Sales Craft: 4pm on Friday

Every salesperson collects their share of memorable sales experiences, some involve sales victories, others are poignant and disappointing, a few are inexplicable and unbelievable(e.g., I once had a telephone thrown at me by my sales manager…one of those sizable desk sets that executives had, big and heavy with lots of buttons. Thankfully, he missed.) Every so often, the story is instructive and somehow reaffirms something very fundamental to your perspective. This is one of those stories…

I was at Healtheon in the early days of the dot.com frenzy(when it was all about clicks and eyeballs, and before everything blew up) with an appointment to meet with the Medical Director at the Health Care Finance Administration. The problem was, the appointment was at 4pm on a Friday. Worse, I lived in New Jersey, while the meeting was at their offices at Security Boulevard…in Baltimore.  That meant a long trip down and an even longer trip back, getting home until after 9pm on a Friday. Plus, the meeting scheduled just prior to this one had been rescheduled for two weeks later. In short, it would have been so easy to reschedule.

But I didn’t. Instead, I made the trek down, sat in the waiting area, got signed in, and ultimately met up with the Medical Director(a truly great guy, smart and engaged, committed to making HCFA work, etc.) We exchanged pleasantries, I asked questions, he explained organizational objectives, and eventually I got to talking conceptually about my company.

Suddenly, a light bulb went off. My customer looked at me and said, “You need to meet someone.” And almost as fast as that, he was dragging me through the halls in a heightened and ultimately successful search. “You two need to talk,” and then he proceeded to explain why.

To cut to the chase, that 4pm on Friday sales call turned into a series of conversations, meetings, proposals and ultimately culminated in a series of deals.

There’s an old business adage that goes, “Fifty percent of my advertising works and 50 percent of it doesn’t. I just don’t know which 50 percent…” In my experience, sales calls behave a lot like advertising. We like to think that we can predict them, and many of them are predictable. Just not all of them. You pretty much have to show up in order to see how they each turn out. And that in total, the work is rewarded, and is in a very real and important sense its own reward. And every so often, the work turns into something big. Like a deal. Or a really great story.

And sometimes, both.

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Postscript As a side note, the time I spent selling to what is now CMS profoundly changed my perspective on the government and its employees. I met an unimaginable number of genuinely dedicated, committed people who worked diligently in spite of politics and bureaucracy to improve the healthcare system. It remains an imperfect system, but there are many within it who are trying to make it better.