Worst to First – How I won a Sales Deal


Here’s a personal sales story…

In the software business, companies like to do a “Proof of Concept,” (POC) in which the users install the software, test it and report which one they like best.

What happens when your company is invited to participate and your software finishes dead last? Is the deal lost? Not necessarily.

The prospective customer was Heineken USA and they invited in three business intelligence vendors

  1. Brio
  2. Cognos and
  3. Business Objects (me).

But before I start, let me share this, good salespeople rarely, if ever, do POC’s – if they uncover personal customer value first. Still Heineken insisted, so we did it.

At the end, here were the standings:

  1. Brio
  2. Cognos
  3. Business Objects (me)

Uh oh.Looks bleak.But then something happened. Brio’s “income” statement and balance sheet were ugly, so they were eliminated.Now the standings were:

  1. Cognos
  2. Business Objects (me)

Okay, not so bad. But close is not good enough. The commission on second place is zero.

Next, IT leadership made their recommendation to the new Chief Knowledge Officer, “Let’s go with Cognos.

”Delighted, the Cognos sales team told their management the deal was done.

But the CKO said “Okay, but since there are only two left, I want to meet both vendors before we decide.”

Cognos is a giant, but traditional product-focused software firm.

So I knew what they would do.They “unloaded the bus” and gave the standard pitch to the CKO.I pictured a room filled with suits – a PowerPoint telling them how great their company is.

Next, the CKO invited in me.I strolled in alone — mano y mano.I opened with a question, “Mr. Chase, you came to Heineken USA from an academic background, right?”“Yes, Jeff.I did.” (I knew the answer before I asked it.)Next I stated “If I were you, I would make my top priority the success of my first project.”He said, “Damned right, Jeff.This has to work.”Then I said “Well, Mr. Chase, all I can say to you is this: I will do everything in my power to make you successful.”

End of meeting.We shook hands and walked out.

The next day, my phone rings.It is Heineken USA.They selected us .We won! We went from worst to first.

Soon after, a giant magnum bottle of Heineken arrives, along with front row seats to the US (tennis) open.

Great win leads to a sad story

Alas, the story has a sad ending.Others were responsible for delivering on promises and they failed miserably. I got a call from the IT manager. “I’ve spent a million dollars and nothing works. I’m going to get fired.”

Though I tried desperately to help – my managers overruled me and told me it was not my problem. Mr. Chase was fired.

I left my company. My managers soon lost their jobs. As I told my wife, this was the most humiliating experience of my long sales career.

I love customers and Heineken USA was the nicest customer in the world.

P.S. I soon met with the EVP of Cognos. His question to his VP, East was “How the hell did we lose at Heineken USA? It was a done deal!” The response “Face it, Tony. We were beaten by a vastly better salesperson.”

Update in 2015: Mr. Chase is now working for SAS and I contacted him and apologized on behalf of my former employer. He thanked me.

What do you think? We love to read comments (No SPAM please) and those who share on social media.

Jeff Ogden (@fearlesscomp) is President of the B2B lead generation consultancy, Find New Customers.
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