Forgive me folks, but half of what I learned about human behavior came from the lyrics of pop and country music: Thus, the first part of the title of this blog.
I have always empathized with sales guys. They have the toughest job in our business because they are in the front lines, often alone, their audience is the enemy, and to make matters worse, they are constantly nagged by the win or lose outcome of their efforts--nothing in between. This story is about helping a rookie sales guy who left the confines of the brain trust territory to sell a technology in the land of "The Big Easy."A few years ago, I got a call from the Chairman and CEO of a large bank who asked me to go to his city to help out in a computer crisis. He was a trustee at a very large and prestigious medical institution (in the class of Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Scott & White and Palo Alto Clinic) and he was concerned that they were falling apart with regard to technology. I resisted by saying, "Antoine, just because I'm good at banking doesn't make me an expert in the blood and guts business." He answered with, "OK, just come and have lunch with me and their CFO. Do it as a favor." The next day I was on a Delta flight to New Orleans and the only thing on my mind was crawfish étouffée at Bon Ton. That led to a five-year consulting project that I absolutely adored.
In an effort to expand the use of technology from bean counting to physician support, we invited a company from Cambridge, Mass., to tell us about its new voice recognition system. Do I have to tell you that doctors' penmanship stinks? And that they love Montblanc fountain pens, but they despise keyboards? Just imagine that kind of record keeping as it relates to our health. Is that word "fatal" or "natal?" So when 30 plus white-coats showed up at the presentation, I wasn't surprised. The only thing that worried me a bit was the rookie. And I was right because he couldn't handle the intimidation of addressing some of the world's foremost physicians in his attempt to convince them that this system would make them better doctors.
It didn't take more than ten minutes for me to see the kid was going down. The beads of sweat on his face were obvious. The cottonmouth was another symptom. The hands shook. The complexion paled. His message was getting lost, but no one reacted. I couldn't stand the pain any longer even though I knew, when the kid collapsed, there was plenty of talent in the room to revive him. I didn't wait for that. I did what any arrogant consultant would do--take the spotlight off him and put it on me. I performed a typical Steve Martin wild-and-crazy-guy-act to break up the scene by directing the presentation to a very practical concern: "How does this system recognize weird accents like we have here in New Orleans? Let's try a demo right now since we have the real McCoys sitting here." The kid came to and the entire mood changed. Everyone got involved. The doctors focused on the system, not the presentation. Is that a good thing?
The end of this story does not parallel a fairy tell. The clinic didn't buy the system. Was it the rookie's fault? I don't think so. Does the clinic now have a voice recognition system? I don't think so. Should we have allowed the rookie to suffer emotional breakdown in his attempt to do a good job? NEVER. Should the company CEO have accompanied the kid to provide his support and make an impression on this blue ribbon audience? YOUBETCHA!
Be nice to your sales guy. He/she may just be the only link you have to a very strong solution.I have always empathized with sales guys. They have the toughest job in our business because they are in the front lines, often alone, their audience is the enemy, and to make matters worse, they are constantly nagged by the win or lose outcome of their efforts--nothing in between.