Tough Buyers

This is a story about a notoriously tough buyer I called on many years ago. 

I have heard the odd comment over the last month or so about tough buyers.
These are the professional buyers, usually working for large customers who have a reputation.

They often strike fear into the souls of salespeople.

Last night I remembered one such buyer and it may be a surprise to you but I remembered him fondly.

Let’s call him Mr H. and let me tell you my dealings with him had a profound influence on my sales career.

In my first few years of selling I had heard Mr H’s name come up quite a bit. Usually some salesman complaining about how Mr H had ripped into him about something or about how aloof he was and how hard it was to get an appointment with him.

I remember I had been selling about four or five years and had made some big sales and was (as young successful salespeople are) feeling quite cocky and sure of myself.

The sales manager called me into his office with one of the senior salesmen. This salesman was getting near retirement and they wanted me to take over the account of Mr H. It was a big account, a large multi national manufacturing company. If I mentioned the name you would know them.

I remember my first few calls out to see Mr H. The purchasing department at the site was separate to the rest of the factory. The only way in was through a tiny foyer. As you walked into that tiny foyer Mr H’s personal secretary was right in front of you and Mr H’s office was off to your right. Nobody could enter the building without going past either Mr H or his secretary.

The foyer had only one chair in it and there was not enough room for more than two people. So, if you arrived early for an appointment you sometimes had to wait outside the door. I must say Mr H was very rarely late.

Mr H was somewhat British, if not by decent by character. He was always quite proper; some would have called him pompous. 

I was waiting in that tiny foyer one day after I had been calling on Mr H for about 3 – 4 months. His secretary had just stepped out.

The door to his office was not fully closed. He was in his office alone and I could just see Mr H through a gap between the door and the door-frame (the side of the frame where it was hinged).

I saw him pick up a piece of paper from his in tray. Read it. Check a couple of other papers. Then he took a deep breath. Dialled a phone number and proceed to rip someone apart on the other end of the line. Presumably another hapless rep. THEN, he put the phone down, took another deep breath and invited me into his office with a polite tone.

From that time on I was no longer intimidated by Mr H.

It was like hearing a ferocious bark and being scared only to find a little dog come out from behind the gate.

Over the years I was able to sell a lot to Mr H. Regained some business we had lost and sold him a product my company had not been able to sell to him, even though they had been trying for 30 years.

I remember one Friday afternoon rushing to finalise a quote I had promised him. Not because he scared me and I was worried about his reaction but because I had made a promise and I was in the habit of keeping my promises.

I called him at about 4.30pm, apologised for being so late. Told Mr H that something had gone wrong and I was forced to call the supplier overseas before I could get him the quote. I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll have the quote for you in about 15 minutes, I wouldn’t want you to be late home on a Friday.”

His response was,
“Greg, I wasn’t worried, I knew I would here from you.” 

That also taught me a lesson. I was trusted. Why ? Because I was in the habit of keeping promises I made. This was one of the toughest buyers in the country and he valued my word. I never forgot that comment.

Sometime later, my company was being taken over. It was an unstable and worrying time. I didn’t know if I’d have a job with the new employer and I was considering getting another job before the takeover so I could stay in control of my own destiny.

I got a phone call from Mr H, he told me there were a couple of companies in the industry looking to employ a professional salesman to call on some of their bigger customers. He wanted to recommend me but would not do so without my approval. 

I took one of those jobs. And I can tell you, both the companies were astounded that Mr H would recommend anyone. His recommendation alone would have got me either job.

You can learn all the fancy techniques under the sun but sometimes it’s about doing the simple things. Treat people with respect and keep your promises. 

And one final tip. Be careful what you promise. Customers are paying attention. If you think you can make a delivery by Wednesday, promise it for Friday. That way, if it arrives Thursday you are a hero and not a villain. 

Here's to YourSalesSuccess, Greg

For valuable advice on how to sell take a lok at my eBook on influence and persuasion.