George was the first rep I visited clients with when I joined a new company as sales manager. It was my first job in this particular sector so I had a lot to learn.
My predecessor had briefed me that George had oodles of ability but went about his business with marginally less energy than a sloth. Productivity was his “area for improvement”.
We were visiting a retail client to sell them books in all their outlets. George was a bit fortunate that this opportunity happened to be in his territory. Having looked at his figures for the past year I’d assumed my first task would be to establish a key account manager to present to key customers rather than leave it to some lucky rep.
The company I’d joined was, by its own admission, “behind the times” and wanted me to remould their sales team as I saw fit. I was prepared to lose George if he threw a ‘strop’ about losing an account his performances had not earned him the right to manage.
He was late picking me up. My decision was forming just as fast as my impatience. Eventually, he turned up in the dirtiest company Ford Mondeo I’d ever seen. His passenger window came down and a smiling face stretched over from the driver’s seat.
“So, you’re the axeman? I didn’t know whether to pick you up or run you down.”
George’s smile was one of those that could earn him immunity from rebuke. Instantly, there was a recognisable charm about him. I mentally re-sheathed the axe. Being late and having a dirty car didn’t inspire confidence but there was enough suggested talent under the surface. The confidence he exuded must be based on something, I thought.
“I’m not an axeman George, more just a new broom.”
We drove to the meeting. There was nothing sloth-like about his driving. “I hate being late,” he explained.
“Except for picking me up,” I replied.
“Aye, but you’re not a customer.” That smile again. The presentation he was going to do had better be good.
Soon we were in front of the customer. “I’ll do the talking, boss,” George had muttered as we went in.
“That’s the plan, George.”
“So,” said the customer, “you’re here to try and sell me books? I’ve got to tell you, we don’t do very well with books in our stores. It’s a sideline we could do without. We’ve limited book expertise.”
“Well,” said George, “firstly, we’re not going to sell you books.”
I mentally fell off my chair.
“We’re going to explain why you don’t do well with books.”
In my head George was killing the sale and taking a strange sort of pleasure in doing so, if his smile was anything to go by. He continued.
“Then I’ll show you how to make money with books.”
“Then you’ll sell me books?”
“What would be the point? You’ve already told me books are not your forté.”
Okay George, I said to myself, this had better be going somewhere.
The customer was silent. George went on.
“See, the thing is, books are our strong point. In fact, it’s all we do, all we have ever done. I already know what books will work in your outlets. I’ve visited a few of them, talked to the managers, looked at the layout, your customer profile. So, I already know that if we put, say, a book table, four-foot by four-foot, in your key stores as a test then we’d sell romances, crime and kids bargain books. We have over 100 titles in stock that suit. Now, you, with your limited book expertise to use your own words, wouldn’t know where to start. So, no, I’m not going to present lots of different titles to you. All I am going to say is we’ll put in the test book tables during your next stock refresh in a few weeks.”
“How do you know when our stock refresh is?”
“Like I say, I asked around in your stores. And, if after three months say, you are anything less than delighted at the turn around in your book fortunes, we’ll up sticks and move on. Worst that can happen is you can finish with books all together knowing you tried everything possible. Best that can happen is that you have a new revenue stream substantially more profitable than your current dead books sections.”
There was a pause. No agreement from the customer but, crucially, no objection either. George had left just enough time for the offer to sink in without sinking the deal.
Like a master, George-the-sloth moved tiger-like in for the kill.
“So, we’ll go ahead with that then, yes? The quicker we start, the quicker we plug that current book profit drain.” George’s smile elicited a slight laugh from the customer.
George added: “I’ll fax the contract over today and pick up your signed copy tomorrow. What time suits you best?”
“No later than noon. I want this up and running by the end of the month.”
George smiled: “You got it.”
I’d intended to go though the pluses and minuses of the presentation in the car with George but, as we pulled out the car park, he turned round towards me and said:
“Why waste everyone’s time trying to get loads of little ‘yeses’ when all we needed was one great Big Yes. That guy just bought 100 titles without even seeing a book. He bought trust.”
“I get that. Well done, George. My only query is that I’m not aware of any contract template. We’ve never done this kind of sale before from what I’ve seen so far?”
“I know, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it. The company told me not to try this when I suggested it to them. Got to say it discouraged me for a while. Let’s just say the company seemed scared of initiative. But you’re the new broom. You’ve seen it work.”
“And what about the contract, you know, the one that doesn’t exist?”
“Initiative, boss. It would only take you an hour to create one. I’ll write up the key points and you can type it up all official-like.”
“Ok, George. I’ll run with this. But you select the titles and keep on top of it weekly.”
The evening discussion with the sales director was... interesting. I could only get George’s initiative approved by reminding him I was employed to manage as I saw fit and, if not allowed to, I would resign. And I never forgot George’s lesson of The Big Yes.
By Bob Smith who has worked in sales for more than 30 years, works as an experienced recruiter, trainer & motivator and is also a published author of both children’s and adult titles.