One of my guilty pleasures while driving to or from a morning appointment is listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. Though I don’t always agree with Colin, I enjoy his “takes” on sports and life. He often has interesting guests and is very topical. It’s refreshing to me that he will not always toe the ESPN company line or the expected politically-correct positions of most of the mainstream media. Colin is very entertaining.
Colin has had a checkered and colorful road to national morning radio stardom. Though there has been many media jobs, Colin also tried his hand at sales while living in Las Vegas. Earlier this year, he related a story about a failed sales call. In my mind though, it really wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know any better.
From my memory, I’ll relate the episode below with apologies to Colin for any inaccuracies. There is certainly an important sales lesson here.
It seems Colin had an appointment with a Bank Vice President. I think he was selling advertising at the local Minor League Ballpark. Colin, however, was young and ill-trained on sales best practices. That day, as he entered the VP’s office, he did what he thought was the natural and correct move on meeting someone for the first time: He scanned the room.
Colin states: “I was a young 20-something with no idea what went on behind the scenes at a bank. Who was I to have a business conversation with this bank VP?”
Behind the desk was a picture of the VP (a 40-something man) with seven or eight kids all dressed casually in shorts and t-shirts. Colin assumed it was of the VP with a sports team he had coached. On a bookshelf was a helmet with a single “Y” on it. Clearly, it had been worn on the field of battle.
Gathering himself, Colin started rambling about what he saw: First he let the gentleman know that he thought it was great that he was involved in youth sports. After all, sports was life to Colin. Second, he figured the VP went to Yale – the big Y on the helmet was the giveaway. Feeling good about himself – hey, he was still there and talking he must be doing a good job – Colin moved on to rag on the other team with a Y on its helmet – Brigham Young University.
Well, it turns out Colin was wrong on both counts. That picture was of the VP’s family. He was a devout Mormon with a large family, and of course, had attended and played football for BYU!
After all this was straightened out, Colin looked at the VP and said something like, “You are not going to buy anything from me today, so I am going to leave now.” He slinked away feeling more and more like his future was in radio rather than sales.
But it did not have to be that way! Colin was relying on the old Willy Loman-esque stereotype of a salesperson that sales is all about building rapport, and getting your prospect to like you. After years and years of studying sales performance, we know now that people don’t buy from people they like. People buy from people they trust. Steven Covey, in his seminal Seven Habits book, defines trust as sincerity plus competence. Offering his thoughts on his prospect’s life was a dangerous opening for Colin. First of all, it reinforced the buyer’s stereotype of the over familiar insincere sales guy. In the Vp’s mind, Colin didn’t really care primarily aobut getting to know hi. He wanted a sale! Colin also assumed that by his visually scanning the room he knew his audience. See Walter Matthau’s Morris Buttermaker’s famous mnemonic from The Bad News Bears for why assuming is a critical mistake.
Side Note: I found after a little research that Matthau borrowed the Ass-U-Me line from an episode of “The Odd Couple”.
What should Colin have done instead?
1) Do some research.
Before the meeting, talk to your boss or others to figure out the highly likely priorities, issues concerns, etc. of a Banking VP when considering advertising and then ask questions to confirm the expectations. If you can’t do that, then at least ask open-ended “what are your advertising priorities?” type questions early in the meeting;
2) Let the prospect lead the way on building rapport.
If the VP wants to talk about his family let him and ask non-intrusive questions. If he wants to talk about the football helmet, let him. As Colin found out, it is too dangerous to your livelihood to make assumptions based on visual cues.
How about some silence? Silence can be a great sales tool. Colin should have walked into the office and stated, “Hi, I’m Colin Cowherd, I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me.” Then, 4-5 seconds of silence, while he takes his seat, gets out a notebook or writing pad, whatever. The prospect will either fill the void with some innocuous rapport building comments or wait for the business of the meeting to commence. Either way, the sales person is safe and hasn’t hurt his chances of success.
After listening to Colin for awhile now, I think he’s a reasonably intelligent guy. With some guidance like the above, he could have been a sales star, but I guess like Grandma Pauline always says, “things do seem to work out for the best!” Colin seems to be doing OK.