Refusing To Accept  “No”

Sometimes when your back is to the wall. When for whatever reason you have to win the business, you have to do all you can, pull out all the plugs, eat your pride, and remain laser-focused to win that business. Sometimes when failure is not an option you have to dig deep into yourself and do whatever it takes to succeed.

I know that at one time or another we have all faced this situation. I know that I have and yes, I have been forced under pressure to do whatever I could do to win that contract. In my case the future of the company and all hundred people who worked there was at stake.

True story. I was the director of sales for a company that had been through hard times, mostly due to the ineptness of the new owner and his cronies. They were incompetent as hell. Hey that happens, but that is a story for another day.

Here was the situation: For years we had been doing business with a large electronics aerospace company. We normally booked between a half million to a million dollars of business a year with them. But they were worried about us and rightfully so since we had recently filed for Chapter Eleven in order to have the time and protection to rebuild the company. The problem though was that when you are in publicly declared bankruptcy, well your customers tend to lose faith in you. And they are not exactly prone to give you more business. 

So as the leading salesperson in the company it would be an understatement to say that my job was more than daunting.

The problem of course, was that without business we would not live to see another day.

This defense aerospace  legacy customer had a large new program that would save us at least for the time being. Winning that program would mean everything to us. It would keep our people employed for an extra eight months to a year. We had to win this. Our backs were against the wall.

But there were a couple of problems. First the customer was sure that the technology for this program was beyond our capabilities and the second was that we were not even supposed to know about the program since it was intended for our stronger, bigger, and more financially stable competitor. The reason we even knew about it was that my salesperson for that customer had built up a number of solid relationships with their engineers and they told him about it.

When he told me about it I knew the program would be perfect for us. So, I immediately called the buyer and told him… I did not ask but told him that I wanted to submit a proposal for that contract. When he declined, I was prepared. I pulled out every guilt packed fact I had. I talked about our long relationship. I talked about all the favors we had done for his company. I even got to the point of telling him that he at least owed us a chance. Just a chance. And he reluctantly capitulated and sent me the proposal.

We were in! Now all we had to do was win the project. We worked up what we felt was our best possible proposal package for this program, which was made up of over seventy part numbers and worth almost a million dollars.

I then had our trusted salesperson hand deliver the proposal and then see what feedback he could get. He being the great salesperson that he was, spent the next few days wining and dining his friends in the know at the customer. 

Things still did not look good he reported  back to me, saying that the competitor was still a shoe in.

So, I called the buyer and invited him and his team to our facility., once again letting him know that he owed it to us to have a site visit. I let him know that things at our company were not as bad as it sounded and that he should come and see for himself. And he agreed.

During the days leading up to their visit we scrubbed and cleaned and made that little shop look the best it would ever look. We even got our hands on some promotional banners of the customer’s product and hung them all over the shop. And we made sure that everyone in the shop would look and act their best. I asked the employees to engage with the customer team as they walked through on their tour. I wanted this to get personal.

Finally, I gave the presentation of a lifetime. Throwing every statistic and milestone of our long relationship at them. This was no longer business to me. I made it as personal as possible. And I demonstrated to them what an important role they could play in saving our company. 

By the time they left I was pretty sure we were going to get the business.

But a day later and a few days before they were to announce the awarding of the contract, my salesperson called me with the bad news that his connections had told him that although they had been impressed by their visit, that the chapter eleven still loomed too dark and large, and they were going to give the business to the other guys.

Disappointed to say the least – devastated would be a better word – I went out for a long walk to see if I could think of something.

And I did. I went back to my office and wrote the buyer the letter of all letters, a letter so heartfelt, genuine and authentic that he would not be able to ever forget it. I wrote it from the point of view of the entire company and I made it personal. And then I took it around and had every single person in the company sign it. Some even wrote little notes asking for the business. I then overnighted the letter to the buyer.

My salesperson told me later that he was told that the letter had a huge impact. That it was copied and passed around the entire division. Everyone we dealt with read a copy of that letter. And it worked.

Later that day I got a call , the call from the buyer. He started out by calling me a son of a you know what…and then said, “Okay, okay you got the damn business. And you guys better not screw it up!

True story, and personal example of what you can do, what you have to do, when your back is against the wall and failure is not an option.  It’s only common sense