Early on in my sales career, I was given a precious gift from a CEO, one that made a profound and positive impact on my selling style and my career as a whole. He hung up on me.
Let me explain. I had 10 prospecting calls to make that day, and until I punched that fateful call onto the keypad, I had talked to three assistants, left five messages with receptionists and dialed one impossible-to-rectify wrong number. As I punched in the last number of the day, I thought to myself, "What a disappointment this day has been." That was mistake number one-though I certainly didn't know it at the time.
I slouched in my chair and listened to the phone ring. On the second ring, someone picked up and barked out the words, "Charlie Leland."
I had actually gotten a CEO on the line! I choked up completely. My mouth suddenly became cotton-dry. I almost lost my grip on the telephone handset. I stammered out the words, "This is Tony Parinello with Hewlett-Packard." There was a little pause that I was apparently supposed to fill, so I asked what seemed to me a perfectly reasonable question: "Do you have a minute?"
Charlie shot back instantly, "What do you want?" "Well," I explained, "Hewlett-Packard has a new computer system that's called the 21MX. It's the fastest on the market, with a whopping 64KB of memory. It's configured with our high-capacity disc drive system and double-track magnetic back-up. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your company. Would tomorrow at 9 o'clock be good, or would Wednesday at 2 o'clock be better?"
What a snappy way to get the appointment! (Or so I thought.)
Charlie's response put me in my place. It was short and sweet. "I don't have time for this," Charlie said. Then his phone said, "Click."
For a moment, I was too stunned to speak. This really was a lousy day, after all. I scanned my surroundings to see whether anyone had heard the deathly silence that had followed my request for Charlie's time. Fortunately, no one had.
As I drove home in my company car and pondered my brief conversation with Charlie, I found myself repeating a quiet mantra to myself, a mantra that served as the starting-point for a remarkably deep two-month slump in my career at Hewlett-Packard that took me well into the first quarter of the next year. The mantra ran as follows: "I am a klutz.I am a klutz.I am a klutz."
I thought about that call for weeks. Eventually, I concluded that there was an important lesson to be learned from my short discussion with Charlie. When I'd asked him, "Do you have a minute?" I'd become one of a hundred supplicants begging for a chunk of his day without offering anything meaningful in return. When I'd launched into a discussion of my product's features, I'd proved for certain that I was yet another person interested in wasting his time. When I'd tried to force him into an "either-or" choice for meeting me in person, I'd shown only my ineptitude and my lack of sensitivity to the demands on his time and the importance of his position.
In short, I had failed to establish the right business rapport with Charlie. By focusing in a self-centered way on what I knew and the unreasonable goal of setting the first appointment, I had made that first appointment impossible!
Once I figured out what had gone wrong, I never made the same mistake again. I never would have course-corrected, though, if I hadn't had spent two awful months pondering that horrific hang-up.
Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.