It was the summer of 1992. I was driving a casual 110 mph on the German autobahn for a 3-hour stretch in my company-issued BMW 3 series. I was on my way from Munich to Aachen, Germany to meet with a prospective client in anticipation of landing one of the largest clients in my vast 4-year sales career. I was 29 years old and the sales manager of a small German technology distributor. My German language finally reached a level of business fluency well enough to persuade any client to buy our products and services.
During the drive, I ran through the sales pitch multiple times in my head to make sure it was perfect. This was the chance to finally close the largest computer retailer in all of Germany.
When I arrived I was nervous yet confident. My potential buyer took me for a plant tour before we sat down to talk business. Once we sat down, I launched right into my well-rehearsed sales pitch. I did not skip a beat. I told him about our company, all the wonderful products and services we have, and the reasons why he should buy from us. I thought it was going according to plan until the unexpected happened. Something I had not planned on or prepared for.
My “buyer” fell asleep on me in the middle of my pitch. Literally!
I stopped mid-sentence in complete shock. I looked around to see if there were cameras set up for one of those reality prank shows. I was at a loss of what to do. I coughed a few times. No luck. I then smacked the table as if I was reinforcing an important point of a story, and he woke up.
Those 15 seconds of sleep time seemed like 15 minutes.
Much to my dismay, he was not apologetic. He just listened to the rest of my perfect pitch with a blank stare, like it was another typical sales pitch that he had heard a hundred times before.
Not only did I not close the largest potential client in my 4-year career, but I never heard back from my friend again. It was one of the most devastating yet most important lessons I have learned in my 30+-year sales career to date. It only takes one experience like that one to make you realize that the perfect sales pitch does not always work. In fact, most sales pitches do not work in general.
Understanding that sales conversations are not about you diving right in to impress your prospective clients by showcasing your qualifications and wonderful services. An effective sales conversation comes from you first learning about the client and understanding what their needs and challenges are. You can then decide how you want to tailor the description of your services and expertise that would be of interest to them.
If I could go back in time and replay my most important sales pitch in 1992, I would have taken the time to research the client, come up with thoughtful questions to ask him, learn more about their business, and then share how we would be able to help their needs.
There would still have been no guarantee that I would have won that client, but I am pretty confident that he would have stayed awake during the entire conversation.