Hi! Peter here.
Thank you for dropping by to my blog. It is much appreciated!
This is a long post…so I recommend you get yourself a coffee before you start reading.
This is another one of those posts that answer the question.
“Do I want to join this guys team”?
In today’s blog post I wanted to share some of my history through adversity to become the great salesman that I am today.
A lot of people say to me:
“But Peter, you are such a gifted salesman, you have always been great at this, you have no idea what it is like to face rejection and failure as a salesman!”
That is about as far from the truth as things could possibly be.
I have been a great salesman for so long most people who know me forgot that I was ever a failure at selling. Or they never knew me when I was failing at selling.
So I am putting this post up to tell young men just how hard it was for me.
I am putting this here to let young men know that even I, as blessed as I was with natural talents, failed miserably at selling for a long time.
I failed so badly I was even ready to give up one time. And one of those women that I am so often alleged to hate sat me down and had a heart to heart with me and got me to get back on my feet, dust myself off, and have another go.
So let me share my story of how I became a great salesman. Because if you listen to this story? You will be inspired and might be encouraged to do the same.
Mine is a story of tenacity, perseverance, endurance and sheet bloody mindedness when any sane person would have long given up.
THAT is how I became a great salesman.
And you can too! I know you can because I did it myself.
And you will have something very, very, VERY precious to help you along the way.
You will have me at your back if you join my team.
Way, way, way back when I left school in 1982 my first job was with a company called Australian Iron and Steel. It was a division if what is now known as BHP-Billiton. I got a job as a trainee computer programmer based on my high school marks and a good word from a pal of mine who worked there.
When I started to learn to write code I was terrible. And I do mean terrible.
I will never forget that in our first pascal assignment the assignment was to “swap the values of X and Y”.
After trying hard for 2 or 3 days and not “getting” it I declared that X and Y were perfectly happy where they were and they did not want to be swapped.
Of course, the answer is to introduce another variable called temp. As in.
Temp := X X := Y Y := Temp
That’s right fellas. When I was 18 I could not figure THAT out and I was the smartest kid in my year at the university! LOL!!
But over the next few months I studied and I learned how to write code. And I discovered I had a real gift for this sort of thing. 9 months in to my job I knew I was at genius level at this code writing thing. I was also gifted with a near perfect memory, probably because my brain was so empty! I could remember every line of code I read and what it did. No one could believe I could do what I could do. I was simply very good for my age and experience.
When I was finishing my degree 4 years later I was encouraged to seek broader horizons by one of my mentors. Either I was such a pain in the neck he wanted to get rid of me or he really did think I was destined for better things.
I went for a campus interview at IBM. I got a real interview. I got 2 more interviews. And, finally I was made an offer.
The IBM offer was the lowest offer of three I received. It was quite a bit lower, more than 5% lower than the next lowest offer. But this was IBM. And IBM was where I wanted to work. So I accepted their offer in writing and prepared myself to move to Sydney to join IBM.
About 3 weeks before I was due to move I got a letter from IBM. They had reconsidered my experience and reconsidered my wish to work in international development and had decided to give me an AUD1,500 pay rise with confirmation I would work in the international software development area.
“Merry Christmas!” the letter said.
And BOY did I get drunk THAT night!
To put that in perspective that year at university my allowance from the steel works was AUD4,000. Barely above the unemployment benefit. That AUD4,000 was supposed to last 40 weeks when my rent was about UAD60 per week at the time. Something like that.
The IBM Offer was AUD21,000 and they bumped that up by 7% to AUD22,500 and I had not even started yet….so yeah, we all got pretty drunk that night celebrating my good fortune and the Christmas season!
My next three year at IBM, from 86 to 89 were amazing. No lad ever got a better chance. No lad got better people to work with. No lad got a better employer. I was very, very pleased at the opportunity I was afforded.
But…and it is a big but…I am something of an idealist. I don’t like lies. I don’t agree that deception for the “greater benefit” is ever the way to go. I was spanked so much as a little boy for lying that I just don’t lie to people. I can’t stand it when other people try lying to me or lying to other people. And there was a fair bit of lying going on in the project I was on in 1989. So I decided a move was in order.
A career change.
In IBM “Sales and Marketing” is king. Information Technology was, rightfully, a support role. Selling was king and Sales Reps were the royalty. It was made clear to everyone that if you wanted to have a long career at IBM and make it to the very top you had to spend your time in the trenches selling IBM kit.
