Do you remember the first time you won a customer?

My first customer’s name was Marcello. I can’t remember his surname but I do recall his first name because of the way he pronounced it. It sounded like ‘March hello’. Marcello was in his fifties and was a small, grey haired first generation Italian. Although he had been in Australia for over twenty years his English still sounded as if he was just off the boat. He was a charming and personable man and together with his wife owned and operated a little pizza restaurant on Willoughby road in Crows Nest, Sydney.

All that morning I had been collecting ‘no’s’ and ‘not interested’s’ and I am sure I must have looked like the novice I was. All the other guys in the sales team had made their quota. I was the new guy and at this point hadn’t sold anything. Dejected and ready to give up, that winter morning the gods must have been smiling on me. Perhaps there was something about what I said or did when I knocked on their door that got me past the gate but that meeting gave me an opportunity that changed my life.

It was about 11:00am and the dining area of the restaurant was empty. I could hear the clatter of pots and pans as the kitchen staff [his wife] was preparing for the expected lunchtime crowd. Marcello had led me to the back and invited me to sit down in a small booth. It was dark with lots of wood and covered with red and white checked tablecloths. Marcello sat down opposite me and probably with too much enthusiasm I sat down and immediately started talking about the ‘features and benefits’ of our unique advertising plans. I thought I was doing rather well until near the middle of my memorized and rehearsed pitch he gently smiled and raised both of his hands as if he were surrendering to my attack.

He stood up and at that point I thought I had blown it. Speaking as he walked towards the bar he told me to slow down and take a breath, then, he suggested it might be a good idea to ask some questions. He continued walking and once at the bar he shouted something in his native Italian into the kitchen. A few moments later he returned to our table with two glasses and a few napkins. He sat down, looked at me and asked me to begin again.

Initially, slowing down my pitch wasn’t easy and my questions felt as if they came across awkward and constructed. What seemed like an hour in reality was only five minutes. His wife arrived with a large cheese pizza and a half carafe of red wine. Marcello smiled at me and said that if we were going to do business then we should have something to eat. It came as real relief that I could use this as a break.

Between sips of Lambrusco and mouthfuls of fresh crusty pizza I discovered that it is hard to speak when you are eating. Slowly my sales pitch became a conversation. Our conversation widened and we chatted about advertising, Italy, Ireland, pizza and politics. I found talking wasn’t hard and didn’t need to be engineered. As I relaxed my mind had the freedom to think about how his advertising would work better. There were many other moments – but the one that stands out for me was when I chose the moment and asked for his business.

Fifteen minutes later I walked out. I had a cheque for $2,000 in my jacket pocket. $400 of that would become my first commission payment. I am forever grateful to Marcello for teaching me that valuable sales lesson. The feeling of being on top of the world, winning a deal, truly engaging with a customer has been the bedrock of my career and every sale I have ever made.

I am passionate about helping sales people understand what they need to do to make a difference when it counts. I’m guessing that as you are reading this you probably need to lift either your business or your own sales team’s performance. Successful sales people know that their profession is both an art and a science. All too often however sales teams lack in the science department. This can be frustrating for everyone. While some businesses flounder and struggle to earn every dollar their neighbour can often be out performing them in ways they would consider impossible.

An excerpt from  ‘How to Build a World Class Sales Team’ by Ciaran McGuigan

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