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Hard-Won Sales Wisdom: The Visitor Should Never Be the Hero

This lesson is a part of an audio course Hard-Won Sales Wisdom by Paul Andrew Smith

Just about everyone who's worked in sales long enough has this same fear. You've got an important meeting coming up with the buyer. But this time somebody from your home office has gotten invited to come along with you. It probably wasn't even your idea, but you're the one stuck with the concern that they might say or do something to mess things up. And no matter how much you prep them, you're still worried they'll find some way to ruin the meeting. What do you do?

Well, here's an example of that happening, and an idea for how to deal with it in the future.

And this actually happened at a sales meeting I was part of. I was fairly new in my assignment at one of Procter & Gamble's West Coast sales offices. Our buyer was upset about some changes we'd made to one of our brands and wanted a VP from headquarter to hear about it. So, our objective was damage control. Our VP flew in for the meeting. And it was a tough call. But it actually all worked out the way we wanted. The meeting ended with our brand lineup intact and our sales protected. So, everything was fine.

But as we left the meeting, our VP—in a final attempt to repair the strained relationship with the buyer—shook her hand, gave her a business card, and said, "Your business is very important to me. Here's my number. Sometimes things can get lost in the translation back to Cincinnati, so feel free to call me directly anytime." It was a very genuine offer. The buyer thanked him, and we all left.

Well, we got the VP into a cab and off to the airport for his flight home. And as the cab pulled away, I turned around to the rest of the team with a smile on my face and said, "Well, that went a lot better than I expected!"

But they all looked at me like I was from Mars. One of them said, "Well sure, it WAS going fine, Paul, right up until the end when the VP gave the buyer his business card and told her that we were basically a bunch of idiots who can't even pass along messages to headquarters without something ‘getting lost in the translation.' It'll take us six to nine months to rebuild the trust he just lost us in 10 seconds."

And she was right. That buyer went straight to the VP with all her questions for several months. She didn't need us. It was a powerful lesson for me. That VP was honestly trying to repair the strained relationship between our companies. What he didn't realize was that he did so at the expense of the relationship with the sales team.

What the VP should have said was, "Your business is important to us. So we've put one of our best sales teams right here. If there's ever anything you need, just let these folks know. They know how to get things done, even if that means getting me, the president, or the CEO involved."

Now for a while, when I got asked for advice by people at headquarters about what to do or not do when they got invited to go on a sales call, I used to give them a long list of dos and don'ts. But I eventually realized I could never give them advice for all the possible things they could do wrong. So now, I just tell them that story of the unwelcome business card. Everybody wants to make a good impression on the buyer, just like that VP wanted to. But he needs to understand that after he flies home the next day, the sales team has to stay and work with that buyer day in and day out.

The role of the visitor should not be to impress the buyer and be the hero but to make the sales team's job easier. Offering help is fine. But if it's done in a way that disempowers the sales team, it does more harm than good. And that story teaches that lesson far better than any of my lectures or advice could. And you can tell the same story, or one like it, to accomplish the same thing when you need to.

Okay, in the last lesson, we're going to talk about a sales VP's "no slides" rule and how it can make you a better salesperson.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith