I was sweating. I was having a Skype call with someone well-known in a niche area online. He don’t know me from a hole in the ground but I was well aware of him having listened to his podcasts for quite a while. He reached out because I was a member of his private online business forum and he wanted to launch a competitor to my service, Touchingbase.io, a follow-up system for Gmail. I was very uncomfortable.
Knowing about competition tends to make me feel very self-conscious as I wonder how my product compares to theirs. I mentioned this to an advisor of mine and he suggested to go ahead with the call and perhaps the guy can be sold on the benefit of my service instead. After some background and discovery questions about his needs, he was asking some questions in a way that was trying to qualify himself to see if touching base would be a fit for him.
So I thought things were going well and my answers were good. And then he said something which was a pivotal moment for me. He said he wouldn’t be able to use Touchingbase because it lacked a very specific feature that was, without going into details, which was setting the from address for emails. And truth be told, I know that we needed to implement this and it was in our pipeline for development coming up soon, and I should have said that in the moment. But instead, while I was being nervous and excited all at the same time, I said, “Oh yes, we have that.”
He hesitated for a moment and changed onto a different topic. Anyway, the call ended and he didn’t sign up. Later afterwards, when I was reflecting on the call in that moment, I realized that what had happened was that while I was a member of his forum, how he came to learn about me was through a customer and mutual friend of ours; because the only way he could have known that my service didn’t have the feature was that this friend must have mentioned it to him in the conversation. And that’s probably why the awkward hesitation occurred because there was this disconnect.
Here I am this untrusted salesperson telling him something different from what a trusted friend has told him. And of course, the trusted friend is always going to win out. In sales and in general when we meet anyone, the first few moments of conversation are always trying to establish trust and familiarity. Can I trust this person, this stranger? Is there some common ground we can familiarize ourselves with? Well, I’m not the biggest fan of small talk, it does serve a purpose.
Unfortunately, I lied in this situation and its one of the things I vowed to get better at and especially in sales it can be tempting because you want to say the right. You want, of course, the person to buy but also I think the bigger picture is that we want them to actually enjoy and make use of the service so that it will benefit them in some way. Lying also has a deeper impact that I think is not touched on as much.
I was reading the biography of Bobby Orr. He’s a famous ice hockey player, one of the greatest of all time. He was a client of a guy named Alan Eagleson in the 70s who at that time was probably the most powerful man in hockey. However, it turned out later that he was stealing from his clients. He was actually working both sides so he would represent clients but then he would be in the pocket of the owners which obviously isn’t something that you want your agent to be in. He eventually went to jail.
Anyway, there’s this one passage from his biography that I thought was very relevant. “I will never forget a lunch meeting Eagleson and I had with Paul Fireman, who today is one of the richest men in the world but back then was an up-and-coming business man from the Boston area. He wanted to talk about a potential sponsorship deal with his new sporting goods company. The three of us met at the Nice Restaurant and we had barely sat down before Eagleson started ranting to the point where I could see poor Paul was quite taken aback.
Eagleson wasn’t just aggressive, his language was rude and totally vulgar. I suppose he was trying to intimidate Paul, but all he managed to do was offend him along with everyone else in the restaurant. Perhaps to further insult Fireman, Eagleson marched out of the restaurant to make a call from the payphone in the lobby, leaving Fireman in stunned silence. “I’d had enough. I called over the manager, apologized for the bad language and disruption Eagleson had caused, and shortly thereafter the meeting was over. Paul would tell me years later Eagleson’s behavior was about the worst he had ever seen. The company he went on to found was Reebok and Fireman maintains that after that first meeting with Alan Eagleson, he decided that he would never work with him or his clients. As it turned out, Paul and I became good friends many years later, but that meeting could have burned a very important bridge for me and certainly cost me an opportunity at the time.”
One of the takeaways from this story is that lies tend to build up overtime. The first time you lie to make a sale, you might feel a little bit of guilt but it might not matter that much. However, if you do start you’re on a very dangerous path. As any salesperson knows, your energy is one of the most critical things to making a sale. And any lies or guilt you have built up will decrease your energy and make you less productive as a salesperson. So learn from my lesson, don’t lie to make a sale.