Salvatore Esman had been in sales for seven years.  Prior to getting into sales, he had worked in the art and then the printing and finishing departments of a medium-sized custom packaging manufacturer.  While he was still in production, the company's sales manager recognized Sal's ambition and his gift of gab, and he suggested that Sal try selling.  Sal accepted the suggestion because he felt he wanted to make the kind of money sales could offer.

Sal was trained to sell by two hard-hitting, aggressive, old pros.  First, they had him attend a two-week training course given by one of the world's largest sales training companies.  Then he attended a couple of seminar programs on his own, and read a couple of how-to books on technique and psychology.

Sal felt he would enjoy sales because he was a “people person.”  Unfortunately, his results did not match his enthusiasm.  Of the twelve people in his sales department, Sal's performance was never better than average, and soon he became dissatisfied.  In the past, he had excelled at most everything he tried, but after a few years in sales he began to feel “burned out.”  Sal thought he felt that way because of the intense discomfort he experienced when he had to press prospects to close.  The only time he didn't feel “burned out” was during the two or three day period following a motivational seminar.  So he bought some motivational tapes and listened to them in his car.  The tapes seemed to get him “up,” but soon the novelty wore off and he was back in the same old rut.

Sal was a hard worker who took good care of his customers.  The problem was he didn't have enough of them.  Calling on new prospects was his toughest challenge, mostly because it wasn't very rewarding.  His sales manager often told him that he had to act more enthusiastic with prospects, and that he should learn to be more aggressive.  His general manager told him he was not a strong closer and just needed to work harder.  The department sent him to another sales training program that was supposed to cure “call reluctance” and the “fear of rejection.”  But the pattern never seemed to change.  For a week or two he felt energized, but after that it was back to square one.  What seemed new at first was really just a rehash of the same old stuff.

Sal's sales manager then decided to send him on some sales calls with their top three salespeople.  Sal sat quietly and listened closely, but as far as he could tell there was little difference between what they did and what he did.  One did a sharp, eye-catching demonstration, using striking and colorful materials.  The second had a great sense of humor and a gregarious personality which he used with style.  The third was incredibly aggressive.

All three were very convincing when demonstrating the benefits of the company's packaging products and services.  They usually managed to deliver their complete presentation with a minimum of interruptions or objections, (something Sal had rarely been able to accomplish).  Mainly, they seemed stronger than he could ever be.  But even these apparent stars said there were periods when they too found it difficult to remain enthusiastic, energetic and aggressive.  They admitted that sometimes prospects got angry during their presentations, and some didn't respond at all.

In so many words each of them said, “Sales is a game of numbers.  If you just go out and make enough calls, do it to the best of your ability, day after day, you'll get your share.  And, if you work on your style and learn to handle the most common objections, your closing rate will improve.  Then if you learn five or six good, strong closing techniques and use them consistently, you'll close even more.  Those are the real answers to selling!”

The trouble was, Sal already knew all that.  He was beginning to fear that he just didn't have the talent to be top-notch in sales, so he began thinking about getting out of sales and going back into production.  The problem was, production jobs didn't pay what he wanted to earn.  Eventually Sal found himself talking to an employment counselor who specialized in placements in the packaging industry.  She suggested that before he gave up on selling, he should apply for a sales job with one of her clients, Wraparound Packaging Company (WPC).  Feeling he had nothing to lose, Sal asked her to set up an interview.

During the preliminary interview with WPC's Assistant Sales Manager, Sal was asked if he was willing to take some written tests to determine his “personality profile,” and his aptitude for WPC's approach to sales.  He agreed and took the tests that same day.  A few days later, WPC's Assistant Sales Manager called him for an interview with the company's sales executives.  She told Sal he had scored quite well and they considered him a trainable candidate.