Because the role of Sales Rep was the BEST role in IBM and was the gateway to future opportunities the competition for spots was unbelievable. In the 80s IBM was, without question, the #1 company in the world to work for.
Sales was the #1 role in the #1 company.
EVERYONE wanted that job but only a very, very few would even get the chance to try.
Most of them, the majority, would wash out or simply decide “this is not for me”.
Many of the people who quit left with the words
“I had no idea it would be this hard, I can’t do this.”
I knew how hard sales could be. A buddy of mine from school who also worked with me in Australian Iron and Steel had also gone to the same campus interview as me and gotten a job in IBM sales. He was brilliant. But he quit in the end and went on to be very successful elsewhere.
Quitting from IBM sales was not being a “loser” because you were better than 99% of other people even to be there. Many of the people who quit and left IBM sales were remarkably successful elsewhere.
So in my move to Sales and Marketing I decided that I would have a “half way house” where I could gain experience but not be directly on quota. That half way house was to be a “Systems Engineer” for the area of Application Development. I had a specialty in source code and library management. I had written the book on that in a team in California. I was recognised as one of the top 10 people in the world, outside the IBM lab, in the art of managing source code on IBM machines.
It was in April 1991 that I started my first Business Intelligence project. And after the first 3 months it was an unmitigated failure. The customer LOVED what we did but what we did was too expensive and the customer was not going to buy.
So I spent 6 more months working on that to the end of the year and the customer finally rolled my little sale in to the end of year order. A small win for me in my first year. A very small win. But a win none the less.
The next year, 1992, things were bad. There was a global recession. I tried to replicate that small sale over and over again. Time and again I failed and the deal was lost to “windows” applications. Ours was OS/2 which was the IBM pushed standard PC Operating system of at the time. You probably never heard of OS/2, right?
In about August 92 I got a call from the CIO of Johnson and Johnson Australia New Zealand. He wanted me to come meet the Director of Marketing.
Since this was WAY outside my experience I checked with the account manager to determine if this was legitimate. It was very strange.
She assured me that yes, they had asked questions about the Data Interpretation System (DIS) which was now my speciality product. So she gave the CIO my name and told the CIO that I would be happy to come to his office to talk with him about it and answer any questions the CIO had as best I could.
So, with MUCH fear and nervousness, well hidden of course, I took a trip over to North Sydney to meet with the CIO and the Director of Marketing. The questioning started out quite normal. Questions like.
“I understand you are the DIS expert.” Yes, I was.
“I understand that you have about 18 months experience with this product.” Again, true.
“I understand you have a background in application development, software development, coding, large systems, that sort of thing.”
By now I realised my resume had been passed across. Yes. This was all true.
The Director of Marketing was simply sitting there sizing me up. I looked very young in those days and so they were wondering if my resume was accurate and could I really do the things that the account manager had said. Yes, I could. She was a friend of mine and was not likely to “drop me in it” too badly even though other sales reps had.
Eventually I said. “May I please ask a question?”
“Sure”, said the CIO.
“Why am I here? You know I am a billing and Insurance expert. My time in a steelworks is not very relevant now. Why am I at Johnson and Johnson? What could I possibly do for you that you can not get someone far better qualified than me to do?
I know nothing about your business. How can I help you? Please don’t get me wrong. I would love to help you because you are a big IBM customer. But I can not understand for the life of me how I might be able to help you. So I am quite confused. I am sure you understand.”
The CIO and the Director of Marketing looked at each other for an extended period and then the Director of Marketing decided to speak up.
He said words close to the effect of these.
“You are right. We, as Johnson and Johnson, can get anyone we want to help us. And we have tried. But the fact is that we have been dealing with a problem for nearly 2 years now and we have failed to fix it.
I have spent time in the UK and in the UK we have a product called Data Interpretation System. It is the most powerful data analysis product in the world. Your product.
I think that even though you know nothing about our business, using this product, and your skills, you might just be able to solve our problem. Before we tell you what it is? Are you willing to spend the next 3 months here doing your best for us? And yes, that has been cleared with your manager.”
Really I thought? My manager had already cleared me working on this problem for 3 months and I was not told about it?
“Ok. Of course I will check. But sure, if my manager has agreed and the account manager has agreed, I am happy to work for you. But I still don’t see how I can help you.”
“Ok” said the Director of Marketing. Let me lay it out for you.
