Well-honed sales skills are not only useful for salesmen, they are also useful for buyers.
The same skills apply. Both seller and buyer at times are selling an idea, a course of action, a reason to do something.
Some years ago, as a publisher, I needed a particular book to be printed in time for a high-profile book launch on 8 November – a date burned into my mind. The author, a very well known journalist, had promised to deliver the manuscript by June. It was now 3 November. The manuscript had just arrived.
I’d learned from my old sales boss, Big Sam and others in my youth, that anything is possible if you (a) believe against all odds and (b) have the leadership strength to impose your will. So, I wasn’t panicking. I was utterly pooping it!
To add to the stress, the book launch was to be in a famous book store with many media bigwigs. This was my first big gig in the industry and it was looking like my last. This could be a very public fiasco.
The journalist could not get it through his head that publishing a book has a longer lead-time than a newspaper. Books, in the predigital age, needed weeks, to produce.
I took this tale of woe to the printer, who laughed, thinking my plea to have the book printed and bound four days after him receiving the manuscript print file, was a wind up. I corrected him.
“Bob! It can’t possibly be done!”
“Why not?” I feigned surprise. But I was just putting into practice Big Sam’s philosophy of “Push, gently of course, but push for f**ks sake!” I was hanging in there.
“You know very well why not. Print space is booked well in advance. We’ve got jobs for all the big boys with their Christmas books coming out. They have to be in store too, Bob.”
“So that’s it? That’s the only inhibitor? I’m behind others in the queue?
“Good? What are you talking about?”
I was almost making this up as I went a long. I had little actual understanding of the printing process. I just instinctively pressed forward.
“I mean, ‘good’ because we’ve just established that there’s no technical inhibitor to you printing my book first. Its just etiquette, politics…”
“Bob, do you seriously expect me to take *****’s (famous author) book off-press and replace it with yours?”
I gulped, then replied, “Of course!”
There was silence. That was a victory of sorts. Encouraged, I edged forward, albeit blindly.
“Alan, what is the delivery date you have committed to with ****’s book.
He was in retreat and we both knew it. Only question was could I close the deal. Eventually he said, “12 November.” This meant there was actually time to deliver both books on time but, with Alan’s neck on the line unless every part of the process proceeded 100% as planned.
I was now charging down on goal, only the goalie to beat, but still only at the halfway line. I pushed forward.
“My book only has a print run of 6,000 copies. That is only one eight-hour print shift, yes?” My senses were heightened. I was suddenly using all my common sense and what little I knew of print in order to find a way.
“Yes, but then you have to let the cover dry once it’s printed.
Only then can you bind. That’s another few days.”
“But not more than four days though, right?”
“About a day and a half.”
“So, if you let my book skip the queue, print it and bind it, you could courier 200 copies to the book launch within four days.”
More silence. Then, he thinks he has a last ditch tackle on me.
“In theory, yes, but our printing presses already have the printing plates for *****’s book on-press.”
My mind was blazing, thinking more intensely than a condemned man seeking a last minute escape. I was on auto.
“All you need to do, Alan is take ****’s printing plates off press and put mine on.”
Another long pause and then, “It will cost you, Bob.”
When the books arrived at the store, two hours before the gig, the author simply picked it up and said: “Told you I didn’t need to deliver until last week. You worry too much.”
He took all the plaudits at the book launch, looked good to all his big-wig pals. I just sat there, warm in the knowledge that sales skills had saved the day.
I called Alan and said: “Remember everything we went through last week? What if we were to do it all again, one last time.”
And no, I wasn’t joking.