Sometimes You Gotta Be A Little Bit Crazy
One of the biggest challenges for businesses and salespeople today is to differentiate; to stand out—to be memorable. With products and services so evenly matched on pricing, terms and other buyer’s criteria, what are you doing to be “the one”?
Several years ago I was Vice President of Sales for a large, regional wholesale distributor in an industry that literally fought over pennies. Margins were razor-thin and customer needs and expectations were extremely high. Top that all off with a market where competition was fierce and you have a situation where being successful meant being creative. In my case, it meant being a little crazy.
I realize that 99.9% of you are in the exact same business climate today and that’s why I want to share a situation that hopefully will awaken the “crazy person” in you.
Our company had bid on the business for an extremely large retail customer just outside Kansas City, MO. It was a privately owned firm with three key decision makers and a few “district” managers with whom we’d met several times throughout the process, as had our competitors (one of which was the incumbent that already had the business).
It was a trophy account that everyone wanted.
For the sake of today’s discussion, I won’t go into all the details of the sale—we will cover (and have covered) that in other blogs. But, the bottom line is the bid process had come down to my company and two others. Like you, many times I could tell where we stood by this point; were we the lead dog or somewhere else in the pack?
But in this instance I had no idea. The client had played it very close to the vest and nothing they said or did tipped their hand. The decision was to be made on a Friday afternoon and announced to the final three companies.
I flew into Kansas City on Thursday morning prepared to be ready to shake hands and sign the paperwork on Friday afternoon. I hoped my trip wasn’t in vain. To this point, we’d answered every question, provided every service and submitted a very competitive bid—one that we could live with and hopefully the client could, too.
But, what could I do to give me an edge at this point? What could I do to make it almost impossible for them NOT to choose me and our company? How could I differentiate?
Somewhere, somehow I had an idea. An idea that I personally carried out without telling anyone back at the office—mainly for fear they’d laugh at me—and think I was crazy.
Early Friday morning I went to a local bakery and bought a big sheet cake and had the baker decorate the top with the logo’s of both my company and the client with the following:
“Welcome to (our company), where you can have your cake and eat it, too!”
Then I had it delivered to the client’s office around 10 a.m. Now, keep in mind the decision was coming down that afternoon and supposedly nobody knew who the customer was choosing as a supplier.
My phone rang about 10:15.
“Butch, we just got this cake delivered. Is it from you?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Actually, it’s from our entire company. We just wanted to do something special for you and your group.”
There was a long silence.
“But you know we haven’t made a decision. Did someone say you got the business?”
“No, not at all. But, I know we’re the best choice for you and I didn’t want to take a chance of not being able to get the cake this afternoon.”
Again, a long silence.
“Well, uh…we really appreciate it, but uh…well, we’re not…”
“Thanks for the cake. We’ll call you and everyone else this afternoon.”
Then I waited.
Late that day, I got the call. The business was ours. The client has remained with that company (even though I’ve moved on) to this day—some ten years later.
I did tell everyone back at the office what I had done. Some laughed while others thought I was a genius (or crazy). What I didn’t know was did it make a difference?
Several years later at a national convention, the client confided in me over dinner. That Friday morning we were second of the three companies they were considering. The business was going elsewhere. Then the cake arrived.
As he said later, “When that cake showed up, it was all the ladies in the office could talk about. They couldn’t believe someone would go to those lengths for our business. In our discussions that day, we decided that anyone that would do what you did with that cake would do whatever it took to take care of our business after they got it. We just felt you were who we wanted to do business with.”
For several years afterward every time I’d call on the account the ladies in the office referred to me as “The Cake Man”. It was a multi-million dollar account so I didn’t mind a bit.
Since then, I’ve used the exact same “cake close” on other clients who were comparing bids. I’ve won a lot more than I’ve lost. Now, will a multi-million dollar contract be awarded over a cake? Absolutely not. I’m not THAT crazy.
But, with all things being equal—or close—what are you going to do to stand out?
As the client told me, we were SECOND going into the final decision making meeting. But, I did something crazy. I took a chance. I separated myself from the competition and in the process I SHOWED the customer that I was willing to go to extraordinary (see: crazy) lengths to take care of their account. Sometimes, it’s the “crazy” things that make the difference!