“One of our main products is “womens sanitary products” meaning tampons and pads. We are, by far, the market leader. But we are taking a hiding in the marketplace. Over the last 2 years we have tried everything we can to stop the decline and turn it around. But we can’t. And, I can assure you, we have had our best and brightest people look at this problem.
I think that bringing someone in from the outside with no knowledge at all of this business is what we need. A fresh pair of eyes, though I was hoping for someone older and more experienced. Also, this product, DIS, it is extremely powerful.
I think that if someone who really knows how to bring data together, a programmer, who has a fresh perspective and is not bound by the blinders that we have, who uses DIS, might, just might, be able to find out why we are losing in the marketplace and what we can do about that.
That is what we want you to do. We want you to find out why we are getting hammered in this market segment, we want you to propose what it is we might do differently.”
I just sat there.
I was in WAY over my head and I knew it. But in the good old fashioned IBM “we are the best” way I smiled and said “I am the man for your job, if this can be done? I can do it!”
I said it much more confidently than I felt. At IBM Marketing School we learned very well how to hide our true feelings and how to appear always in consummate control and in consummate confidence.
So…over the next 3 months we went and grabbed any and all data we could find. I was writing tens of thousands of lines of cobol code to put the data into the PC based DB2 database that we had available for this analysis work.
Of course the data was terrible because it was coming from so many places. Parts of it were missing. Some of it was flat out wrong. It was in all different formats. There were few people in the country who could have decoded it let along gotten it in to a relational database. And we had to do updates to all the different data as time went on.
I was working about 12 hours a day on this and Johnson and Johnson were VERY keen to get to the analysis stage.
When we finally got to start analysing all this data just how bad it was became more obvious. Data was being sent to us at different times in the supply chain. The data and the timings didn’t match up. We had data for advertising spend that turned out to be in the wrong weeks etc.
We did not have sales at retail in those days. No scanner in the supermarkets in 1992. So we only had the data of when the pallets were shipped from warehouses. We had only the wildest of estimates from Neilsen as to the actual sales volumes and dates for the sales of these “womens sanitary products”.
About a month in to the analysis I was getting nervous because there numbers were telling me nothing. Zippo. I could not find any correlations that might explain what was happening.
And then, as the story goes, a miracle occurred…
Even I could not tell you how I did it. But like magic it happened.
I was adjusting timings on datasets to try and move them forwards and backwards in time to try and see if the timeline created a correlation if I moved various factors backwards and forwards.
The result LEAPT out at me and hit me on the head like a sledgehammer.
Here I was….it was 2am in the morning. And I had the answer. I knew what the competition were doing. And why they were beating Johnson and Johnson at their own game.
Against all odds. I had figured out the answer!
I caught a cab home and got a couple of hours sleep and was back in the office at 8:30 waiting for the MD to return from his morning squash game.
As he passed me coming in to his office he could see the big cheesy grin on my face.
He just looked at me and said “You’ve got the answer!”
“Yes”, I said, “so lets get a coffee and I will show you what your competition is doing to you.”
So we got our coffees and I brought my stack of paper reports in to his office. I went through how I did the analysis quite slowly and thoroughly because I wanted him to understand that what had been done was extremely difficult and complex, which is why no one else could do it. The skills that were called upon were so wide and varied that few people had them all.
In the end, the numbers showed that the competitor was saturating the marketplace with advertising one month in three, and then virtually exiting the advertising marketplace for the other two months. This was giving a spike in sales while the advertising was going on. Then the competitors sales would tail off.
Just as the competitors sales started to lag, they would hit the advertising spend again, the sales would lag down for a while and then start returning to strong growth based on the advertising spend.
They had been doing this for three years now.
Now, you have to remember. At this time the absolute mantra in retail was “you always have to be advertising, out of sight is out of mind, if you are not advertising people will forget you.”
EVERYONE had relatively flat advertising dollar spends with “exceptional promotions” built around popular events.
I said to the Director of Marketing.
“Your competitors have figured out the cycle times of when to jump in and spend a lot of money on advertising and when to leave the market and let their sales slow down. And they have figured out just the right time to jump back in to push sales up again.
Their spend per revenue is half of ours. And yet, even with a spend per revenue half of ours they are killing us in the marketplace. And they are killing us because they have figured out the cycle times that work.”
The Director of Marketing looked at me hard and said:
“Peter, you are wrong. No one in the world can figure that out.”
I beamed a big smiled and said…
“John, we just did!”
