What Keeps You Up at Night?

You can learn alot from cat fights. Especially, if you’re in corporate sales.

You can learn alot from cat fights. Especially, if you’re in corporate sales.

Allow me to explain.

Cats generally fight other cats over territorial imperatives. You have the invading cat and the gate keeper cat. The invading cat, probably named Fluffy, wants a piece of the kingdom. He/She marches up to the gate-keeper, we’ll call him/her Muffin, and said, “Step aside, unworthy adversary! For I shall proclaim this land as….Fluffy…uh…Fluffyburg!”

The gate-keeping cat is not unlike the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail” and says, “None shall pass.”

“I command thee to…..”

“None shall pass!”

“Then prepare to do battle to the death as I shall….”

“Then prepare to die for no cat shall ever invade Muffinville!”

Here’s where the stare down starts. Muffin and Fluffy are eyeball-to-eyeball. Motionless but in attack stances. Two inches apart. They don’t even blink.

I am old enough to remember George Foreman, the boxer. Now, this wasn’t the jovial, amusing, endearing, charming, friendly and grandfatherly George Foreman of the 1990s. That was George Foreman TWO.

George Foreman TWO

George Foreman ONE was of the 1970s. Look at all those nice adjectives I used in the previous paragraph about George Foreman TWO. George Foreman ONE was none of those things. GF ONE was the bad-ass version of Mike Tyson multiplied by ten.

Before a boxing match starts, the two fighters face each other in the middle of the ring to receive final instructions from the referee. The boxers are three feet from each other and they stare each other down. Sometimes they try to look mean or intimidating. Usually, they just look constipated.

Except for George Foreman ONE. He’d stare at the opponent with a fairly dispassionate look that said,  very believably, “I’m going to kill you. Wanna know how I’m gonna kill you? Dead. Gonna kill you dead.” After the final instructions, the referee would tell the fighters to go back to their corners. George’s opponent, once he was done urinating on himself, would retreat to his corner. George wouldn’t. He stood in the middle of the ring just staring at the adversary.  He wasn’t going anywhere.

Say hello to George Foreman ONE.

George Foreman ONE was,  in our cat example, Muffin. He was the Black Knight. The ring was his territory and you were intruding.

Because Muffin, just as GF ONE back in the day, ain’t moving, Fluffy has a decision to make. Good ol’ Fluff could call it a day,  turn around and high-tail it the hell outta Dodge. This would be a tough way to go because Fluffy made the time and emotional commitment. Besides, that’s a really bad look all around. The other cats would laugh at Fluffy which is an issue because the thought of watching a cat laugh is personally distressing.

Fluffy could decide to keep staring at Muffin but what’s the point? Muffin’s not moving because Muffin has to maintain a certain standard in the neighborhood, too. If Muffin backs down then forget about it. Muffin’s toast. His/Her only next move is to get an apartment in another state. In terms of street credibility, Muffin will have none. Due to peer pressure alone, Muffin has no intention of going anywhere and it’s up to Fluffy to do something about it.

Now, let’s say this is Fluffy’s first time doing this sort of thing. Invading another cat’s kingdom, that is. It may take a while before Fluffy realizes the only useful move is to barge ahead with the attack plan. But, Fluffy really doesn’t have an attack plan. That’s because Fluffy is a cat. Cats have walnut sized brains. Strategic planning isn’t in Fluffy’s wheelhouse. The cat knew enough to go to the territory with the intention of taking it over but didn’t devote any time devising a way to do it.  This means Fluffy has to do something for which Fluffy’s not prepared: think.

Within their profession, I’m given to understand rookie baseball pitchers aren’t admired for their intellectual prowess. The only instruction a pitcher receives from coaches, teammates, fans, family members and friends is, “Don’t think. Just throw. If you start thinking then you’ll only hurt the team. Don’t think. Just throw.”

The same applies here. If Fluffy attempts to think then Fluffy may do something really idiotic. If Fluffy starts to make a move and starts thinking about it then Fluffy may suddenly hesitate. If Fluffy hesitates then Fluffy is done. It’s over. Because, at that moment, Muffin will pimp-slap Fluffy back to the stone-age. Which is exactly what happens. Fluffy, being new in the world of territorial conquests, gets repeatedly body-slammed by Muffin early on but it’s a process. Over time, maybe Fluffy will learn some strategies.

