Paul shares three embarrassing failures and what he learned from them.
Failure is a great teacher. The pain you feel motivates you to get better.
Always prepare. Let the sting you feel from failure motivate you to plan and prepare better. Product demonstrations should be flawless.
Never let arrogance or complacency obscure your view of growth opportunities.
“If they need it and we sell it, they’re buying it from me. My manager then took me to school.”
If it’s your customer relationship, then you are accountable.
“Set the ground rules before a visitor meets with your customer. Make it clear that you are in charge.”
Think about your embarrassing failures. What did you learn?
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What did you learn from your embarrassing failures?
(Transcribed from podcast)
Well, if you’ve been in sales long enough, you have likely experienced an embarrassing failure. Something that you learned from. And that’s what we’re going to talk about on today’s show. What sparked this show? I was a, actually on a virtual training, working with the sales team and at the end, I always take some questions. And one of the salespeople asked, “Hey, Paul. What’s, an embarrassing failure that you’ve had in your sales career?” So, I wanted to share just a couple of thoughts today, but really wanted to focus on what was learned from each of those experiences. As you as you listen to today’s show, I encourage you to think about some of your failures that you’ve had in your sales career. Think about what you learned from it and how you’ve grown since that.
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Let’s get right into it. What are some of the embarrassing moments that I have learned from as a sales professional? I’m going to go all the way back to my days of selling tools and fasteners in the construction industry. I was out doing some joint sales calls with my divisional vice president, so this wasn’t my direct boss; it was my boss’s boss. If there was ever a time to make a great first impression, this would be it. Brian and I are going to visit one of our customers inside of an oil refinery. If you’ve ever been inside an oil refinery, it’s really amazing watching how all the things come together. It’s truly a modern marvel. So, Brian and I were going to visit with one of my contractors in the oil refinery. We’re demonstrating a tool; it’s called a DX 351. It was a powder actuated nail gun. I don’t know if Hilti still makes them or not, but I was demonstrating this tool for a group of construction guys.
We get in there; I demonstrate the tool. I show them some of the capabilities. Then it comes time for me to take apart the tool. You’ve got to take apart these powder actuated guns to clean them and do all that, so, I was showing the guys how to do it. Now, keep in mind, there’s 20 or 30 guys just watching. The next thing I did, I took apart the tool so that I could show the guys how to clean it. That part was going just fine, but this is where I hit the wall. When I was starting to put the tool back together, I completely struggled. I could not get the thing to fit correctly. This particular tool, there’s a very very strict process you have to follow to put the tool back together, and I am fumbling it around. The guys are just staring at me. It’s quiet. My face is getting beet red. I was so embarrassed. I’ve got my VP looking at me also wondering, “What the heck is he doing? Why can’t he get it put back together?” I couldn’t get the tool back together. I thought it might’ve been broken. Finally, after about a minute of me struggling, Brian, my VP, he came in and he bailed me out. And he kind of jokingly said, “You know, Paul, he’s been working in the office too much. His hands are getting a little soft. Maybe he’s having trouble putting it together.” But he came over, grabbed the tool, put it right back together. It was finished. And man, I was embarrassed.
We got back out to the vehicle. Brian taught me a lesson. He said to me, “Paul, you know, it’s probably been ten years since I’ve had to demonstrate this tool.” He goes, “I don’t get out in the field as much as I used to, but I could still break down this tool and put it back together with my eyes closed.” He said, “Your product demonstration was going great up until the point where you couldn’t put the tool back together. When you’re demonstrating the tools, when you’re conducting any sort of product demonstration, it has to be flawless. It has to be perfect. You have to practice it. You have to figure out all the ins and the outs of the things that could go wrong. You have to be prepared.”
And I remember, I was so embarrassed when that happened. But, it was a good lesson learned, because most of my time was spent demonstrating tools. And I went back and I questioned myself, “Okay. Am I comfortable with the tool? Am I comfortable with the product?” Think about how this could relate to your industry. Whether you’re demonstrating software, whether you’re demonstrating capital equipment, whatever it might be, you have to be the expert. You have to show it’s seamless and it’s easy. And when you show that, it’s building confidence in your solution. So, the key lesson there was be prepared.
Let’s get into the second example: embarrassing failures where I learned something. So I am out and about with my regional sales manager, again, making joint calls. We were getting ready to visit with one of my opportunities. This was a coal-fired power plant, and I was getting quite a bit of business from this one account. They were one of my top accounts. I had great relationships there. When we get to this opportunity, my regional manager, he asks, “Paul, so what’s the objective here today?” I said, “Well, they’re having some issues with a couple of tools, so we’re going to take a look at that and then see if they need to place any orders, anything like that.” And he goes, “That sounds good.” He goes, “What are some of the newer products that you’re trying sell them. What are some areas that we can grow the business with them?” And I arrogantly said to my sales manager, “You know, Eric, they pretty much buy everything from me. If we sell it and they need it, they’re going to buy from us. So, I just don’t see much of a growth opportunity here.” I go, “Really, it’s about protecting, keeping them happy, but yeah, if we can sell and they need it, they’re buying it from us.” That was my attitude going in.