He looked at me for a while and slowly the realisation dawned on him. We did just figure out that cycle time for one category. And we could do it for others.
He said “Peter, this is brilliant work. I am going to call your boss and tell her. I am also going to tell her I want you here for two more weeks to do something very special for me. Ok?”
I was so happy I could have just jumped over the moon! I now had Johnson and Johnson in the palm of my hand for this sale. In that moment I felt there was NO CHANCE I could lose this. This was to be my BREAKTHROUGH SALE! I was so happy.
What John wanted me to do was to build a suite of reports across each of the categories and to present a REALISTIC PICTURE of the status of the category in the marketplace.
Ouch! Some of them were disasters.
John then organised a board meeting were he did the talking and I did the demonstrating. He called in category manager after category manager and had me present our findings of the categories to the board members with the category managers there. There were 7 or 8 of them.
Some of them were pleased because they knew their numbers were good. Some of them were devastated because they knew their numbers were bad and they had been doing their damnedest to hide them.
I was like a PIG IN MUD. Here I was, my sponsor was the Director of Marketing of Johnson and Johnson and he was doing my sales pitch for me to the board members. They had NEVER seen anything like this before in their lives.
At the end of the 3 hours John said “Peter here, from IBM, tells us it is going to cost us about AUD300,000 to get 30 desktops of this software and build the database we need to do this sort of thing every day of the week.
As your Director of Marketing, I am asking you to please approve that budget so we can make real and repeatable what you just saw as a demonstration. Can I please have a show of hands who is with me on this one?”
Sure enough, EVERY BOARD MEMBER RAISED HIS HAND!!!!
Over the next few days the account manager and I had to arrange the contracts. We had to arrange the development staff. All was running smoothly. And Christmas was just around the corner. The Purchase Orders would be processed before year end and we would start in the new year.
My manager had been full of praise for me and congratulated me on landing this deal despite the obvious risks and challenges it presented to me. She was BEAMING at me that I had made my first reasonable sized sale in such difficult and unusual circumstances.
And then….as they say, the sky fell down.
I was sitting at my desk and the CIO called me. He said:
“I am sorry Peter, the deal is off, you have to come and collect all your gear and return it to IBM.”
WHAT?! THE DEAL IS OFF?!
NO!!! IT CAN’T BE!!
I ran out on to the deck of the Sydney Harbour bridge on ramp like a madman trying to get a cab!!!
When I got to the CIOs office I tried to compose myself as best I could and act as professionally as I could. He knew I would be very upset because he knew the work that I had put in. He also knew he owed me an answer as to why.
“John has been transferred and he is your sponsor on this project. We feel that we want a windows based application and not an OS/2 based application.
With John here he was willing to push OS/2 and we were not willing to say no. But, with John gone, we have decided on a competitive product that is windows based.
I want you to know that this decision is no reflection on you, we all know you did a great job. But your system, IBMs system, is based on OS/2 and that is not our strategic platform for desktops.”
I tried to argue my points and he smiled at me as I did. He ended it with.
“You have done a great job. And we would love to have you back to work for us again on something else. But this is an argument you can’t win. We have decided on windows as our strategic desktop platform, and with John gone we can win that argument. It’s not your fault.”
I collected my gear and called a cab to take it back to the IBM office. I was devastated.
I went to see my manager who knew full well what this meant to me. She suggested I take the rest of the day off and come back in the morning.
Well. I went home and I got so drunk. And I stayed drunk for three days. I gather my wife called my manager a few times in those three days. My wife also worked at IBM and knew my manager personally. Finally, on the Friday, my manager called and I decided that it was about time I answered the phone.
She said: “How are you?”
I said: “Not so good.”
She said: “Are you coming to work on Monday?”
I said: “No. I don’t think so.”
She said: “Why?”
I said: “I am a failure at selling. I just lost a deal where every board member voted for it. We have signed contracts for goodness sakes. And I still managed to lose it. I will never make it in sales. I will never be a salesman. I think I will have to quit IBM after this.”
She said: “Ok, that’s fine and I understand how you feel. Tell you what? How about you come to my office on Monday afternoon and we will just have a chat. Just you and me. Will you do that for me please?”
I said: “Sure. I owe you that much. You have been great to me. I look forward to seeing you.”
It was the week before Christmas. And I was pretty sure that in the January I would be leaving IBM as a failure. One more IT guy who thought he could make it in sales but failed when the rubber met the road. To make it worse for me? This was the first thing in my life that I really had my heart set on that I failed at.
