Sanjiv Patel’s business was supposed to be fun. He’d dreamt up Lord Nut, a whimsical 19th-century, Monty Pythonesque spokes-character for his brand of boldly flavored peanuts. He came from finance and was able to easily raise $200,000 in startup capital. Then he started going on sales calls, and the fun stopped. “I’d get very nervous,” he recalls. “In the beginning, I thought I could do a PowerPoint and that’s it.”
There were a lot of no’s in those days. Each no made him more fearful for the next one. “The hardest part,” he says, “is keeping poised when there’s negativity in the room.”
Eventually he realized his problem: He was making rejection too easy. Customers would say no to his PowerPoint, and he’d pack up and go home. So he began researching his buyers’ tastes and style, down to what kind of clothes to wear; his goal was to be instantly likeable. He’d ask salesmen of other products about their experience with a certain store, so he could be prepared for their sensibilities. And when they said no, he just kept getting to know them.
On one sales call, he drove hours for a meeting -- and the first words uttered by the buyer were, “We don’t think your product is a fit.” But Patel just laughed it off. He took the meeting anyway, presented his product, and asked, “What do you see happening in this category?” A good conversation followed. Three years later, he got the account. “You just have to run in there and take your licks” Patel says now. “I still get blank stares today. But I’m just a terrier. I won’t let go.”