Friday, April 24, 2015

The King and the Salesperson

I can remember the first time I saw this picture. It was a very long time ago; before computers, cell phones, faxes and most of the technology we take for granted today. After returning to the office from a weeklong trek across Iowa, I found the picture taped to the wall near my desk (it was the pre-cubicle era too). I got a heartfelt chuckle, then proceeded to make a couple of copies to pass along to other sales buddies at the local watering hole later that night. Over the years, I have seen variations of the picture literally dozens of times. Today, a client used the cartoon as an example I hadn’t thought about. Allow me to tell the story.

We arrive too late in the customer process
If you don’t understand customer issues until after the customer tells you about them, you may be arriving too late. Great sales teams uncover problems and make their customers aware of them before they actually turn into emergencies. Once the customer is knee deep in fixing things, their minds may be closed to your new ideas, innovative solutions or cool new technologies. As depicted here, they are too busy fighting battles to learn about new approaches.

A few years ago, we did some work for the Power Transmission Distributors Association (PTDA). We discovered the guy selling mechanical products into a new customer project learned about the projects something like 90 days prior to the seller with electronic solutions which were later used to control the mechanical devices. The sellers who used this extra time to position their company and products were often able to bridge into whole new product lines.

If you wait until the customer provides you with a solution and asks you to recommend products, you are still just another sales guy hawking a catalog full of products. Conversely, spot a problem before the customer and you become a valued business partner. Guess which one gets paid more?

We speak the wrong language
Let’s imagine for just a second the sales guy got a short appointment with the customer. Based on observing hundreds of upper level management calls gone wrong, I would surmise the typical conversation with the king would cover the size of bullets, the high quality barrel, the wonderfully designed stand and a blurb on the machine-gun company’s mission statement. All these powerful technology features would bore the king to tears.

What should be discussed? Productivity improvements. Things like a single soldier’s ability to defend the whole south gate and the elimination of the need for expensive swords might be appropriate. Case studies with examples of overextended kingdoms winning battles against hungry hordes are always appropriate. And, when you can leave the name of an innovative king in another part of the world as a reference, the king will perk up.

Back to reality. Financial people don’t look for product features or detailed technology overviews. They want to know two things: How will your product help them make more money? And, why are you certain your solution will work in their world? It’s a different conversation than most sellers have with their day-to-day contacts.

Back to the cartoon
They say a picture equals a thousand words and tells a hundred stories. I am interested in what this picture says to you?


DanOB said...

Frank, I had a very similar experience with this picture early in my sales career. A couple of things hit me every time I see it. First is, be careful that you pick the right champions in your account. In this picture it is clear that the King doesn't listen to the two "champions" that are on his own team. Second thing is how important it is to get "in front" of your prospect. This salesman is not in front of his target audience. The third thing is to recognize when you are at the right place at the right time, which this guy clearly is, and if so make some noise. What would have happened if at the point the King is walking away, the sales guy opened fire on some inanimate object in the King's field of view? Anyway, lots of messages in this picture, those are just a few off the ones that jump out at me. Thanks for keeping me thinking.

The Distributor Specialist said...

Dan, You are spot on with the internal champion observation. Over the course of my career I have seen the champion thing crumble before my very eyes more than a few times. If anything, this drives home the need for a relationship and selling time with customer top brass.

I am a sucker for a good demo. Most of our engineering and technical customer contacts appreciate a demo too. Your point about blowing up a few inanimate objects sounds like an upper level demo - something the big boys in management can understand and appreciate.

I am liking this cartoon more today than when I first saw it back in the days of leisure suites and shag carpet.

The Distributor Specialist said...

BTW - You have won the Grand Prize of all times. Just as soon as the first barrel is cracked open. Some of this delightful stuff will be heading your way.

Frabs Electrical said...

This cartoon illustrates that tremendous inertias and resistance to change exist in most industries. And this "cruise control" mentality leads to serious profit problems. A recent Harvard Business Review article indicated that business people can be broken into two categories. Opportunity maximizers and risk avoiders. In our industry, most are risk avoiders and are rewarded for maintaining the status quo until absolutely forced to change. re: opposition now has a machine gun.

The Distributor Specialist said...

Staying the same is no longer a strategy. Instead, I would characterize it as waiting to go the way of the dinosaurs.

In distribution, extinction comes slowly. Most don't react until it's too late.

Thanks for you comment.