Business-to-business, Hall of shame, Selling

A sales blunder so huge it still makes me sweat 25 years later

OopsI was 26, a fledgling marketeer with a research publisher.

And I was about to commit a sales crime so horrible my clients would have left the building immediately if they’d known what was coming.

Frankfurt Messe is the big exhibition space where, every year, they hold the Frankfurt Book fair.

Ahead of the fair I had booked a sales meeting with two senior managers from Panasonic.

I was ushered in, shook hands and … began.

To each man I handed a 51-page, bound presentation (this was pre-PowerPoint).

I then proceeded to plough through the history of our company (beginning in 1972) and the launch and development of EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT we had produced since then.

After roughly ten minutes, the more senior executive got up from his chair and began making calls while looking out of the window (he may have been considering jumping).

His colleague politely stayed sitting and listened – or at least played the part of someone listening – while I ground my way through each point I wanted to make.

Three quarters of an hour later, perspiring freely, I stopped.

The senior manager immediately resumed his seat, looked me in the eye, and said:

“Air conditioners!”

In my disordered state I thought I had heard “Hair conditioners” but had no way of seeking clarification.

Fortunately for me, the Panasonic man continued.

He told me they wanted to know everything about the market for home air conditioners in Europe. He then gave me the names of other companies I should approach to fund the research and a list of all the points we should cover in our research.

I took notes furiously, before thanking them for their time and beating a retreat.

We never did get the job, for which I can only blame my inept selling skills.

Why didn’t I start the meeting by shaking hands, sitting down with an open notepad and simply asking them:

“So, what’s top of your to-do list right now?”

And the moral of this sorry tale is, if selling puts you off, just think of it as asking questions of people who have a problem you can solve. People like talking about themselves and they also like talking about themselves to people who can help them.





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