Some characters in the sales game just burst into your life, make an astonishing and memorable impact and then simply zoom right off the radar and disappear altogether.
I was interviewing for salespeople in County Durham around 1992 to call on independent retailers persuading them to stock our range of children’s books. I had booked an interview room in a hotel. There had been one or two impressive candidates but I knew I hadn’t found what I was looking for. I needed someone who could not only sell but also lead others by example.
I looked through the list and could see there were only two more people to interview but their CVs, while ok, did not suggest that they would fit the bill. The only one who looked special was a guy who had cancelled his interview the previous day, giving me this half hour free to reflect.
Just then there was a knock on the door and it flew open without waiting for a response. In walked Tony M.
“You must be Bob. I’m very pleased to meet you! I’m Tony.”
I stood up and shook his hand, which he had outstretched after bounding energetically over to the desk I’d been sitting at. He looked the part; smartly turned out, confident and engaging.
“Pleased to meet you too, Tony. The only thing is, you’re not on my list to interview.”
“I know. I found out from a colleague that you were interviewing here. He couldn’t make it. I think he called you to tell you? So, I thought, seeing as this is the perfect job for me, that I’d take his place.”
“No problem, but I’d rather you’d called first.”
“It’s not a bad time is it? This is my colleague’s time so I just thought you’d be free.”
I thought about it for a moment but knowing the other candidates were probably not going to be suitable I thought, sure, why not, realising I’d just been sold to by someone who’d obviously heard the expression He Who Dares Wins.
“So, Tony, why are you here.”
Tony described his past four years working for two companies selling to the very retailers I needed someone to call on. He was impressive without being self-aggrandising and clearly qualified.
So I tested him with a couple of basic questions. Gift of the Gab merchants often considered simple questions beneath them and became irritable. I hoped he wasn’t one of them.
“So Tony, how do you counter the ‘I have no space’ objection?”
Without pausing for breath he replied, “Ah, Space, the Final Frontier.”
I liked the way he took the question in his stride and loved the confidence of his answer. He clearly wasn’t intimidated by the Space Objection.
“Bob, if I said I have a £50 note for you, you wouldn’t tell me you’ve no space in your wallet for it, would you. You’d make space for it.”
“As long as you persuaded me it’s really a £50 note.”
He gestured with his hands, like a teacher congratulating a student on “getting” the lesson. And then he was silent.
After discussing terms and conditions etc, I told him I’d let him know the following day. He smiled and said, “But, we both know I’m the one you’re looking for.” I laughed that off, adding that I never let candidates know there and then either way.
He gave me his card, saying he looked forward to hearing from me. I gave him mine.
And that was the last I ever heard from him. I called him the following day to offer him the job and discovered that he’d left that company, the one he gave me the card for the previous day, with no explanation or notice.
But I loved his Final Frontier line and the wallet story, both of which I used in many training courses. Regardless of what tale was behind Tony M’s shooting star-like appearance and disappearance in my career, that man could sell. Confidence, belief and a natural expectation of success meant that people would more often than not give such salespeople a hearing and be willing to be lead by them. He’s probably the chairman of IBM now.