled.
"Then why did I just see a tweet that said 'just met with VideoEgg and those guys are a bunch of a$$holes who don't know what they're doing?'"
And then it hit us. That kid in the corner (KIC). Could we have possibly alienated KIC? Us? My gosh, NO. We were perfect in that meeting. We were prepared. Organized. They LOVED us. Remember the laughter? The banter? Okay so we let the horses run a little far at times, but we hit all the high notes. We certainly engaged everyone…oops….maybe not…we obviously didn’t engage everyone in the room. Certainly we did not engage KIC.
As we stood on the street with adrenaline pouring out of our bodies, we surmised that our “shtick” actually repelled KIC. OKAY, I admit… a few times through my effort to involve KIC, I gestured to him and said, “well what DO YOU think?” Too strong? Should I have used my “inside voice”? Damn BPS. Tone it down, Hess….bring it down!
Us Three Amigo A-Holes continued to dissect the meeting and finally agreed our approach was way too strong for KIC…perhaps the meeting wasn’t organized enough for him. My bull-rush effort to engage KIC aside, the meeting flow was pretty chaotic. We lost control, and we lost the chance to earn a friend.
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There are tons of tips I teach my clients (sales managers and sales executives) on how to run effective and productive face-to-face sales meetings, yet that event in Toronto was certainly educational and the lessons are pretty clear:
1. Manage your "charisma". I’ve always urged those who worked for me to be enthusiastic and charismatic when “performing” on sales meetings, but it is possible to be too enthusiastic and charismatic. We allowed that meeting to red-line in the energy department. We lost control.
2. Engagement is a tricky thing. I’ve always taught those on my team to engage everyone in the room…but engagement methods must be customized for each individual. Be sensitive to body language and dynamics and adjust your approach accordingly.
3. Carefully challenge buyers. I’ve always prodded my sales execs to ask smart, probing questions and don’t be afraid to challenge the buyer a bit. But “challenging” someone requires a certain amount of permission and a lot of dexterity. Challenge only when you are confident you’ve earned trust and the meeting’s tone allows for it.
4. Understand/respect the dynamic. I’ve always encouraged my sellers to try to understand the relationship between the buyers who are in the room. This is hard especially upon the first meeting with a team; but assume that not all of the players even know each other, let alone like and respect each other. If you can’t get your mole to give insight to the dynamic in the meeting ahead of time, trek softly. (Maybe KIC was despised by the others in that room? Didn’t matter, he still used his “pen” to discredit us.)
So how did it all end? You can guess. We sent our apology notes. Made our calls. And certainly we walked gently inside the agency thereafter. And of course we all moved on. I actually don’t remember the repercussions on the business so that means we didn't serve a strict "jail sentence” as a result of our transgressions. (The buyer was pretty junior...though no excuses.) After all, we did convert three buyers to our side in that meeting, but often it takes one to spoil the fun. And as sales professionals, we can’t afford to leave one behind!
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