This small business sales story comes from what I experienced last week with two particular prospects that were both decently sized sales opportunities. You could almost call this "A Tale Of Two Prospects"......
It was Wednesday of last week when I got an email saying a lead had come in for my client Gold Roast. They had contact Gold Roast looking for information and I was to follow up with them to close the sale. I was super excited as this looked like it could be a large sale and the prospect was a company I am well aware of....TD Waterhouse (the Waterloo office). What made things even more exciting was at the same time I was also working on another great opportunity for Gold Roast at Elanco in Guelph. If I could close both of these sales in the same week it would be my highest grossing week yet since starting Profitworks. I felt really good about the odds of this happening and was feeling great.
The client that both of these prospects were for is Gold Roast which provides coffee, tea and espresso services to offices and establishments that serve coffee (ie. restaurants, cafe's etc). Recently I had helped them become a licensed distributor of the Keurig coffee machine. (If you are unfamiliar with what a Keurig is you can click on this link to go to amazon and see the machine). As a promotion we have been offering free Keurig machines when you sign on with Gold Roast's services, which has been getting a lot of interest. Elanco was interested specifically in the Keurig and TD Waterhouse was looking for a coffee system that brewed full pots of coffee.
The First Prospect
The first meeting at Elanco happened about a week prior to getting the email from TD Waterhouse. The meeting at Elanco did not start off on a good note. When I showed up I could sense the prospect was frustrated at something and seemed to be taking her frustration out on me. On my way their I had run into a section of road that was under construction, which took me an extra 15 minutes to get there. I was maybe about 5 minutes late. I thought she might have been upset I was late but my gut told me their was a bigger issue. When we were discussing the options she also started to accuse me of giving her incorrect information over email that conflicted with what I was telling her now. I started to feel very uncomfortable. This resulted in us going to her desk to verify the information I had sent her. She could not find the note where she claimed I gave her different information than what I was stating. I then restated the pricing and terms of the service that she was interested in. The pricing on one particular item was a sticking point so I agreed I would discuss the possibility of getting her special pricing on this one item with the owner. She seemed very pleased with this which started to change her mood and tone towards me. By the end of the meeting I had convinced her to try Gold Roast's service for a week to see what her and her co-workers thought. Following the meeting she also emailed me to apologize for her actions towards me. I guess she had sent a note the day before asking me to come earlier in the day. She was expecting me to come at 10:00 and not 1:00. She determined though that the email never got to me as it was suck in her internal firewall. After getting this apology I felt much better about the interaction and was feeling really good that I would close this sale.
At both TD Waterhouse and Elanco we are up against fierce competitors that are all much larger then my client Gold Roast. The main competitors include Van Houette, Mister Coffee and Unique Coffee Services. Van Houette does over $250 million in sales and probably spends more then 5 times the amount on marketing then what my client grosses in revenue. Mister Coffee is a large company from Toronto that has over 75 employees or over 12 times as many as my client. Unique is much smaller but is still significantly larger then Gold Roast as they have about double the number of employees. I know most people are not familiar with the coffee industry so here is a comparison. Think of someone trying to build an online auction site in their home town to compete with eBay. That is similar to the size difference of my client versus their largest competitor. Winning customers from such a large competitor is not an easy task. Needless to say we are up against large companies that have abundantly more resources. In order to secure new customers we need to find a way to beat these competitors that are at a significant advantage to us given the resources available to them.
The Second Prospect
Needless to say I was eager to contact the prospect at TD as we were being given a shot over these large competitors so I contacted her right away. When I contacted the prospect at TD waterhouse I could tell right away that she was frustrated for some reason with her current coffee service and that was the reason for her inquiry. What I suggested was that she come with some of her co-workers to our showroom to try a sampling of various coffees to see what we could all offer. This sounded like a good solution to her and she said she would ask some co-workers when it could work for them to come to our showroom. She said she would send me an email with a date and time. I could tell that by addressing her current frustration she felt better. Well three days went by and I did not get a date from the prospect as to when she could come to our showroom. So I tried following up...no answer. So I left a message. A week went by and still no contact from her. So I tried calling her again. This time I did get to talk to her but the response I got was what I was dreading. She said she was no longer interested and that her manager had also changed her mind. I could tell any of the frustration with her current service that was there before was gone. I was disappointed as there went my dream of breaking my one week gross sales record. But I still had the other prospect to at least get one large sale.
I still had another prospect right....well later the next week I got an email from the contact at Elanco advising me that they had decide to get some pricing from some other competitors. In other words this account was probably lost as well. Now I had went from potentially beating my one week sales record to closing no large accounts. It looked like our bigger competitors had won this round hands down.
After I thought both of these prospect were dead I received an email from the prospect at Elanco. The note was to advise me that I would be notified shortly of her decision from all the quotes she had received from different suppliers. This note was then followed by a request to verify what coffee machine we would provide. I quickly responded with the larger more expensive machine they were requesting. This was then followed by a request asking if their pricing would be protected. I responded that we would create a pricing protection plan for them. This was then followed by a question of if we operate on a contract. I then quickly responded ensuring the prospect that we don't operate on a contract because it makes us provide the very best service. This was followed up with a request for some specific items and terms that a competitor was offering and asked if we would match. I then quickly discussed this with my client and got approval for the special terms. When the prospect heard we were willing to match what the competition was offering we got the job. I could tell she was excited to work with us. In one of her emails she even stated “I have been asked by many....and I quote... "sooo....when are we getting the GOOD coffee machine back?". From that line alone I could tell she wanted to work with us. Why?, well I think because through the whole process I was fast to respond, flexible and gave her the best customer service I could. At no point was I pushy or did I try to force a sale on her. I tried to answer her questions quickly and create a solution that met all of her needs fully with no compromises. In the end Elanco got everything they wanted in a coffee service and we secured a great account that will be a customer for many years. Although I did not beat my single week sales record it felt good knowing that for this one account I conquered the larger competitors.
What I learned from this experience is three things.
1. When dealing with a prospect that is acting on emotion, keep the communication going until you get a meeting date confirmed. If you don't you will lose the sale.
2. Treat people so great that they don't want to deal with anyone else. If you do this you will most often be given a chance to get the sale, no matter what your competitors are offering.
3. Don't write off a prospect or act as if there is no longer an opportunity until you have either made the sale or you have confirmation the prospect is buying from someone else. If you do, you may get a second shot at closing the sale.
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My name is Chris R. Keller. I work at Profitworks Small Business Services helping various B2B small businesses in Waterloo and Kitchener Ontario generate new customers. If you are interested in generating new customers for your B2B small businesses enter your email in the box provided below and click the "Send Me Free Updates" button.
I hope this small business sales story was an enjoyable read. Thanks for reading.