In the last 3 decades of my sales experience, I have had a huge variety of experiences with various clients, partners, and distributors. There were many happy, sad, shocking and unexpectedly funny moments. I would like to collate some of these experiences in a series of articles to share my valuable lessons with all my readers and sales professionals.
In 2000, having gained sales experience of 8+ years, I was promoted as a sales manager in my previous organization. I was given a small team of sellers. I had the dual responsibility of managing my team for meeting the team KRA as well as meeting my individual quota.
It was a Monday morning and the last week of the quarter when I was planning for the week. I had a look at my funnel and there were some deals that I had to close to meet my quota. After all calculations, there was still a dearth of 10 Lakhs. I had only one week, and I was breaking my head as to how and where I could cut this deal of 10 lakhs.
As I was sipping my coffee, I received a call from the Procurement Director of one of our regular big brand customers. This customer mentioned about a product which was not available in India at that point of time. He said they wanted this tool urgently and asked me if we could source it and supply to them. He said they needed a proposal within 1 hour and he could release the PO in a day or 2. When I searched their website, I got all the details. Incidentally, the cost of that specific software tool was 10 lakhs. I was feeling excited because if I could source this tool for the client, my quota was over.
With a lot of enthusiasm, I opened our proposal template. As I started filling all the details of the product, I shared the proposal with the customer by mail. I also called up the customer and informed him that I shared the proposal as per the deadline given by him.
Next day, I got a mail confirmation from the client stating that they had got internal approvals and asked us to keep the product ready. They would release a form PO by next day so that we could deliver the software.
As I was reading the mail with a lot of happiness, at the end of the mail I noticed an error in the pricing. He had mentioned a price of 1 Lakh instead of 10 lakhs. I thought he would have omitted a zero while typing this mail. When I called him and told him about this, he said, “Boss, you have quoted only 1 lakh and on that basis I got all the internal approvals quickly and I am confirming this now. Please check your proposal.” When I checked my proposal, I realized that I had only committed the mistake of typing 1 Lakh instead of 10 Lakhs. But at the bottom of the proposal, where we usually mentioned the cost in words, I had rightly mentioned “Ten Lakhs only”. I told him that I had made a mistake in the numerals, but in words I had mentioned the right amount and asked him to modify the PO for 10 Lakhs. He said in a giggling voice, “Sir, I thought you had made a mistake only in words, so I just ignored.” I was feeling irritated then. He went ahead in a threatening mode that if we were not honouring our commitment, then they would blacklist us. To me, that day, he resembled a movie villain.
I didn’t know how to manage this. If we execute this order, we would be making a loss of 9 lakhs. Instead of progressing towards my quota, I would be going reverse. Not only would I miss the quota, but also end up making a huge dent in the profitability. If we don’t execute the deal, we would face a situation of getting blacklisted and no more orders would come from this significant client.
I approached my manager and explained the situation. I thought he would fire me, but he didn’t utter anything negative. He said, “Kumar, the client is important. If they are releasing a firm purchase order by tomorrow, we will have to execute the order. It is ok. You have made a mistake, but please ensure that you don’t repeat this mistake. Be careful especially while preparing the proposal.” He was very supportive.
Next day, the mail came from the client. I just opened the mail blaming myself for my silly mistake because of which we had landed in that situation. I thought the client would have sent the PO, but to my surprise, he mentioned in the mail that their project was on hold for time being and asked us not to proceed with procuring the license for them. I was feeling like I was on top of the world.
Have you ever seen a salesperson being happy for not getting the PO from a client? Here I was!
When I called up the client and spoke to him, he praised me for our willingness to execute the order despite making a loss. That customer went on to become one of our large and regular customers with multiple large deals.
Friends, though this had happened around 2 decades back, the learnings are relevant till this day.
Lessons for all Sales professionals
- Don’t do anything in urgency, whatever may be the situation.
- Be careful while preparing your proposals, especially where the investment details are concerned, both in numerals and words.
- Most of us would leave the tax part out of urgency. Be careful, as that could lead to problems.
- In a situation like this, always take a call to support the customer. In the short run, you may lose a penny, but in the long run, you may earn not only dollars, but also the trust of the customer.
- If you are a sales manager, support your salesperson instead of firing him in a context like this. To err is human. When managers support their professionals in situations like these, then the psychological safety they provide, helps to create a fearless sales organisation.
- Sales professionals must be self-aware and agile. Unpredictable things will happen, and it is best to adjust your sails and keep in mind the consequences.
See you soon with another interesting episode!