At the preliminary interview the Assistant Sales Manager had stressed that, if hired, Sal would have to learn how to sell “their way.”  When Sal asked what “their way” was, the Assistant Sales Manager told him a little about what she called High Probability Selling.  Overall, he would have to learn how to spend his resources only on customers who needed and wanted what WPC had to sell; that learning High Probability Selling would not be easy, and toughest of all would be giving up most of his old ideas about selling.  She said however that the rewards, both financial and emotional, would be well worth his effort.  In other words, this was an opportunity to earn good money in a career he would enjoy.

Sal was understandably skeptical about what sounded like pretty extravagant claims.  But, even if she were exaggerating, he felt he could only benefit by learning something new about selling.  He suspected from experience that “High Probability Selling” was another sophisticated rehash of traditional sales psychology.  But he was intrigued when the Assistant Sales Manager told him that empathy and respect for other people were the most important criteria for learning High Probability Selling, and that he had displayed those traits in his testing.  As far as giving up what he already knew about selling... well, so what, a few days ago he was ready to quit altogether.

Sal started at WPC two weeks later.  After a two-day orientation, he met the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, Victor Preston (VP), who was going to do most of his training.  Sal was concerned because VP's relaxed style just didn't fit his picture of a top-notch salesman.

At their first meeting, Sal asked Victor to describe High Probability Selling, but Victor said it was too soon for descriptions since people tend to fit new information into preconceived ideas.  “With an approach as gentle and different as High Probability Selling,” he said, “it's better to see it in action first, and learn the how's and why's later.”

A few days later, Sal and VP made their first call together, visiting a multi-billion dollar consumer products manufacturer.  VP told Sal that WPC had received their first order from this customer less than a year ago.  Since that time they had become WPC's fourth largest customer, even though WPC had only a small portion of their packaging business.

Right before the meeting, VP told Sal to just observe what was going on and say nothing, even if it seemed that VP might be in need of help.  When they arrived, they were taken to the buyer's office.  After the introductions were completed, here's what happened:

The Buyer, Ann Kaufman, seemed to be annoyed.  She opened the conversation by curtly saying that she was very busy and asking why they had come.

VP:

You seem upset.

Ann:

It has nothing to do with you.  I'm in a bind because another vendor's late with a critical delivery.

VP:

Perhaps we should come back at another time.

Ann:

No, it's all right.  There's nothing I can do about it now.

VP:

You still seem upset.

Ann:

I'm okay.  Don't worry, I won't take it out on you.

VP:

When we first began to do business with your company, you told me that in order to gain “Favored-Vendor” status, we'd have to deliver top-quality goods and be on time.  So I know how important reliability is to you.

Ann:

Yes, we've become the most profitable company in our field by reducing costs through minimizing inventories and rejects.  To do that we have to rely heavily on our vendors.  When a vendor delivers late or ships poor quality goods, we suffer losses that go way beyond the cost of that shipment.  And when that happens, I become the focus of a lot of negative attention.

VP:

Last week I found out WPC made your Favored Vendors' list.  We appreciate the recognition.

Ann:

We've been very pleased with your quality and on-time deliveries, so far.  But at the moment I don't have any open requirements for the line you've been servicing.

VP:

Do you want our packaging for any of your other lines?

Ann:

Interesting you should say that.  I've been having some problems with the packaging suppliers for two of our other brands.

VP:

Which brands?

Ann:

Sun and Moon.

VP:

What kind of problems?

Ann:

Well, the Sun supplier is having quality problems, and the supplier for Moon hasn't been able to handle the volume.

VP:

How serious are the problems?

Ann:

In Sun's case, the supplier's been told to redo the art work and improve the quality.  Unfortunately, I think their quality problems extend into production, too, so I'm really concerned.  If we decide to deal with a new vendor, they'd have to come up with new art work of high quality to get that business.

VP:

How much time is available to produce the new art work?

Ann:

Not much.  First, I'd have to have a quote and then have our product manager approve it.

VP:

Is that something you want us to do?

Ann:

Yes, if you can.  The material type and package sizes are about the same as the Star line.  Only the print variations are substantially different.

VP:

All right.  But I'll need to review the art work with your product manager, so that I know exactly what's required for the quote.

