I was a rookie IBM sales person in the computer sales division. Having completed eighteen months of required sales training plus five weeks of public utility industry training for electricity, I had experienced a productive year as a junior member of one of the largest public utility sales teams in the country. Then it happened.

About every nine months, the sales person responsible for selling to the county government got kicked off the account by the Director of Information Systems for the county government.

What I didn’t know was that years prior, some sales person tried to go over his head to force a solution into the county, despite having lost the RFP. He had tried to get the Director of IT fired, and failed. It seems that just because of that, the Director of IT hated IBM, despite the fact that the entire data center was filled with IBM equipment.

The five year lease had only one year left on it, and the Director was just biding his time to replace everything IBM. We had a pretty good idea that he wanted to replace us with a competitor, since that competitor’s photograph of a completely replaced computer center was framed on the wall of the Director’s conference room.

And so it came to pass that it was my turn on the hot seat. One Friday afternoon, my boss called me into his office and informed me that I was now the new sales rep on the county government account. He told me that normally, it was his practice to take me to the account and introduce me, but in this case I would have to go on my own… since he had just come from the account, and the customer had told him that if he got back on the elevator, he would punch him in the face.

So as a rookie IBM sales rep, how in the world was I going to deal with that?

Well, I forced myself to walk into the building to see the Director. As I approached the admin’s desk, she asked if I was from IBM (must have been the suit) and said that his office was down the hall, right at the end. You could see his door from here. As I approached the closed door, I could see that it was filled with negative articles about IBM, clipped and taped up like a collage, collected from a variety of newspapers and magazines. I could see that this was worse than I thought.

I knocked on the door through the hate-IBM articles, and waited. The door opened and revealed a rather large, imposing, arms crossed, angry man. “Yes?” he grumbled.

“Hello Mr. _______. I’m your new sales rep from IBM,” I said.

“What did you do wrong?” He asked through an evil grin.

Well I knew that the next words out of my mouth were going to make or break this moment of my career. I needed an Initial Benefit Statement from hell. After a moment, I decided to go pure and honest, with a clear indication of potential benefit for him… for the one and only one thing that truly mattered to him.

I said, “Mr. _____, I know that there is bad blood between you and IBM. I don’t know what it is, and I didn’t ask. I only know one thing that is a fact.”

“And what is that?” he asked.

“I didn’t do it.” I said. “I only have one question. Will you allow me the chance to treat you the way that an IBM customer is supposed to be treated?”

After a long pause that seemed to last a couple of hours, he finally unfolded his arms and said, “All right. Here’s the way it’s going to be.”

And I won the next three bids at the county.

This customer’s biggest need was respect. My Initial Benefit Statement referenced a bad experience with my own company, and I did not make an excuse for what clearly must have dissatisfied this customer. I actually used that bad reference to gain credibility. Your IBS has to be clearly to the benefit of the customer you are addressing.

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