I have spent the last three years working in a sales role in the AV industry. I have heard “no” more than “yes,” and have learned to let it roll off my back. I have learned to embrace “no,” as cliché as that sounds. My family celebrates our losses—sometimes more than our wins—as we often learn more about ourselves from our failures and rally around the next great thing.
The key to success and hearing “yes” is not intelligence, competitive pricing, or even charisma (although none of those hurt). The differentiator is perseverance. As Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Recently a hospitality project came up as a result of some hard prospecting and a relationship with a commercial real estate developer, and I was given the opportunity to bid the AV scope along with other low-voltage contractors. After two weeks of poring through specifications and drawings, I submitted our pricing, trying to condense all our of value propositions into a two-page cover letter accompanying the bid. My estimating department and I worked our tails off getting everything ready to go and thought we had a great chance at winning the bid.
The follow-up call two weeks later was devastating. Not only had we lost the job, but the winning contractor hadn’t been included in the bid. They had been hand-picked by the owner—we never even had a chance.
Adversity is required for growth, and complacency is the enemy of adversity. Without resistance, we grow weak and we get used to settling for what’s easy rather than what’s good. Everything—from businesses to relationships—grows stronger when assumptions and actions are challenged.
However, “embracing the suck” is not a natural reaction. Embracing adversity comes with maturity; it takes time and it’s not a quick lesson. Acknowledging the importance of hardship is easy, but living it out on a daily basis is harder. On a side note, the folks who have the easiest time embracing challenges and growth tend to seek out resistance everywhere, whether it’s a tough workout at the gym, intensive skills development at the library, or a debate with people with differing views. Growth through adversity becomes a habit.
After we lost the hospitality project, I followed up with the owner to ask if there were weak parts in our bid that lost us the job—mostly to learn what I could have done to win for future reference. He admitted that our pricing was competitive (but still high), our bid was more detailed, our team was more knowledgeable, we were local, and even that he flat out liked us. However, we were not a pre-approved vendor with the hotel brand.
I thanked him for the feedback and marked the opportunity as lost in my CRM. Back at the office, I discussed the opportunity with my sales team and asked for strategies, as well as their opinions as to whether it was even worth pursuing the job further. The decision seemed done, so I wanted to let it go, but the advice I received was invaluable: an opportunity is not lost until the ink is dry.
A week later, I met with the live events director of the property adjacent to the hotel—the same owner. It was a public shopping and retail tenant development we had just finished. The live events director was thrilled with the work we had done, but even more important, he appreciated our willingness to support events and productions in the new space. When I pressed her about how events would interact with the hotel space, she admitted it would be a fairly joint effort, sharing resources and event audiovisual needs. I made a mental note at the time and gave the hotel’s IT director another call on the way home. This was my last-ditch effort to sway the project my way; I was working hard to keep my voice steady and confident, though my stomach was nothing but butterflies.
I relayed the conversation with the live events director and highlighted our commitment to being a boots-on-the-ground partner with world-class ability and experience. I attacked the two issues that blocked me from winning head on: price and approval. Would we have a shot at the job if we were both approved by the hotel chain and able to be more competitive on price? The answer, after a long pause, was everything I needed to hear to strap in and charge ahead full steam: “maybe.” After being told “no,” nothing sounds as sweet as a “maybe.” “Maybe” means the answer is not “no.” As obvious as that seems, anything but “no” is another day to fight.
Perseverance does not mean trying the same tactic over and over. It simply means refusing to quit.
Even with positive feedback from the owner’s point of contact that it was out of his control, I made the decision to look for another way to succeed.
The first hurdle was pricing. I pushed the owner to explain the scope provided by the winning contractor, and—surprisingly—wire was not included! The low-voltage contractor was handling wire for AV, but I had carried this in my pricing. This alone more than split the difference in cost. I looked at the bid spec again and noticed that the solution was spread out among several manufacturers. I reached out to my vendors to provide alternate solutions, increasing discounts over multiple product lines and a goal to win business from their competitors. The overall savings from alternate vendors got me close to where I needed to be, and a slight discount on my part sealed the deal.
The same week I submitted a revised proposal, I received word that the hotel chain had approved us for work, getting us over the second hurdle that had prevented us from winning the bid. True to the entire process, I had to reach out to the client several times a week to get feedback, but at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, I got the good news: we had been awarded the project.
The funny thing about sales is how hard you work to win more work. The last several months have involved change orders, coordinating with other trades, overcoming back orders and supply chain issues, and internal communication and project management. However, the satisfaction in having the opportunity to serve others and build something meaningful carries me through any hardships that may occur down the road. The steeper the mountain, the sweeter the summit. Learning how to overcome resistance in business is no different.
My charge to you is this: believe in yourself, rely on the team you have around you, and don’t take no for an answer. You absolutely have what it takes!