How could such an odd thing happen?
Manti Te’owas a smart Notre Dame student, who also is one of the best college football players in the country. Really now, so he had a long-term relationship with a woman who never existed, and whom he only communicated with via email and phone and never met in person?
Almost too unbelievable. How in the world could he have fallen for something like that?
Then it hit me as hard as Te’o violently colliding with an opposing running back:
I WAS Manti Te’o with my own Lennay Kekua prospect.
Like Te‘o, I’m a bit embarrassed talking about it, but I did learn from it, and perhaps you can too.
A few months ago I received an inquiry from a prospect about training. The prospect was a long-time reader and showered me with compliments about my material, and went on about how my philosophy fit so well with his, and their company culture.
We had an initial conversation that went great. The prospect had inside sales departments in several locations and we discussed the training options.
What evolved was a plan where I would design an entire inside sales process and playbook, implement it through comprehensive training at all of the locations, and then provide ongoing follow-up, coaching, and subsequent deliveries of the program. It would be a substantial project, to be sure.
He was a very likable, genuine individual, and I was excited about working with them.
A follow up conversation moved things forward where we talked more about the components of the training and next steps. He was talking as if it were already a forgone conclusion that we would be working together. As salespeople, we love it when prospects sell themselves, right? It was almost too easy, and too good to be true. (As I eventually learned, it was.)
The first part of this major undertaking was to be an examination of their existing operations, process, industry, marketing, listening to calls, and much more. I would also visit their headquarters in person for meetings with him and other key personnel. Based on all of that, we would then shape the overall scope of the project.
As I attempted to finalize the details of the initial work, a series of events caused delays. The flu, internal business issues, moving offices, Hurricane Sandy...weeks turned into months.
All the while, I’m still hearing reassurances about how much they need this training and how much they were looking forward to working with me, what a good fit I was, etc. Like Manti Te’o, I fell for something that wasn’t real.
Now, I have long taught how sales pros need to be specific about next steps, what is going to happen and when, understanding the players involved, and identifying any potential roadblocks to the deal. Even though of course I know what to do, and have sold millions of dollars worth of my training, I didn’t follow my own advice and rules.
Because things progressed so quickly and easily, because I had a prospect that was so nice and seemingly infatuated with me, and because we leaped from nothing to what I thought was a done deal, I had neglected many steps in my usual process.
As I got deeper into it, I didn’t want to press things too much and be what some might interpret as “pushy.” Big mistake. (It’s NOT being pushy, by the way, it’s being definite.)
I did however, continue to try and arrange the first step, the personal visit. Just like with Lennay Kekua, there were excuses for not meeting. Not sure how Manti Te’o interpreted that in his situation, but I knew they were major red flags.
Finally, after more weeks of suspicious evasiveness by the prospect, broken promises for return phone calls, and ignored messages and calls, I had pretty much given up. I decided to leave a last resort message. I mentioned how confused I was by the entire series of events, and wanted at least an explanation of what had happened.
A week later -- last week, in fact -- I received an email from the prospect’s assistant informing me they needed to put the project on hold, there were some budgetary issues, they were doing some things internally...maybe you’ve heard this stuff before. By now I had figured as much, but still a gut punch.
Just like Manti Te’o, I received notice that my deal -- that never really existed -- was dead.
What was I reminded of, and what did I learn from this?
If a deal seems too good to be true, it just might be. Be cautious and curious.
When someone approaches you and seems already sold, don’t skip the questioning process:
Why are they interested?
Why are they talking to you?
What will buying from you do for them? Quantify the pain or problem, and the payoff.
Who are all the players involved, and what roles do they play?
What is going to happen next and when? Be as specific as possible. Get iron-clad commitments.
Manti Te’o seems like a great kid who was the target of an ongoing cruel hoax by a few low-lifes. I was victimized by my own neglect.
Hopefully his situation doesn’t hurt his opportunity to play in the NFL and earn what he is worth. Mine has already reminded me of valuable lessons that will help me avoid future sales mistakes.
*About the Author: Art Sobczak works with thousands of sales reps each year helping them get more business by phone. He provides real world, how-to ideas and techniques that help salespeople use the phone more effectively.