Knowledge is Power
Before we first said hello, Hamilton had already investigated my background. He knew about some of my strengths and weaknesses and had thought out how they might fit within Audiotechniques’ business plan. His lifelong commitment to preparation in the best boy scout manner has been a simple but effective way to counter mistakes that most of us make several times a day. By preparing in advance for each sales opportunity with as much ammunition as possible, you can identify clear directions in which you intend to steer the discussion.
Recently, Hamilton told me a story from his “early Scully period” about the value of preparation. Ham was invited as Scully’s representative to the Voice of America headquarters in Washington, DC to demonstrate Scully magnetic tape recorders for the engineering staff and their managers, as part of VOA’s annual budget process. This invitation was due to Ham and Scully’s persistent efforts to learn more about the VOA’s operation and its people, and to the brand’s sales success nationwide over the previous year.
At the time, Ampex was VOA’s international tape recorder standard. Ampex’s investment in that relationship had attained the point where VOA’s worldwide facility design plans always showed a drawing of a tape recorder clearly labeled AMPEX. Ampex was also universally considered the industry leader in service, which then, as now, exerts a decisive force on sales.
Loading a tested Model 280 two track into his station wagon in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Ham made the journey down Route 95 to Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. Ampex had previously shipped a new transformerless model (probably an AG300) from the West Coast, where it awaited a demonstrator’s knowing grip.
Fortunately, Ham already knew his competition due to some previous demonstrations he had witnessed. By highlighting several differences between the two machines’ designs, Hamilton was confident he could win VOA over to Scully. Once he arrived in DC, as the 280 was unpacked and set up, the VOA announced that the Ampex sales representative would be unable to attend. The personnel in charge of this event then considered canceling the demonstration until a later date. Feeling sure of himself, Ham insisted that the demonstration go on and, even more audaciously, offered to conduct the Ampex demo too. He pointed out that everyone in the VOA, as well as Ampex and Scully, had worked hard to bring all these people and machines together. To delay the demonstrations due to one person’s inability to meet the agreed schedule just didn’t make sense. Ham pointed out that their knowledge of the new Ampex design would quickly reveal any bias in his presentation. After quickly thinking it over, the VOA agreed to go forward.
Dutifully repeating the Ampex demo he’d seen before, Ham made sure to highlight certain functions in the Ampex that were less than ideal from the VOA’s viewpoint. The result was that after the demo, and further discussions, Hamilton had overturned the seemingly entrenched Ampex position and won the VOA contract for Scully. Over the following years, this resulted in the sale of thousands of machines into this influential broadcast account.
No one can expect to have a demo like that every day, but the story does illustrate several keys for success.
1) Ham’s aggressive ability to take control of a deteriorating situation and turn lemons into lemonade. Facing what could have been a wasted day and a depressing trip back to Bridgeport, Ham instead focused on energizing the situation further and grabbed control.
2) A familiarity with the client from a people, product and operational viewpoint
3) A solid familiarity with his competition, both from a product and people standpoint
4) Sensitivity towards the client’s omnipresent desire to reduce their workload (whether it was operating a tape recorder or setting up a competitive demonstration). When he offered to perform the Ampex demo, and enable the VOA to complete this essential part of their budgetary process, Ham changed from prospective vendor to co-worker. He was no longer selling, but helping the VOA get their job done. By addressing their desire to answer the budgetary question of which tape recorder to buy now, he eliminated having to get all these engineers and managers together again. Armed with his evolved understanding of their applications, Ham put the nails in Ampex’s coffin by mentioning specific instances where the Scully machine could make VOA’s job easier. Of course the absence of the Ampex rep helped, especially as it reinforced a common industry opinion that their market share leadership had fostered an arrogant attitude within the company.