Ann:

I'd rather not do it that way.  I'd like to see your quote before we get the product manager involved.

VP:

That's not how I work.  I'm not willing to quote it twice.  After we get all of the necessary information I'll quote it.  That's why we need to talk to the product manager first.  Is that okay with you... or not?

Ann:

What you're saying makes sense.  I'll call him to see if he can join us now.

Five minutes later the product manager for the Sun line arrived carrying samples of the current art work and packaging.  After outlining his requirements, the product manager (PM) asked, “How long will it take you to provide new art work for these seventeen packages?”

VP:

In order to minimize overtime costs in our art department it would be best to schedule the work as needed.  Does that work for you?

PM:

Yes, it does.

VP:

How many packages do you need right away?

PM:

We need four of them delivered within 5 weeks.

VP:

If we just work on four, we can have the art work completed in a week.  We can deliver the packaging four weeks after you approve the art work.  That meets the five week delivery schedule you need.  Is that what you want us to do?

PM:

We already have the four packages on order with our current vendor, but I wouldn't mind duplicating the order.  That way I double my chances of having acceptable packaging on hand by the time production is completed.  Of course, that'll reduce my line's profitability for the quarter and have the same effect on my performance bonus.  But if you come through, I'll be much better off in the long run.

VP:

What would it take for you to be confident that we'll meet your requirements?

PM:

If you can send me daily progress reports and copies of the art work in progress, that will help.  I can't cancel the order to our current supplier, but, if you keep your end of the bargain, I promise you at least half my packaging requirements, even if the other supplier comes through.  They've already messed us up too many times, so I have to have someone else I can depend on.

VP:

We'll fax “proofs” to you every morning, since most of the work on the first four packages will be done on overtime.  Is that what you want?

PM:

Yes.  Definitely.

VP:

How much time would we have to prepare the remaining thirteen packages?

PM:

Between eight weeks and fifteen weeks.  I'll get you a copy of the schedule.

VP:

We won't have any problem with the eight and fifteen week deliveries.  Are you ready to make some commitments?

PM:

What do you mean?

VP:

I'm ready to make some commitments if you are.

PM:

I guess that depends on the price.  Ms. Kaufman's department handles that end initially.  But the purchase ultimately comes out of my budget, so it'll come back to me for approval.

VP:

Ms. Kaufman's already familiar with our pricing.  We've done all the art work and packaging for your Star line.  With Sun, only the colors and layouts are different.  The price will be about the same.  Assuming we can get a quote to her tomorrow, and that the price is in line, how soon can you approve the quote so she can release the order?

Ann:

Their prices for Star have been in line, maybe a little higher than average.

PM:

Price isn't the most important thing.  I must have top-quality goods, on-time deliveries, no shortages and no more than two percent overages.  If we agree on the price, I'll approve it tomorrow.  Just don't miss delivery dates.

VP:

Your company gave us “Favored Vendor” status last week.  We got that because our quality has been first-rate and our deliveries have consistently been on time.

PM:

I'm glad to hear that.  But sometimes performance slips when a vendor takes on a bigger load.

VP:

Is that something you want to talk about now?

PM:

No.  Time will tell.

VP:

(Reading from notes he took during the meeting)  We've covered your requirements for new art work and overall timing.  We've agreed on the way we'll handle the delivery schedule for the packaging.  We've agreed that I'll have our written quote here tomorrow, and the price will be in line with our pricing on the Star line.  Is there anything else we should discuss? Are you satisfied we've covered all of your concerns?

PM:

I can't think of anything else.

VP:

Are you sure this is what you want to do?

PM:

Yes.  I'm for turning the business over to you.

VP:

(To buyer)  Are you willing to release the order to us tomorrow?

Ann:

Yes, I have some work to do first.  I'll need the Purchasing Manager's signature on the first order because it's so large, and because we're depending on you for a critical delivery schedule.

VP:

Will the Purchasing Manager be in tomorrow?