In a corporate sales meeting, Fluffy is the newly hired account representative and Muffin is the potential customer. The meeting’s generally on Muffin’s turf. It’s up to the Fluffy to attack. However, being new, Fluffy only knew how to get to the customer’s place of business but hadn’t figured out what to do once he/she got there. This is not unusual.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bad-mouthing corporate sales people. Not at all. It’s just that, as a new sales person, you don’t have clue-one what you’re doing. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you actually try to figure everything out first then your head will explode. I say this from experience. I’ve done corporate sales. The best advice I ever received in my first year was, “Don’t think. Just throw.”

So, there you are. Fluffy and Muffin.  The new sales person and prospective client. Sometimes there is a moment where Muffin will stare at Fluffy the way George Foreman ONE stared at his opponent.  Conversation has stopped. Nobody is moving.  The rep is stuck. The silence is horrendously loud and the sales meeting feels like it is falling apart.  

This is a very dangerous moment because the new sales rep may be tempted to think. Now, chances are the rep doesn’t have a walnut sized brain. It’s probably of a normal size. It’s just he/she doesn’t know how to use much of it.  Remember, ìf you’re new to corporate sales, you can’t afford to think. It’s not helpful. You just throw. But, the silence has gotten worse and you, the sales rep…Fluffy, realizing it’s time to attack by saying something useful, important, insightful or highly intellectual to move the meeting forward.

This is generally the moment you say something stupid. Why? Simple. You hesitated. Why? You panicked and attempted to think. Don’t do that. Stop it. You’re too new to think. Why? Because, thanks to all that attempted thinking,  what ever comes out of your mouth will be thoroughly brainless. You don’t intend to sound like a dense, vacuous twit.  But, the mental contortions you’re experiencing are killing you as you attempt to come up with something to say. 

So, what can you say?

One thing the Sales 101 Handbook says you can do to break the ice is to ask a pertinent question to re-initiate a dialogue. But, remember, your mouth may be made up but your brain is still quite undone. Thinking is bad enough. Thinking with your mouth open is almost lethal. So, you ask a question but, because your brain hasn’t caught up to your mouth, you’ve mistakenly put it in the form of a YES/NO question. That’s bad. Here’s why:

You – “Mr./Ms. Smith, would you like to see the incredible cost savings your company can enjoy just by implementing my product thereby reducing your capital expenditures by $1,600,000 over the next two years without increasing your operational expenses allowing you expand your business and improve profits?  Wouldn’t you really, really, really LOVE seeing that?!?!?!”

Customer – “No.” 

Strike one.

If you want to roll the dice then you can ask a more personal question on the remote chance this will endear you to your prospect. This is, also, a terrible idea because you have no idea what the response will be and you’re very liable to step into a great pile of horse manure. For example:

You – “That’s a lovely family portrait on your wall.  Really, beautiful. How old are your children?”

Customer – “They died in a plane crash.”

Strike two.

Another option is to pretend you have the slightest idea what the prospective customer’s company does by dropping some industry initials or acronyms into a question. You’re skating on very thin ice with this one because, let’s face it, you don’t have any clue about the industry your customer’s in. Let’s say your prospect is in the trucking business. You don’t know anything about the trucking business other than trucks seem to play a factor somehow. However, you believe, due to the attempted thinking on your part, your prospective customer will be impressed by how well versed you are on the subject. Oh, you’re totally screwed:

You – “What 3PL do you have in place to make sure your CSA requirements are being met?”

Customer – “Today, we have an OBD2 for an AVL system integrated with the DOT GIS for routing which also connects to an MDT to meet HOS requirements plus it gives us real-time IFTA reports for our CMVs. Can you tell me what GPS system you have for trucks with GVW over 26K lbs with a sub-zero REEFER trailer that can measure hydrolic PTO as well as enforce DVIR before a truck leaves the geo-fence?”

You –

Customer – “We just received a ULEV fleet that require 16-PIN harnesses. I guess I should have mentioned that earlier.”

You –

Customer – “Oh, yeah. Of course, with NAFTA, we have to distinguish GAWR, GVWR, GCWR, OSOW especially with our O/O vehicles.”

You –

Customer – “Are you okay?”

You – “I gotta go pee.”

Strike three. Over. Au revoir. Get lost.

There are plenty of stupid questions sales people have asked me:

  • “What’s more important to you, quality or cost?”
  • “You got a budget or what?
  • “How important is money to your business?”
  • “Is your company interested in making a profit?”

