I was the marketing manager of a medical device company and we were near the end of the day’s sales meeting. Forty salespeople were in the room; I was last on the program. Everybody wanted to get out, hit the lobby bar and trade stories about high prices, the lack of new products, how their new quotas were too high and their territories too small.

As I closed my part of the program by projecting an ROI (number of raw inquiries, qualified leads, and projected sales) from our new lead generation program, I innocently asked if there were any questions.

Why_Important_-_Sales_Skills_v3Five or six hands were raised and I pointed to someone in the back of the room, asking her (regrettably) to speak up, and she said, “I never had a lead yet that turned into a sale.” Instinctively, I knew this wasn’t true, but without the numbers at hand, refuting it was a losing battle in front of the whole group. The leads she was getting maybe weren’t turning into a sale for her, and that was a different problem. But here I was in front of forty reps, the C-level managers, and my marketing staff and I needed an answer.

The room grew quiet; the other hands dropped. I smiled, gave an exaggerated cough to give me time to think, and scanned the room looking for someone to rescue me.

And then I noticed Victor, shaking his head from side to side in apparent disagreement, so I called on him. I figured I was all in at this point and had nothing to lose. “Victor,” I asked, “do you have something to add?”

Victor wasn’t a big man, but he had a big voice. He stood up and looked around the room and with a drill sergeant’s voice said, “I got a lead a week ago and sold them already. I call ‘em as soon as I get ‘em, and I get sales all the time from their leads. How do the rest of you feel?”

He looked around the room, now clearly the leader while I was the spectator, and hands started to go up. He called on each one and the testimonials started coming in. Sure, there were comments such as:

“We’d like better qualified leads.”

“We’d like leads on XXXX product.”

“We need email addresses.”

“We need phone numbers.”

“We don’t need more leads, we need more qualified leads.”

But no one ventured to say he never got a lead that turned into a sale. I heard:

“I get leads all the time that buy.”

“My big sale a few months ago came from a show lead.”

“I’d like to know more about their needs, but I get stuff that turns into a sale all the time.”

Someone even asked the person who made the comment, “Do you follow up on your leads? You can’t expect ‘em to issue a purchase order without talking to you!”

Why_Important_-_WorthAnd so it went for a few minutes, and then we closed the meeting on a high note. I learned some important lessons:

  • When giving a speech and you get a tough question, sometimes it’s best to let someone else handle it.
  • There will always be someone in the room to take a sometimes onerous question.
  • Not everyone thinks you’re a hero.
  • The marketing department’s efforts were considered valuable. We had worth.

And by the way, the rep who started it all came up to me at the bar and we talked. Of course she didn’t totally back down. But in talking with her, I found she had legitimate issues. She needed more inquiries which would lead to more qualified leads. She had a big territory, but there were small cities, far apart and with fewer buyers. She wasn’t making quota and needed help. The next day we started working on the problems to help her out.