Ann:

Good thought.  Let me check right now.  (The buyer leaves and returns in ten minutes.)

Ann:

The Purchasing Manager will be in tomorrow.  I've discussed everything with him and he'll be glad to sign off on your order since you're solving a big problem for us.

VP:

Is there anything else we should know or discuss today about the packaging for the Sun line?

PM:

No, I think that wraps it up.  If you have any further questions give me a call.  Thanks for your prompt attention.

VP:

You're welcome.  (PM leaves.)  (To Ann)  Do you want to talk about packaging for your Moon line?

Ann:

Not yet.  We can discuss the Moon line after you show you can do as good a job with Sun as you have with Star.  I don't want to take the chance of overloading you, and I still have a few months to deal with the Moon situation.

VP:

Will we have the opportunity to work with you on Moon when the time is right?

Ann:

Providing your performance remains good.  We always look to our Favored Vendors first.

VP:

I'll see you tomorrow with our quote.

Ann:

Thanks, it's been a pleasure.

VP:

You're welcome.

In the car on the way back to the office, the following conversation took place:

Sal:

That deal will probably make them WPC's biggest customer.  It sure was lucky you had an appointment with them today.

VP:

Lucky?

Sal:

Well, if we weren't there when the packaging problems came up, they might've given the business to someone else.

VP:

What went on in that meeting wasn't luck.  That packaging problem has been going on for some time, as you heard.  My approach uncovered it and got it on the table.  That's why I didn't want to tell you about High Probability Selling before you saw it for yourself.  If you think about the entire sales call, you'll realize that very little of what went on was due to luck.  Don't compare what you saw today with any of your old ideas about sales.

Sal:

It seems to me that all you did was keep asking closing questions.

VP:

That's just what I mean.  Maybe that's only what you think you heard.

Sal:

Well, because you've dealt with that buyer before, you already knew what was important to her.  So you were able to handle her objections before she brought them up.

VP:

So you noticed that she didn't raise a single objection.  But that didn't happen for the reason you've suggested.  She was too busy negotiating a solution to her problems to raise any objections.  And consider also that because she wasn't pressured, there wasn't any resistance.  What else do you think happened?

Sal:

You closed on a minor point, when you asked the two of them about delivery requirements.

VP:

Maybe that's what it looked like, but I never asked about delivery dates.  The Product Manager brought up delivery.  I wasn't trying to close on a minor point.

Sal:

Then what were you trying to do?

VP:

I was trying to find out what their delivery requirements were.

Sal:

Then I'm confused.  I thought you were going to show me this great new, high-powered sales technique, and all you did was gather information.

VP:

The human mind tends to fit everything into patterns and to group patterns into familiar categories.  Most of the time that's helpful because it lets us apply our knowledge and experience to new situations, without thinking and planning about every little thing.  But when it comes to learning something really new, like High Probability Selling, that approach is counterproductive.  A really new idea doesn't fit into pre-existing patterns.  The context is brand new.  The fact is you saw a powerful new sales technology this morning, and you didn't recognize it.  Wait until tomorrow.  When we go back with our quote and get their purchase order, you'll have real evidence of the effectiveness of High Probability Selling.

Sal:

I really have no idea what you're talking about.  I saw what happened today, and it looked like you handled the situation quite well.  Maybe I'm even catching on to the fact that because it looked so easy, more like dumb luck than effective selling, that you did something I don't even understand.  But, why did you demonstrate something to me that I couldn't understand?

VP:

To open up your thinking.  That's difficult for most people to do.  Especially in an area you think you already know a lot about.

Sal:

So, isn't it about time you explained some of this to me?  Or should I watch you again with another customer?

VP:

No.  It's time to talk.  As soon as we get back to the office, I'll go over the fundamentals of High Probability Selling with you.


Page updated
2017-07-07
by C Ingalls

High Probability Consulting
4 Leslie Lane  (attn Ingalls)
Wallingford, PA 19086    USA

Carl Ingalls
Tel:  +1 610-627-9030
info@HighProbSell.com