However, there is one monumentally stupid thing to ask.  Because they’re attempting to think, people new to the world of corporate sales insist on asking this question during customer meetings when they’re stuck. It’s a lame question uttered in a feeble effort to get a customer to open up about some troubling aspect of his/her business. The question is:

“What keeps you up at night?”

Strike four.

This question sucks.  

Asking it is essentially saying, ” I am a moron.”  Metaphorically speaking, you’re cerebral needle is stuck on “dumb.”  If you’re a sales person and you actually ask that question then just pack up your stuff and go home because the party’s over.

You’re done.  

Your customer is so sick of low-rent sales people asking that question. You may as well put a dunce cap on because you’ve basically said to your customer,  “I have NO idea what I’m doing.” And, your customer couldn’t agree more because it shows you’re totally unprepared and you’ve now gone from the rank of “account executive” to something closer to “door stop.”

Customer – “Does your hosted VoIP system remove embarrassing stains from contoured bed sheets?”

Sales Person – “Uh, well, yeah, absolutely, you just need to make sure your bed sheets are on the latest firmware version and, like, verify your bed sheets use an open application protocol interface then, uh…, yeah. Sure. Definitely. Yep. Uh-huh. No doubt.”

The sales guy for the company that won the bid to build the Panama Canal probably told the U.S. Government, “Hey, it’ll be cheap, it’ll be easy and you’ll have it next week.”

I should mention, I’m the technical guy and attend lotsa customer meetings with the new sales folks. So, enter the third cat. Fluffy the Rep, Muffin the Business Owner and Lurch the Technical Guy. Lurch is an appropriate name because I’m tall and bear a close resemblance to the character of the same name in “The Addams Family.” I sound like Lurch, too. Mostly the the mornings.

I think we’ll name our next cat Lurch. It’s different. Not alot of cats out there named Lurch and it would make for entertaining conversations at the vet’s office with the other pet owners:

Pet Owner, looking at my cat – “Just look at your sweet little kitten. A beautiful little ball of fur. And, so friendly. Such a precious little kitten. What’s his name? Buttercup? Maybe, Tinker Bell? Snowflake? What adorable name do you give this lovely little kitten?”

Me – “Lurch.”

Pet Owner – “Oh…..”

Anyway, back to Fluffy the Sales Rep, Muffin the Business Owner and Lurch the Technical Guy. There can sometimes be a little tension between the new sales rep and the technical guy. That’s because the rep will promise just about anything in order to make the sale.

Let’s say your prospective customer wants to know if you can customize a one-off product that defies the laws of relativity, is physically impossible to construct and, even if it could be built, would cost $1,750,000,000. As the technical guy, my inclination would be to ask a few “clarifying questions.” The clarifying questions might be along the lines of:

1) “What, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish with this product?

2) “In your product trial, what are your expected outcomes?”

3) “Have you thought about backing off a little on the Angel Dust?”

These questions run contrary to the rep’s primary goal which is to close the deal and get the hell out of there. He/she isn’t interested in clarifying anything and doesn’t want to get caught up in details. Hence, the tension.

I’m reminded of a particular sales meeting a few years ago that took a very strange turn. Fluffy the new rep, who clearly did his homework, kicked things off by asking the customer, “Uh, yeah. So, okay, um, like, my first question, I guess, uh, exactly what is it that you do….do?  As a company, I mean. Like, for business…..purposes.”  

He may as well have asked, “Why the hell am I here?”

Before the Muffin could answer, Fluffy started rattling off a list all the great services the company could offer which was complicated by the fact that the company really didn’t offer most of what he listed. But he did assure this prospect that these services, even though they didn’t exist, helped his long list of clientele who are “doing pretty much, uh, the same thing, basically, that you do…whatever that is.”

His response to every question the prospective customer asked was, “Uh, yeah, good question. Um, I’m….. I’ll, um, uh….. yeah, we can definitely do….that. Sure.”

It got worse because this particular prospective customer (aka Muffin) knew the rep had no idea what he was talking about. So, Muffin started asking about services he knew didn’t didn’t exist just to see what Fluffy would say.

Muffin – “Are you sure you can do this?

Lurch – “Let’s just make sure we’re clear on what you’re looking for. Do you….”

Fluffy – “Yeah, I’ve got customers doing that exact thing today.”

Muffin – “Wait, you mean to tell me you actually support this?”

Lurch – “If we can just review what you’re wanting to….”

Fluffy – “I got this. We can set up a trial. No cost.”