As smart as I was? As good as I was? As hard working as I was?
I was not good enough.
The Monday came around and I even put on my usual IBM suite to talk to my manager, a lovely woman called Maggie. She commented that wearing my suite was a good sign and that maybe continuing to work with IBM would not be such a bad idea.
She then went on to say words to these effect.
“Peter, Johnson and Johnson is one of the worlds largest companies. We are here to serve them as best we know how. Even with a signed contract we can not “make” Johnson and Johnson do anything. Certainly we can not make them buy some software or a project that the CIO says he does not want to buy and has the agreement of his board.
Look. I know things look bad for you now but I want you to know something. I have been in IBM 25 years. I have seen them all come and go. You are good. You are very, very, good. John called me and told me that you, for your age, are the smartest young man he has come across.
John told me that the work you did was amazing. So amazing that no one else in the company could do it. You have a lot to be proud of in this project.
No. You didn’t make the sale. You lost it. But you lost it because DIS runs on OS/2. Not because you did anything wrong. Not because you are not good enough. With John moving on and not pushing this sale against windows, no one could have kept it. No one. ”
And I said.
“Yes, I know all that Maggie. But at the end of the day a salesman has to sell. He has to get the deal closed. And I lost the deal. I am not about to blame anyone else. I am not about to put the responsibility anywhere else. I should have handled the OS/2 issue. It was my deal. My chance to prove I could do this. And I failed.
I really do not think I will ever make it as a salesman. I just don’t have what it takes. At least I don’t think I have what it takes.”
And that seemed to be her signal.
And she said.
“So. You don’t think you have what it takes to be a great salesman, yes?”
And I said. “No. If I had what it takes? I would have closed this deal. It is only a small deal. How am I ever going to close multi million dollar deals if I can not get these small ones by myself?”
She looked at me hard and long and said:
“Peter, you have got what it takes, you are just not there yet. I have been here 25 years. Trust me when I say. You have got what it takes. It just takes longer for some people to make it in sales than others. Please stay and give yourself the chance to be a great salesman.”
I thanked her and left. I went home and talked things over with my wife. We had not told anyone but she was now just over three months pregnant. Joshua was born in May 1993 and this was just on Christmas 1992. With a new baby and Jennifer to be taking maternity leave for the second half of 1993 this had to be taken in to consideration too.
In the end. After much soul searching. I decided to stay at IBM that Christmas and give myself another chance the next year. 1993.
If Maggie had not asked me to come and talk to her? If she had not been so encouraging? I might have given up on my dream of being a salesman one day. But she was in my corner and urged me to keep going.
All through 1993 the story was the same. I would get very close and then lose the deal. We lost another deal in a bank in late 1993 but in that case it was nowhere near my responsibility that we lost the deal.
In 1994 I left IBM.
IBM was no longer the company I joined and it was an amicable parting of the ways. Maggie had taken the early retirement package offered to everyone over 25 years service. So I had lost my close mentor and friend.
IBM had changed.
In February 1995 my life would transform forever for the better when I did the Landmark Forum. It was a real turning point and transformation in my life and I recommend it to everyone who is looking for transforming the quality of their lives.
In April 1996 I started with Hitachi Data Systems. I made it clear to my new employer that I was not a salesman, as in quota commission salesman, and that as the Data Warehousing Practice Manager I would need killer salesmen to handle that side of things.
It was my job to create the Data Warehousing Practice. I had a colleague in Singapore who was already on board and we worked closely together. The deal he had on was Philippines Telecom which he went on to win.
1996 was very hard work because we had no credibility in the marketplace as Hitachi so all the major players said “come back when you have three references”. My sales reps were not doing what I asked them to do and it looked like 1996 would be a pretty barren year. However, it was expected that we would take 12 to 18 months to win our first real deal and Hitachi had deep pockets so this was all ok.
In late November 1996 I was very frustrated. And I was having a moment of doubt again. I was talking with my wife about how I was so frustrated that we could not get the deals we were going after. How I was failing again at something I wanted to be good at so badly.
I will never forget what she said. Her exact words were.
“You are such a stupid idiot”
I said: “Really. Why am I such a stupid idiot?”
She said. “Because you have had this problem with selling for YEARS and now you know where to solve that problem…but you just won’t go!”
I said: “What? What are you talking about?”
