At one point in his career, Steve Blair was a salesperson for a world-famous chocolate company. About a year into that role, he was calling on the buyer at a major drugstore chain in Chicago. The buyer, we'll call him "David," was legendary in the business. Once you had his trust, you had it forever. But getting that trust was hard. And neither Steve nor anyone at his company had earned it yet.
So that year, Steve and his boss rented one of the luxury suites at a Chicago White Sox baseball game and invited David and David's boss to join them. Their overall goal was just to get to know their prospects a little better. But Steve also had a specific sales objective: get David to agree to carry at least one of their boxes of heart-shaped chocolates for Valentine's Day.
And Steve had been trying, unsuccessfully, for weeks to make that sale. David's objection each time was that he thought there just wasn't enough chocolate in the box for the price they were charging. Steve's response each time was that Valentine's Day chocolates are a gift. The person who's getting the chocolate won't know how much it cost, and they'll appreciate the gift regardless of how much chocolate is in it.
Well, Steve was hoping he could finally get David to see things his way during the game. So, somewhere around the sixth inning, Steve noticed that the server in the suite was a 20-something-year-old woman—exactly the demographic profile of someone who might be on the receiving end of a box of Valentine's Day chocolates. And Steve thought David might understand his position if he could hear for himself how much a young woman would appreciate one of these gifts.
So, the next time she came around, Steve asked her a question. He took out a sample of one of the boxes and held it in front of her. He made sure David was paying attention, then he said to her, "What would you say if someone you loved gave you this for Valentine's Day?" Of course, Steve couldn't be sure how she'd respond. But who doesn't like a free box of chocolates? Right?
The server opened up the box, looked inside, and then said, "Well, the first thing I'd probably say is ‘Where's the rest of the chocolate?'"
David looked over at Steve and said, "Conversation over."
Steve was devastated. He thanked the server and then just sat in silence for the rest of the game, knowing his brilliant idea had just backfired. Now David had even more reason not to buy those chocolates.
The lesson Steve learned that day is that it's risky to use a sales tactic when you can't predict the outcome. You're better off using techniques that are more predictable. Ones that you've used before or that you've at least vetted ahead of time. Don't leave important outcomes like this to chance. Walkthrough your entire sales pitch and ask yourself what could go wrong at each step. If Steve had asked that question first, he never would have made that mistake at the White Sox game.
Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about a sales call that was accidentally ruined by the visiting VP from headquarters. You definitely don't want to make this mistake.