When the CEO called, I had to say no
By Steven Wiley, Founder, Lincoln Leadership Institute, Gettysburg, PA
I received a call out of the blue from a meeting planner for a very large and well-known company. “We’re looking for a keynote speaker for our annual meeting,” she said. “Could you send me some background information?”
My company conducts leadership training, and I knew that a speaking engagement could open the door to many more opportunities. I had plenty of testimonials. But I knew from experience that they were just the beginning. This sale – like every sale – was all about trust.
Selecting a speaker is a high-risk proposition. If you choose well, everybody remembers the speaker, not the person who hired him. But if the speaker misses the mark, everybody asks, “Who picked that guy?”
The selection committee
I sent the information and kept in touch. Soon I got the word: I’d made the cut. The next step was a phone interview with the selection committee. It consisted of several top executives, including the CEO.
Instead of trying to “sell” myself, I asked questions to help me understand their goals and values. I barely talked about myself. A true account of how a successful salesperson made a challenging sale, overcoming price objections, buyer inertia, competition and more.
By the end of the call, I wanted them to think, “This guy gets us. We can count on him to represent our company to our stakeholders.”
I couldn’t pass the final test
I felt good about the call, and felt I really understood what the company wanted. And I was ecstatic when the CEO’s assistant called. But not when I heard what she had to say. “The CEO has invited you to be his partner for a charity golf tournament.”
It was an amazing opportunity: a full afternoon of one-on-one time with the top decision maker. There was only one problem. I don’t play golf. At all. My mind raced. Should I take a crash course in golf? Say yes and show up in a cast? Borrow some clubs and hope for the best?
Just say no
I couldn’t do it. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I have to decline. I wouldn’t know which end of the club to hold.” “Okay, I’ll tell him,” the assistant said.
A little later, she called back. “You just went up a few notches,” she told me. “He says he hates golf too. He wants to know if you can meet for drinks at the tournament.”
When we met, we had a good laugh. We hit it off immediately and I won the speaking engagement. Later, he asked me to run leadership programs for his executives. And he continues to be a great referral.
This was my greatest sale because that golf invitation was an opportunity in disguise. By saying no when so much was at stake, I proved that I could be trusted with the assignment. I truly thought I’d lost my chance, but in the end my honesty won me the sale.
You can reach Steve Wiley at 717-891-2002.