She said “You know that Landmark Education is the best training in the world to achieve whatever you want. You want to be a salesman. So for heavens sake call them up and do the forum again, only this time do it about selling stuff!
And stop whining to me about being a failure at selling. It is getting on my nerves!”
Damned if she wasn’t right!
So I picked up my cell, hit the speed dial, and registered myself in the next forum as a special request from a grad. It was the next weekend and usually they would not allow such late enrollments. But as a grad who had been down at the center 2 or 3 nights a week all year they had no problems.
So then I got ready for my forum. I was going to spend 3.5 days working on one problem and one problem alone.
“Sell more stuff”.
Now here is the really funny part of the story. The Landmark forum goes from 9am Friday Morning to late night Sunday Night. It is not unusual for the forum to last until 1am or 2am in the morning on the Friday or Saturday night. And there is a Tuesday night session.
I was prepared to spend all that time working on this problem. Why could I not close the big deals and what did I need to learn and transform in order to do so.
You want to know something REALLY funny?
You want to know when I “got it”?
Ten thirty am on the Friday morning.
90 minutes in to a 3.5 day commitment.
I “got it”! LOL!!
When I “got it” I knew that I was going to be one of the great salesmen. I knew I was going to dominate sales in my area of expertise. I simply “knew” it.
Now…The Landmark Forum is followed up with 10 weeks of one night a week evening sessions as a sort of support group and a sharing group for how life is progressing for the people in that forum. Though not mandatory it is extremely valuable and I did all 10 weeks on my first forum.
I will never forget the first meeting we had which was in early February because Australia pretty much closes for January.
The session leader called for people who wanted to speak about how was life turning out for everyone in the 6 weeks since the forum. About 3rd or 4th up was a pretty 28 year old saleswoman. She said:
“I am not complaining or anything. If anything I am confused. I don’t understand what has happened to me. Everyone says I am different but I don’t think I am different. I don’t feel different. I just feel more confident.
And the weirdest thing is that I am a sales rep. And my quota for January was AUD80,000. I made AUD240,000, three times my quota. I have no idea what happened. I mean, I like what happened and I want it to happen more. But I would like to understand what happened to me and how I did so well in my job.”
I was being very ungrateful at the time and said to myself “I know what happened, and I wish it was happening to me!”
Anyway. During the lead up to Christmas there was a Data Warehousing Tender for the Australian Customs Service. I was also travelling to and from Manila to help my colleague win his Philippines Telecom deal.
We did not really think much of it as we had very little relationship with the Customs Service because they had a 10 year contract with Unisys. Customs would only buy outside that contract if they felt Unisys could not deliver what was asked for. Yes, tenders were put to the marketplace but Unisys won most of them. The ones they lost were where Unisys pulled out because it was too far out of their comfort zone. Generally, when Unisys bid, they won.
When we talked to the Australian Customs Service we asked “Who is Unisys Partnering with for the Data Warehouse project?” The answer was “Price Waterhouse”. My old mentor was leading the global Data Warehousing Practice for Price Waterhouse and they were doing brilliant work. My assessment, and everyone elses assessment, was that Unisys would get the deal with Price Waterhouse. They would have to fall on their face for that not to happen.
We decided to prepare a response that was a great quality response even though we felt we had zero chance of winning. The thinking being that there would soon be more such tenders coming out of the public service and this would give us a great practice run.
I did the Landmark Forum the week before our final presentation as part of the 8 bidders to go forward to 4 bidders. I decided to apply the secret I learned at the forum to the process. The sales rep knew he had no clue how to sell a data warehouse project, and since we had all decided we were going to lose anyway, he decided to give me a very free hand in writing the presentation to be delivered.
So I scripted every word of the presentation and wrote much of the Expression of Interest response. I wanted to weave this magic new secret in to the response and the presentation.
Pitching for large government deals is always hard. The audience are professional tender reviewers and they see endless vendor presentations. They are a very cold and hard to read audience. Even if they DID like what you were saying they would not let on.
So we submitted our final response and did what I thought was a very good presentation for the day. And then we all agreed we had no chance of making the final 4 but we now had a really good sample Expression of Interest response.
What happened next was amazing. About 10 days later we were at our Christmas party for our group in Sydney. My boss got a call on his cell and he exploded in excitement! We all wondered what was up. After he got off the phone he looked at me and said:
“Congratulations. That was Greg (the Canberra rep). You made it to the final 4. He told me that the work you did was superlative and that Customs have told him that all members of the final 4 have a very reasonable chance of success.”
