Back in September, a customer about 2-1/2 hours away from my office asked me to come to his facility and make a recommendation on some types of equipment I sell. I am an Inside Sales Rep, so I usually work from the office, and that’s the main way our company does business, but this would have been a sizeable sale, so my boss agreed I should make the drive to see this customer and try to sell him the equipment.
So, on a cold nasty day in early October, I drove the 2-1/2 hours up to this customer’s crummy little town, met with him for about 45 minutes, took measurements of his workspace for the equipment I’d be selling him, answered his questions, asked some of my own, discussed how the products would work, agreed to send him a proposal, and then I left.
On my way out of town, I drove past an antique shop that looked really cute from the storefront. I had to stop and get gas at a nearby service station anyway, so I turned around and walked around this little shop for about 10 minutes. I’d bought an old wooden carpentry level at another shop, and wanted to use it for a coat hook at my house, but I needed hooks. Well, my little shop on this October day had an entire section of wonderful, real, antique hardware salvaged from old houses, including some gorgeous brass hooks! I picked up 4 for $5, then got gas and a bottle of water, then drove 2-1/2 hours home.
The next day, I worked up a proposal for the customer, sent it off to him, followed up, discussed, asked questions, got to know his needs, learned his budget, learned who the other decision makers were and corresponded with them, and found out that had they decided not to purchase anything until May 2013. I asked about competition; the two products that I proposed are “commodity” products, and I didn’t want them buying some Cheap Knock-Off of the Real Product (my company is the leader in the industry, and we are also usually the most expensive). Oh no, all three contacts at this facility assured me, we want to buy from your company, we do not want to buy from anyone else, your proposal is very reasonable, this is what we want, we just need to get the funds released in May.
Toward the end of April, I followed up with my initial contact for the first time in a couple of months. How is your project coming along? Are you still looking at a purchase in May? How I help you at this point?
To which he answered,
Is the quote you gave me last fall still valid?
I said, yes, it’s valid through July. What else?
He said, no, sounds good, thanks, you’ll be hearing from us soon.
And about a week later he sent me an email and said, “it’s not a reflection on you or your company’s products, but we decided to go with Company X [a competitor, who builds a cheaply made version of the reputable products I sell] because we prefer their products.”
This happens every now and then. It’s a bummer, but if a customer doesn’t reveal that he’s looking at the competition and doesn’t let me address why I believe my product is better than the competition’s and worth the extra money, then I definitely shouldn’t have bothered driving 5 hours to meet this customer face to face and measure a couple of rooms that he could have (freaking) measured himself.
I called him and asked him how I could salvage the project for my company, but he didn’t want to talk. I thanked him for the chance and said goodbye.
I came home that night, hung up my coat, and — oh! I hung up my coat! You know, although I took that trip to that stupid little town and wasted an entire cold day working for a customer who probably just used me to get a higher price so he could justify buying Cheap Junk and never intended to buy from me in the first place, I also had these cute hooks, and my dad had attached them to the old antique level for me. And it looks really great in my house. So hey . . . in Sales, you win some and you lose some. Some customers will try to use you outright, and you sometimes won’t realize it until it’s already happened.
Which is why it’s important to stop for that hot, rich cup of coffee, or visit the little antique shop, or read for the extra 10 minutes before bedtime, or sign up to receive the Poem of the Day, or hug your kitties longer when they need some extra love. Because at the end of a lost sales opportunity, I have a really cute, one-of-a-kind coat hook that I invented myself!