Every now and then I have the privilege of spending time with Ted Stahl. These meetings are sometimes humbling and ALWAYS educational. The man is a sea of knowledge and an ocean of experience. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with him at a trade show and demonstrate some of the latest Cadworxlive® technology.
I showed him the new 'touch' responsive designer that works on the web, tablet and phone platforms. I showed him promotional tools embedded in the new design studio application. I showed him our latest custom product visualization technology, which is sure to create a buzz in the industry. As I walked him through each feature, my excitement was palpable. I love showing off new software. I'm passionate about my job and sometimes my enthusiasm is difficult to contain. Throughout the demonstration Ted sat there... quiet, stoic, contemplative. If not for his nodding at the requisite times, I would have questioned whether he was listening at all. After the demonstration, and an uncomfortably long period of silence, Ted had one request; "Sell me Cadworxlive®". Now, I have to admit, this wasn't exactly the reaction I was hoping for. I thought I WAS selling it... and typically in sales, when you've got your customer nodding, they're sold. When he asked me to sell it to him right after I had just finished selling it, I was confused.
If you've ever had the pleasure of meeting Ted, you'll recognize this as one of his many management tactics. He'll give you the floor, let you give the dog and pony show, then he'll pause (just long enough for panic to set in) and ask one simple question or make one simple comment. This question or comment comes seemingly out of left field, may appear to have no context in the current discussion and may be confusing upon initial consideration. Sometimes the question or comment is intentionally general or broad, sometimes it's stating the obvious, sometimes it's the 400 pound gorilla in the room. Whatever the comment or question, the intent is always the same; to remove you from your comfort zone and challenge you to think.
When Ted asked me to sell him Cadworxlive® right after I just finished selling it, the walls began closing in and temperature in the room felt like it shot up 10 degrees. The collar of my shirt suddenly felt tighter, making it difficult to breath and I could feel a bead of sweat on my brow. I think I even stuttered a time or two before finding my verbal footing. I responded with my typical marketing touch points: "Cadworxlive® contains tools for garment decorators and sign makers" and "Cadworxlive® offers a low cost/no cost design option for start-ups and established businesses alike". I ran off a checklist of features that I know members of our community find valuable. "Cadworxlive® contains a built-in Vectorizer to convert raster images to cut-able art" and "Easy Teams® allows you to create team uniforms in minutes not hours." Again, Ted paused for what seemed like an eternity.
He then picked up a pen from the table, handed it to me and said "Sell me this pen." I came up with some mumbo jumbo about it being a magic pen and everything you write with it comes true. Ted folded his hands, nodded and graciously changed the subject. In this moment, I knew I failed him. He was looking for something I didn't deliver. He didn't point out my failure. He didn't give me a hard time for telling him this ordinary pen was somehow mystical and magical in an effort to sell it to him. He let me come to these conclusions on my own. As is often the case with my interactions with Ted, the message, the golden nugget of truth, the life's lesson, isn't immediately clear. I pondered it for weeks. What was he looking for? What message did I fail to communicate? What did I miss?
It wasn't until months later when I was watching the movie 'The Wolf of Wall Street' that I understood Teds message. If you've seen the movie, you understand the reference. If you haven't seen the movie, the term "Sell me this pen" is used in several scenes to assess a persons ability to sell. In one scene the lead character Jordan Belfort hands one of his sales associates a pen and instructs him to sell it back to him. The associate takes the pen and tells Belfort to "write your name down on that napkin for me". Belfort responds "I don't have a pen".
In that moment, Teds message became clear; To be successful in sales, you must create a demand for your product. When Ted asked me to sell him Cadworxlive, I should have said "make me 22 baseball uniforms with player names and numbers on the back, a team name on the front in two-color script with tail, and throw in 100 bumper stickers. I need them by Friday."
Salesmanship is the ability to see the world through your customers eyes.