In The Trenches
Joe Big Customer

by Steven Pavent

   While many people were tuning in Monday night to "Joe Millionaire" to finally see if Evan would pick Zora or Sarah, perhaps you didn't even know about a much more entertaining, and useful show on the Financial News Network: "Joe Big Customer." In this reality series, 50 salespeople are herded into a 55-story magnificent office building with gold fixtures in every bathroom, to wait their turn to win the business of Joe Big Customer, a head honcho decision maker who will award a million dollar purchase order to one lucky and skillful sales pro. Little do the unsuspecting sales reps know, but Joe Big Customer is really some schlub who runs a near-bankrupt snow plowing service in Phoenix, and is behind on his truck payments. Our focus is on one sales rep, Pat Savvy. Pat was the eighth sales rep to have a shot at pitching to Joe.
In the first episode, the first seven all pretty much took the same approach. Each paraded in to see Joe, pulling out their laptop computer and Powerpoint presentations. They had charts, graphs, videos, reams of technical data, samples, interactive computer programs, and slickly-crafted pitches, extolling in detail each of the fine "benefits" of doing business with them. One even got in the hot tub with Joe. Then, it was Pat Savvy's turn. Pat had nothing but a yellow legal pad and a pen. And lots of questions.
   Pat started out with some general questions. "So, Joe, tell me why you're looking at this product."
   "How long have you been looking?" Then Pat got into need-and problem-related questions: "What problems will it solve for you?" "What are the other implications of the problem you're looking to solve?" "Who else is affected by them?" "What is the return on investment that you're looking for?" "What do you expect to get for the price you expect to pay?" "Why did you choose this format to choose a vendor and make a purchase?" "Is this product going to replace another one?" Then Pat asked about the decision-making process: "What three criteria will you weigh most heavily in choosing your vendor?" "How did you come up with those?" "How did you choose the previous vendor?" "Who else will be involved in the decision making process?" "Tell me about them and what they might be looking for." "Will everyone else go along with your recommendation?" "Who else will be affected by your decision?" "Are you already leaning toward one salesperson over another?" "If I met your criteria, the ones you mentioned, better thananyone else, would we work together?" "When, specifically will the decision be made?" Pat just absolutely drilled Joe with questions. And you know what? It was decided that Pat wasn't the best person and company to get the business. Pat was the first one eliminated. Pat decided that, by the way. You see, that by asking questions, Pat unmasked Joe. Pat realized that Joe wasn't for real. Pat knew Joe had no intention of making a real decision. Joe had no money or authority, in this reality series, and Pat saw that by the answers to questions. Joe was just parading salespeople in, all of them eager to put on their dog and pony shows, because they thought Joe was working on "some new initiative." Pat didn't want to hang around, just an undistinguished peddler among the masses. Pat didn't do business like that. Pat's motto is, "Move them forward, or move them out." The announcer tried to grab Pat for the obligatory interview after the losers are eliminated, where they act bitter and cry. But Pat was nowhere to be found. Until later, where the announcer caught up to Pat after a sales call. Announcer: "Pat, you were one of the first sales reps eliminated. How do you feel about that, and why are you�smiling?" Pat: "I feel great. I always say, if there's not a fit, find that out early. Don't try to shove a square peg into a round hole. You won't create business where it never will exist. I knew there would never be a real sale here... and by the way, I'm smiling because I got out of there quick, and used that time to close a deal minutes ago with a real customer." Announcer: "Any more sales clich�s that people make fun of, but are actually true?" Pat: "Yes, big business isn't necessarily good business. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You don't need to get all of the business, just the business that is profitable for you and the customer." Announcer: "So, sometimes you need to know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em ..." Pat: "You need to know when to walk away, and when to not quote bad country songs." Announcer: "It looks like losing was actually winning for you." Precisely.

Action Step

   Do you have any Joe Big Customer's out there? These are the people who look like they might be legit, when in fact they'll yank your chain for months or years if you allow them. Analyze your own follow up files right now and make some tough choices. Ask them the tough questions next time. And be aware, and beware of these types so you can treat the situation accordingly. But also remember to treat everyone with respect and professionalism, so that you don't burn any bridges.
   I read this story in a weekly sales newsletter written by Art Sobczak, of Business by Phone Inc. shortly after writing last month's article on questions. I felt it was so entertaining it deserved reprinting.