Chasing the Dream (Client)
I had chased a major dream client through their prior two RFP processes. This company was perfect for my company’s solution and, based on all of the information I had gained from their stakeholders over the years, I knew we were the right fit. This RFP was going to be different. I was going to make sure of it.
Having never been invited to present, I called the head of the buying team and laid my cards on the table. I said: “We are confident that we are the right choice for you, and we know we can produce better results than you have been able to achieve in the past. Our responses have outlined our plan in great detail, but we have never been invited to present to you and your team. Where have we gone wrong?”
The head of the buying team said: “What is the first number on your price?” I gave him the first number. He said: “Then I throw your proposal away. If it were one digit lower you would have been invited in to present.” The business was worth millions in sales annually, and I changed the first number.
The No Vote
The presentation took place in their boardroom, and there were 14 people on their buying team. Based on the questions and the conversations, I knew I had 12 votes of team members who clearly recognized that were in fact the right choice. There was 1 buying team member I wasn’t sure of, and 1 that I was absolutely confident would vote against me and my team (which is not to say that he would have voted for anyone else, he was simply contrarian).
My No Vote asked a question that I answered honestly, knowing that he didn’t like the answer. He asked again, changing the question ever so slightly, and I still answered in the negative, unable to give him what he wanted. There simply wasn’t a way to give him the price he needed, provide this solution, and remain profitable. I told him what I could do, knowing that it may be a deal-breaker, and that it would certainly cost his vote (which I found out later it did).
A few days after our presentation, my company was awarded the business. I was called to my new client’s corporate offices to sign an agreement. When I arrived, I was taken to a room where the head of the buying team was waiting . . . along with my No Vote. After we greeted each other, I passed out the final drafts of the contract for their review. The No Vote, stopped half way down the page and said: “Wait, you promised that you would meet the service request that I asked for during your presentation.”
Stunned, I replied: “I am sorry if there was any confusion, but during our presentation I believe I was very clear that I couldn’t provide that service. I told you we could do something else, but giving you what you requested would destroy our ability to provide you with the whole package we proposed, including the price.”
The No Vote stopped. He looked at the paper. He looked at me and said: “You lied. You lied to get our business. You would have said anything in there just to get the business.” Stunned again, angry, and upset, I stood up. As calmly as I could, but voice shaking, I said: “Then I am afraid I cannot sign this contract. If you believe that I lied in order to get your business, then I cannot take your business. I have never lied to get any business, and I have lost a lot of business for telling the truth. I would have never lied to you to gain your business.”
Now that I was standing up, my No Vote stood up. He was a big intimidating presence, something I suspected he had often used to his advantage. I said again: “I want you to know that I never lied.”
I started to pick up my belongings to leave. I placed the contract back in the folder and started to put it in my briefcase when the head of the buying team said to the No Vote: “John, sit down. You know he didn’t lie. There were 14 of us in that room and we all heard what he said. We have all seen and reviewed the contract and it includes exactly what he said it would. We’re signing the contract.”
Hand still shaking, I signed the contract. Only after the No Vote signed the contract.
What I Learned:
It Isn’t Worth It: There is no business that is worth taking if you have to be dishonest to win it. Honesty and integrity aren’t things that talk about; they are at the core of who you are. This is necessary to succeed in sales, even when it costs you business.
Stand Up: Sometimes you have to stand up for what is right, even if it costs you a deal. Had I not said something, had I not been willing to walk away from the deal, my No Vote would have always been able to point to that signing event as proof positive that I had misled him. My willingness to walk away from the deal was strong and incontrovertible evidence that my word was worth something.
There is no business that is worth taking if it costs you your honesty and your integrity. It is difficult to walk away from deals that require you to violate your honesty and integrity, but it is even more difficult to live with what it means about you as a salesperson.
- How do you deal with your clients and prospects honestly when you know that your competitors are winning deals by being dishonest?
- How do you tell a prospective client that they cannot have something that they want (even if it is clear that they really want it) if you are unable to provide it to them? What would happen if you agreed to give them what they wanted and didn’t provide it later after being awarded the deal?
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