And I said: “But what about Unisys?”
And he said: “Something happened. They are out. They didn’t make the final 4. You need to go to Canberra tomorrow and start working on the next tender response.”
We made it to the final 4!! Despite being 100% sure we wouldn’t. It was a GREAT achievement given the sort of competition the Australian Customs Service draws for tender that will be worth more than AUD10 Million over its lifetime.
My commitment to becoming a great salesman seemed to be working now, after all these years.
So over the Christmas break and in to January we worked on the tender response. Most days I worked from about 9am to 3am and went across the road to my hotel for a few hours sleep and then back at it in the morning. That is how these sorts of tenders were done. I mean NO ONE gets to go home before midnight!
Meanwhile my buddy was working hard on getting the Philippines Telecom deal and we were supporting him as best we could. Finally came the deadline and we handed over what we felt was an excellent tender document.
But we were up against the “BIG GUNS” of Australian IT.
The biggest of the biggest guns was BHP IT Services. This was the largest IT services organisation in Australia. They had teamed up with friends of mine who represented the worlds leading authority on Data Warehousing, Bill Inmon. They were wining LOTS of the big deals in the country when it came to Data Warehousing. They had 400 plus references globally and they were definitely favoured.
Next was Teradata. The worlds #1 Data Warehousing company at the time. Though more expensive than others, these guys were good. They had consistently beaten out IBM time and time again when I was there. The bank we lost in 1993 was lost to Teradata.
They had some of the worlds largest companies as references. And they had a superb marketing machine. They would take a whole committee of Customers People all around the world to talk to references. That would be part of their pitch. A world trip for the evaluators of their tender. Something we would never get the budget for.
Next was Oracle. Everyone knows Oracle. They were pushing massively in to the data warehousing space and had won many of the largest companies in Australia.
Between those three? They would have had 90% share of all the data warehousing projects in the top 20 companies in the country.
And then there was us at Hitachi where we were reselling Sequent and trying hard to make the Sequent references look like our own.
In all honesty, we had no right to be there! But we were! And while we were in there we were going to give it a good fight because it would be a great learning experience even WHEN we lost which we all believed we would.
Notable by their absences were Price Waterhouse, the worlds leading Data Warehousing consulting company. IBM, who needs no qualifications. HP, EDS, Sybase and Informix.
We had gotten in to the last 4 over many other companies that would have had the ability to put forward a much better story than us. But we were weaving this magic formula that I had discovered through introspection at Landmark Education and so we were going to give it our best shot!
As it happened my colleague won the deal in the Philippines and we had to get the project started up there. So during the tender evaluation process I had to support the guys in Canberra from Manila. There were a LOT of calls and I had the highest phone bill in the whole company for the month!
Slowly, slowly, the feedback from Customs became more and more encouraging. Other teams were making mistakes and we were not. We were doing everything right.
As expected Teradata invited the whole evaluation team to visit sites in the USA and UK to see for themselves how Teradata took care of their clients.
So we had to also spend the money to send the Account Manager following along behind and we managed to get some good reference site visits in with Sequent customers in both the US and UK. I think that trip was about 3 or 4 weeks long. I can’t remember. But Greg was in there batting hard every inch of the way. Constantly asking me for advice on what to say and do next since he had never done anything like this before.
He was a champion. I could never say enough good words about Greg.
And then one night it happened…
I was flying from Manila back to Sydney via Hong Kong. I know, that is not exactly a short cut! It adds 8 hours to the flight. It was a wild stormy night in Hong Kong and the landing had been pretty hair raising at the old airport.
I was in transition from one flight to the next when I whipped out my cell to call Greg and see if he had any news. It must have been about 10pm in Hong Kong because I know the flight leaves at about 11pm. I have caught it many times.
I said: “Greg. Have we got any news yet.”
He says: “Yes, we have the news, WE WON!!”
I was like “What?! Are you bullshitting me?!”
He says: “No bullshit. We won. We got the deal. It is ours to lose now!!”
A MULTI MILLION DOLLAR SALE!!!!
I started dancing and prancing around in the middle of Hong King airport like a complete mad man…and in a way I was!
This was it. This was the dream come true. I had “made it”.
I had coached a great sales rep and provided the vast bulk of the materials to get us a multi-million dollar sale with the second biggest government income earner in the country.
The secret lesson. The magic that I had learned by introspection at the Landmark Forum had worked. The years and years of failure had worked. The years of hard work to be as good as I could be worked.