Muffin – “Oh, so you’re willing to pay for the entire infrastructure for a free….”

Lurch – “Before we start down this road, I think….”

Fluffy – “I got this! Yeah, not a problem. We can do this.”

Muffin – “How?”

[Long pause]

Fluffy – “With a concentrator.”

[Very long pause]

Lurch – “Okay. Why don’t we…..”

Fluffy – “I said I got this…”

This meeting had, officially, gone sideways. I started to speak once more just to see if we could manage to keep the Titanic away from the iceberg but the rep, who had just made the fatal error of attempting to think again, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Wait, I do have one important question first.”  He looked earnestly at the customer and asked: 

“What keeps you up at night?”

At this point, I picked up my phone and started sending in a take-out order to this Chinese place close to home because, well, why not?  No point sticking around.  Probably best to leave before this guy shoots us dead which any jury in the country would consider justifiable homicide. 

Instead of gunning us down, the guy stood up, walked to his desk, pulled out a picture of his recently-wedded wife, put it on the desk for us to see and said, “THIS is what keeps me up at night.  This is what keeps me up every night.”

Well….., to say the picture was merely attention-getting would be doing it quite a disservice.  The woman in question was certainly striking: tan, statuesque and exquisite. The picture appeared to be taken at the beach.  

Along the bottom of the picture was written, “Sunday in Marseille.”  What followed was a startling description of the strenuous and harrowing sexual exploits she intended to do to and with him later that evening and every night thereafter. Half way through reading it, I was tempted to say, “This woman is a total animal!” I mean, this was some serious Caligula-type shit. All-night debauchery.  And, she’s talking about doing this every night. After reading the rest of what she wrote, I almost asked, “Has she considered some sort of in-patient therapy?”

Because, based on what she wrote, if they were to complete all the erotic hijinks on her to-do list then they would be, in the very best of scenarios, dead. And, that’s after Night-One.

There were some very subtle nuances in the picture.  If you looked very closely then you might notice one distinguishing feature of the photograph was that the young lady, even though she was at the beach, seemed to have forgotten her swimsuit.

This may not have been the first time because, upon further examination, I noticed she had no tan-lines.  As is the case with practically all men, tan-lines are always the first thing I notice when looking at a picture of a woman with her clothes off.

The picture certainly turned the direction of our meeting in a way we hadn’t expected.  The sales guy was just staring at the picture. His mouth was open but he wasn’t saying anything.  

I figured, by showing us this picture, the customer was saying, among other things, that our meeting was officially over. 

So, while trying to pry the rep away from the picture, I said, “Hey, listen. Thrilling meeting you….and your wife.  Dazzling ensemble. She seems…uh…, yeah. And, based on what she wrote, quite ambitious. Taken on Sunday, I see. Were these taken before or after church service?  If these were taken after then that must have been quite a sermon. You wouldn’t happen to have a transcript, would you?   

“Personally speaking, reviewing this photograph has been a very educational experience. Lends significance to the ‘thinking outside the box’ saying. We certainly understand your hands, at the moment, are tied…literally… The Little Lady does have some unique thoughts on alternate uses of pearl necklaces. Certainly nothing I had ever considered. And, I’m sure I’ll never look at the word ‘masticate’ in quite the same way for the rest of my life.

“At any rate, we can clearly see you’re a very….VERY….busy man.  And, despite the extreme sleep-deprivation, you seem to be bearing up rather well as evidenced by the fact that you’re not currently dead. So, we’ll leave you in peace, no pun intended. 

“Perhaps, between one of your joint sessions of congress, as it were, you might have a look at this information and let us know what crumpets you have.

“Questions! I mean, let us know what QUESTIONS you have. 

“We’ll be back next spring assuming you survive the winter months which I severely doubt. Personally, I’m thinking you’ve got no more than 40 days before going to that great orgasmitron in the sky.  Remember, you will be making the ultimate sacrifice. On behalf of all heterosexual men, I just want to say thank you for your service. You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers. Thoughts, mostly.

“If on the remote chance you don’t leave this mortal coil before we meet again then you’ll probably be in some sort of assisted living arrangement. I think we can all agree on that point. Let’s face it, the only functional part of your body will be your, well, your, your, uh, yeah.

“I mean, hell, you won’t be able to walk in a couple weeks.  When the time comes give me a shout. I can get you a great deal on wheelchairs.  I know a guy.”

I left with visions that remain with me to this day. The rep stayed behind looking at the picture while reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

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