Epilogue – And Then There Was 3D
18 months later…Joe didn’t get more than two steps into Matt’s Denver office before Matt was on his feet to greet him with a delighted handshake. “It’s great to see you, Joe,” Matt said. “How was your flight?” “Everything went smoothly. Can’t say I learned much, though, except that it’s pretty flat between here and Chicago.” The notion that airline flights were supposed to be learning experiences had become a standing joke between them. “How are you doing, Matt? It’s been, what, four months since I’ve seen you? How are Linda and the kids? ” “Never better,” Matt said. “Life is good.” This was true, and it showed. Matt had told Joe before about the surprising spillover benefits that Action Selling gave to his family life as the system became second nature to him. (“Joe, it’s amazing what happens when you actually listen to your wife and Ask the Best Questions until you truly understand her! Is this normal? Does Action Selling do this for everybody?”) Matt was, quite plainly, a happier man than the one Joe had first met on that memorable swing through Seattle. His whole demeanor spoke of confidence and a sense of competence that was entirely new. And even if your manner didn’t tell the story, your numbers would, Joe thought. You’re one of our top salespeople, Matt—no small achievement in a sales force that is lighting up its industry since everyone got trained in Action Selling. After a little more catching up, the two settled into Matt’s office and got down to business. “Is everything set for our call on RWS Advisors tomorrow?” Joe asked. Matt nodded. “We’re on for 9 a.m.,” he said. “We have one hour with the four of them: John Williams, my original contact, plus Kevin Robb, Al Shaffer, and Julie McNeil. It really helped that I was able to play you like a trump card, Joe. My relationship with Williams might have been strong enough to get me a meeting with all of them, but when I said I wanted to bring in our national sales vice president, that sealed the deal.” “Yes, when it comes to getting the ears of decision makers, like titles attract,” Joe said. “I’m really looking forward to making another joint call with you,” Matt said. “Wow, who’d have believed 18 months ago that I’d ever be saying that?” Joe laughed. “You think you’re surprised?” Matt let the jab pass. “That’s not the only reason I’m glad I called you for help last week,” he said. “And from what you said, it sounds as if I’m going to be gladder still. Action Selling 3D? Is that what you called it?” “That’s its name,” Joe replied. “It’s a new course from Action Selling. It zeroes in on how to manage complex sales–you know, deals with multiple decision makers. Your call came at a perfect time because RWS is a perfect example of how 3D applies to our business. This will be a great opportunity for us to use it in the field.” With that, Joe reached into his briefcase… One week ago… Matt’s phone call to Chicago had found Joe at his desk. “I think I may be in trouble,” Matt said. “How much do you know about accounting firms?” “OK, I’ll play along,” Joe said. “Practically everything I know about CPAs comes from a golfing buddy of mine who is one. I don’t think he’s typical, though. He’s an extrovert. You know how to tell when you’re dealing with an outgoing CPA? He looks at your shoes instead of his own.” Matt had heard the joke before, but gave it a courtesy laugh. Then he explained his problem. Matt had been calling on John Williams, one of three partners whose name was on the masthead of RWS Advisors, a mid-sized accounting firm based in Denver. “John heads their tax unit, which is their largest business unit, a little bigger than their audit division,” Matt told Joe. “I thought John was the decision maker for a product like our All-in-One software. He talked like the decision maker. He gave me the needs I was looking for to prepare a presentation. I was ready to price the deal out and submit my final proposal.” Matt explained that he was trying to schedule a final proposal meeting when Williams, looking over his calendar, mentioned that he had an executive team meeting the next week, a partner’s meeting the following week, and something involving his practice development manager—whatever that might be. “He began to sort of think out loud about his schedule,” Matt told Joe. “He was using terms and titles I’d never heard—or, if I did, I hadn’t paid much attention: ‘principle, partner, director, manager.’ And he talked as if the ‘executive team’ was something distinct from ‘the partners.’ “All this time I had been excited because we do practically no business with professional services firms, and I figured this deal might help open a new market for us,” Matt continued. “But suddenly I had two horrible thoughts. First, John Williams might not be the decision maker after all. And second, I didn’t understand how my customer’s business was structured, or who the players were, or how their relationships worked. And now it was too late in the game for me to admit that to Williams.” Over the phone Joe heard three thumps that might have been Matt slapping himself in the forehead. “And I thought I had gotten really good at Act 3,” Matt said. “I feel like a complete jackass.” Matt had left Williams’ office an hour ago. His Commitment Objective for the call had been to schedule a final proposal meeting, and he did. “But the more I think about it, the more I worry that a price proposal at this point will be premature,” he said. “I suspect there are other buyers and influencers hiding in the weeds, maybe including the real decision maker. Instead of presenting a final proposal to John, I probably should be conducting a needs analysis with some other players. But I’m not even sure where to look for them. If they had titles like CEO, CIO or Marketing VP, I’d be on steadier ground. But with this firm, I just don’t know.” You may feel like a jackass, Matt, but you don’t sound like one, Joe thought. You aren’t trying to hide your mistake or blame anybody. You just want to know how to land the deal. This is how capable people ask for help. You really have come a long way. Joe briefly explained what he knew about the structure of professional services firms, beginning with the fact that “executive team” probably referred to the partners on the masthead (as opposed to any number of other partners), and that one of them most likely was the key decision maker. “I think you’re right about the need to find and talk to some other buyers,” Joe said. “The good news is you’ve caught me at an opportune moment. What you have on your hands is a complex sale. It so happens that I just previewed a new Action Selling course that focuses specifically on how to navigate your way through a complex sale. It’s called Action Selling 3D.” Matt was silent for a full five seconds. “You’re not kidding?” he asked finally. “There’s something more to Action Selling, like an advanced version? It’s going to save my bacon again?” Joe laughed, delighted with the effect of his news on Matt. “Am I the world’s most remarkable boss or what? Hey, I’ll tell you more next week, before we call on your CPAs,” Joe said. “And, I’ll show you a neat cube that illustrates the 3D process.” “Whoa, back up,” Matt said. “We are going to call on my CPAs?” “Well, you know I’m coming to Denver next Tuesday anyway for a branch performance review, right? And you need to convince Williams to let you meet with some other decision makers. I can be flexible with my branch review to accommodate their schedules. It might help you land the meeting you want if you can say you’d like to bring your national sales vice president into the picture.” Matt pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it as if he expected a rabbit to pop out. “You’re right,” he said finally. “You really are the world’s most remarkable boss. And thanks. But now, how do I get Williams to put the right people in the room with us when I have no idea who they are?” “Come on, you know this,” Joe said. “You let him lead you to the right people by Asking the Best Questions. If your new Commitment Objective is to gain his agreement for a meeting with other key decision makers, what kinds of questions might you ask to reveal a need for such a meeting and then get him to identify and enlist the appropriate players?” Together, they quickly came up with three questions for Matt to put to Williams:
- When you have initiated projects like this in the past, how important has it been to get input from other key people inside your firm so they have some equity in the solution that you recommend?
- What other key decision makers would it make sense to involve so they can voice their ideas and concerns?
- Leverage Question: What could happen if we didn’t give these people a chance to provide their input into the plan?
ABOUT DUANE SPARKS
Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling. He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations. Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).
Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).