I was, at last, A SALESMAN.
After this deal? The floodgates opened. I won my first Terabyte data warehouse in mid 1997 with Manulife in Hong Kong. I rescued a deal for a 1,800 seat call centre in Manulife as well. A deal worth well over USD 2 million dollars. That rescue was the second greatest sales effort of my life to date.
I won deal after deal for HDS before I moved on.
When I moved on I finally went to Price Waterhouse, where my buddy was leading the global team, and set up shop in Australia.
This was to be the scene for my greatest sales win of my life to date. And I doubt I will ever have a bigger win than this.
The customer was Telstra which is the Australian ex-government telco. The deal was the enterprise data warehouse deal.
IBM Global Services Australia were assured of the deal. Everyone agreed.
Because IBM Global Services Australia was 25% owned by Telstra, had 3,000 former Telstra employees in it.
IBM GSA had 4 ongoing data warehouse projects at Telstra and had developed the prior version of the one we were bidding on to replace.
We all agreed at Price Waterhouse that there was no way possible to win this deal away from IBM. It just could not be done.
And yet I was asked to go through the motions!
To cut the story short? My colleague, Dale, and I, put on the best fight ever to get to the next stage. We had only EIGHT DAYS to write the response to the Expression of Interest to go from 8 to 4 tenderers. Dale finished up in hospital with pneumonia! At the end of the 8 days I was so exhausted I could not even walk to my door to collect my breakfast from room service! I slept for about 20 hours when I finally go to bed. We had been napping on the floor of the office.
The tender response was a work of art.
It was the best response I have ever written.
When we made it to the final 4 the Price Waterhouse Partners started taking notice and started to talk about “What if we win?”
In the end, we won the deal. We took the jewel corporate data warehouse project off IBM in their own back yard!
IBM was not very happy with me being a former IBMer!
As time rolled on? I won more and more deals. I soon moved on from Price Waterhouse after this deal due to the mismanagement of the project. I did not want to be tarred with the brush of failure having worked so hard to win the deal.
At my next company we cleaned up. I mean we really cleaned up.
This company bought the company run by Bill Inmon and so the team that had competed with us in Customs in 1996-7 now became my staff and reported to me. These were the best and most talented Data Warehousing people in the country bar none.
They were the best of the best and we all knew it.
With the new acquisition and the extra marketing muscle we could bring to bear. We just cleaned up. The biggest deal we nabbed out from under IBM was Qantas. With the quality of our team and the references we had? We could walk in to any company or government department in the country and confidently say
“We are the #1 team in the country. What do you want?”
With my selling skills now working so well? We just cleaned up!
That was in 1999 and 2000. We were closing deals like there was no tomorrow and I did 130% of my quota. Needless to say I was quite happy to be on quota now I was a killer sales rep.
Sadly, in early 2000, we too were bought out by a bigger fish who proceeded to mess things up. It is pretty standard. And so it was at the end of 2000 I, and all my team, was retrenched and we all moved on.
In February 2001 I relocated to Ireland to work for one of the greatest geniuses of our time. One Sean Kelly. Sean was Vice President of Business Intelligence for Sybase Europe at the time. A friend of mine had told me that the team was doing the worlds leading BI work. I knew my friend would be telling the truth and so I moved over for a “two year working holiday” and have never returned to Australia for work.
My selling skills were only occasionally put to good use in Sybase. Mostly I was delivering projects and training people.
My time working with Sean were some of the most memorable experiences. What a scholar. What a gentleman. The world is poorer for his passing.
That, young man, is the story of my transition from programmer, to systems engineer, to failed salesman until finally the breakthrough came via the Landmark Forum.
And once the breakthrough came?
I became one of the most successful salesmen in my specific area in Australia.
So if you ever feel like “I can’t make it in selling?”
Just remember how I felt in December 1992 when I lost the deal at Johnson and Johnson.
Just remember how I felt when I got drunk for 3 days and talked very seriously about quitting IBM and giving up my dream of one day being a salesman.
I made it.
And you can make it too.
Especially if you are part of my team.
Any young man who says “I want to be a great salesman and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to get there”?
I will help you along the way. I will never give up on you. Not even if you give up on yourself.
This has been an epic blog post.
But it is an epic story!
I certainly hope you liked it!
Thank you very much for your time!
It is much appreciated.
I wish you a great day.
Until next time!!