Eric and I, we went in, we met with a couple of people, we took care of the tool issue that they were experiencing. And then, my regional manager decided to take me to school. He got my catalog, which I had in my hand, and he did one thing he told me never to do. He goes, “Paul, never just go through the catalog with the customer and ask them if they need any of this or that.”
Here’s how he set it up. He said, “Do you mind if I walk through our catalog with you? I’m a regional sales manager. I’m from the corporate office and they always like us to just do a little market research when we’re visiting with our great customers like yourself. Would you mind if I flip through the catalog? Just let me know if you are aware that we even sell some of these products.” He started going through some of the familiar products. He showed them some of our lasers, and they said, “Oh yeah. We buy a bunch of those lasers from Paul.” I kind of had a smirk on my face. And then, he went through the hammer drills and they said, “We got plenty of those drills here,” and I’m continuing to smile. But then as he went through the further-back part of the catalog, the customer looked and said, “Oh, all this channel here, and some of these products, we buy tons of that stuff. I didn’t even know that you guys sold that.” Then, he flips over to the next page, “You guys sell that type of chemical… that grout… the epoxy stuff? Oh man, we buy tons of that stuff. I wish I would have known. We just placed an order for it the other day.”
And then my regional manager kind of looked at me and now he was smirking, and I was frowning. They identified a few more products that I could be selling them. But when Eric and I got back up to the car later, he said, “Paul, you need to take the blinders off.” He said, “You think you’re selling everything you can here, but there are still opportunities. You’re like a horse with blinders.” A horse with blinders on, they only go in one direction. They go where they’re steered. And with us, we’re steered in one direction by our attitude, by our opinions, what we think. And we never challenge that. And that’s the lesson I learned from that experience is that, you better challenge that to reveal some of those newer opportunities. Don’t let arrogance or complacency settle in. That was the lesson I learned there.
Let’s get into the third embarrassing story where I learned. Now, this one also involves a visitor. It seems like every embarrassing moment happens with a visitor. Although, this one, it wasn’t actually initiated by me, but I’m still accountable. And I’ll explain why here in just a little bit.
So I had a strategic salesperson with me, and this person really loved being called that: strategic salesperson. They had an ego the size of the oil refinery almost. And this visitor was trying to get in to see some other key decision makers. I had one individual who would help me out. This one individual who I met with, this is a guy who really took me under his wing. He introduced me to some key people out on this project very early on. Always been very polite. Always been a great advocate for me on this facility. So I reached out to him and I said, “Would you mind introducing me and a strategic account manager from our company to some of the key folks here on the project?” He said, “Absolutely. I’ll pick you guys up outside the gate and we’ll go in and visit with people.
So, that’s what we’re getting ready to do. As soon as this guy picked us up, he gave us a kind of a tour of the facility. And then, he took us over to the job trailer, the job trailer where they had all the key personnel. And he walked us in. He introduced us to those key personnel and then the strategic guy, he looked at this guy, he goes, “Okay. Thanks for your help. I guess we’re done with you.” And when he said that, my heart sank. You know that “embarrassed for you” feeling that you get when someone says something they shouldn’t? He said, I guess we’re done with you. And he said this in front of some key people. How embarrassing. Now, I always remember that.
Afterwards, that customer, I reached out to him as soon as I got rid of the strategic guy, and I apologize. I said, “Man, I’m really sorry. I can’t believe he said that. That will never happen again.” And he was pissed. Oh boy, he was pissed. And he said, “Never bring a guy like that on the job site again.” He’s like, “I’ve helped you guys. I’ve helped your company, and that’s the thanks I get.” I apologize to him.
What I realized afterwards, in retrospect (and this goes for any salesperson out there), when you are bringing in someone new to an established relationship that you have, you control the shots. You need to set the tone. What I should have said to the strategic seller is, “This guy that you’re going to meet, he has been a real advocate for our company out here. He has helped me. He’s introduced me to a lot of people, so, it’s important that you show some respect. It’s important that you show your appreciation for what they’re doing.” I should have set the tone before the meeting. So think about this. I know many of you out there, you’re going to have sales managers, VPs, other salespeople, go out with you to visit with customers. When it’s your account, it’s your relationship, you need to make it clear to that person that you’re calling the shots, that it’s your relationship. You need to outline the ground rules and set the expectation. I remember feeling that right after that embarrassing moment.
That is just a couple of thoughts. Some things to think about. My hope for all of you is that you think about some of the embarrassing moments or failures that maybe you’ve had throughout your career, and maybe revisit them at this time. Ask yourself, “What should I have done differently? What can I do to become better in the future?”
Again, the first one I mentioned is you’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to be prepared when you’re conducting a demonstration.
Number two, don’t let arrogance or complacency set in. Always realize that there’s more opportunity within your best customers. You’ve just got to look to find them.
And number three, when you’re making a joint visit with anyone, with your colleagues, with your boss, with your sales manager, whoever it might be, make it clear that you own the relationship; that you’re going to set the tone.
Make it a big day.