I will never forget the first significant deal I put together (sold), and how it changed my life.
Up until the point of this story, I had sold alot of products and services, and it was by no means my first sale, but it was the most impactful for me, for a variety of reasons.
I took a job with this company, (1994) as they opened up offices in NYC, (it was part of their plan of going national, after raising significant capital) -- the company was based in, Houston TX.
It was a legal document services company, catering to lawyers, paralegals, and copy center managers.
My primary job was sell to paralegals, and handle all of the legal copy work for large litigation cases. Our competition ranged from other copy companies, who charged 1/3 of what our rates were, as well as in the in-house copy center -- typically run by Pitney Bowes, Xerox, or the firm itself.
I wore a suit everyday, and hauled boxes in good clothes through the halls of some of the largest firms in the country. Our prices were naturally much higher than anyone in the industry -- because we sold on SERVICE, and superior PRODUCTION.
When I started this job, I was given a territory that was pretty, BEAT DOWN. The sales rep before me had too much on his plate, as the office opened, the production facility was not ready handle anything (let alone a big firms copy work) -- and my companies BRAND, amongst the large LAW firms, was negative.
My job was to "re-brand" - and "re-sell" three major law firms, on my new company --- and begin to repair the damaged relationships, and get revenue.
Now mind you, this rebranding effort that I was tasked with, was NOT something launched from damage done to the clients years before. The damage was done 2 months prior to my hire --- so the wounds (from the client perspective) from bad service, and missed deadlines, was only 60 days young --- I had to sell against errors that happened only 2 months prior......
The company had only been in NYC for 6 months total, before my first day. It was not like they had years to earn their stripes, and garner a positive reputation -- they were, BRAND NEW.
Other sales reps told me I got screwed by my manager for giving me such a bad territory.
"Andy, you will never get any orders from those firms in your territory -- our company screwed up so bad, it will take years before your firms in your territory, will even consider us again...."
"Start looking for another job."
"You better get your goal lowered, or you will make no money."
I was intimidated. I came home after my first week, and thought I had made a collosal mistake in taking this job.
Then I crafted a plan.
My plan was to identify the top ten partners in each law firm, based on their caseloads -- and public litigation documents, filed with the Southern District Court in Lower Manhattan.
I then made a list of the top 2 paralegals in each firm.
I shared a small office with 4 other sales representatives -- EVERYONE WAS BUSY, and doing better than I was -- the new guy (ME) in the absence of work, had to prove I was working hard, somehow.
I went out and bought large index cards. On each card, I wrote the name of the person at the top of the card, and taped it to the wall around my desk.
Other sales reps laughed and joked at my effort.....
These names on index cards taped around my desk, became my, visual world at work.
One name in particular I focused on, and I made it a point to get in front of her quickly.
Her name was, Karen.
Karen was described to me as a tough, no-nonsense, hard to please paralegal, she worked with the same "white-shoe" law firm of 20+ years. Karen was in her mid-40's, single -- and had a big reputation in the industry. Many said, "she is more powerful than some of the major partners at the firm, everything runs through her....."
"Andy, she hates us - the sales rep before you did a poor job, gave her bad service, and she swore she would NEVER use our company again. Do not waste your efforts on her." (this was from my manager)
My response was, "I only have 3 firms in my entire territory, if I follow your guidance and do not try to get business from her, 1/3 of my territory will be lost...."
I set out to win Karen over.
First off, this was before the acceptance of email as a primary communication tool. I had no computer in 1994.....so email as part of my job, was non-existent.
I hate voicemail. You will NEVER win a deal on voicemail. I made commitment to try to get Karen to spend time with me, face to face -- and NOT in her office.
Not lunch either.....
I set out writing short, handwritten notes on white plain paper to Karen.
The notes centered around how sorry I was about her previous experience with my company, and how I was different, and through my unique approach, I would make it up to her.
I got no response from Karen.
My notes which had started off as apologies, morphed into something different. The letters to her became a tool for me to write - what I was learning about my new job, and the new company.
The notes to Karen took on a new tone. I went from apologizing in my earlier notes to, writing about how we were different. How I was different.
"Karen, did you know that yesterday our office turned around 39 jobs in less than 2 hours -- of priority rush jobs more than 2500 pages? All, went back to our clients with no ERRORS reported."
And, I closed with something funny.
"Last night I waited at work till 9pm, waiting for you to call me -- and shock me with a project, I left at a little after 9, and would'nt you know it -- on my way home, I think I saw Elvis eating a hot dog on 53rd and 6th. Staying late waiting for you to call me, was worth it after all."
The notes to her were sent twice a week. Mailed on Monday and Tuesday.
(Some of you may say that this is "stalker like" in my approach. I want to emphasize to you that in no time were any of my communications anything but an attempt to prove value and show her I could be a valuable asset to her daily working life.")
The communication was always short, light, and hopefully impactful.
My notes to Karen twice a week, went on for 3 months.
Friday evening in the spring. I will never forget it, because I was scheduled to leave for Philadelphia after work that night -- to see The Grateful Dead, playing The Spectrum in Philly, that weekend.
Over the intercom.....words I will never forget.
"call for Andy on 101 -- Karen C."
I picked up, and here is the conversation that ensued:
"Andy, this is Karen C."
My reply -- "Karen, thanks so much for calling me..."
"Andy, I have no idea who you are, and you are either crazy ,or insanely great....and anyone who is as dedicated to getting my attention with such intensity deserves a chance. Before you say a word, and I'm forced to change my mind, come over here right away....."
I ran out of the office, and into a life changing event.
As I walked into Karen's corner office on the 26th floor (mind you this is a paralegal, with a CORNER office) -- she stood up and shook my hand firmly, as she put out her cigarette in a ashtray full of Virginia Slims.
"Andy, a pleasure to meet you, let's get past the niceties."
My letters were in manilla folder on her desk....stacked neatly, saved -- with a SMILEY FACE ON THE FRONT.
She launched right into it,
"Follow me, I will give you your chance."
I walked with her to another floor and into one of the largest litigations in the history of the US. She took me to a room, filled with hundreds of boxes that needed to have multiple copies, bates labeled, and FEDEXED to opposing counsels around the country. (The actual case will give away the firm, and I'd like to keep this anonomous.)
"Can you handle this, Mr. Note Man? I mean, I could give this project to anyone, and frankly I have VERY little confidence in your organization -- but I'm giving YOU this chance to prove to me, you are as good as your short notes......and it's your opportunity."
I could not breathe.
That weekend, I worked from the time of that phone call (afternoon Fri) until midnight Saturday, without stopping....taking inventory of boxes, cataloging bates labels -- and anxiously, changing my life.
I coordinated a immediate meeting with the production managers, to inform them of the scope and importance of this project. I stayed at the office for 24 hours to work -- but more importantly I remained to give a speech to 3 different production shifts. I implored and explained to every single employee on the production floor, how I had managed to come into this project, and I explained, "IF WE DO THIS RIGHT TOGETHER - WE WILL ALL BENEFIT THROUGH MORE HOURS AND MORE OPPORTUNITY FOR A LONG TIME TO COME."
I catered lunch for all three shifts from, The Stage Deli. The production workers loved and appreciated it. I knew as hard as I sold Karen (the paralegal) on giving me this huge litigation case-- my next task was to SELL my internal folks on HOW VALUABLE THEY WERE. I had to feed them with food, but more importantly I had to feed their egos, and show them love....SINCERE LOVE.
Let's just say, I rose up at the company to become one of the top sales representatives nationwide. For 5 straight years, I attended every national award event (for highest producing reps) from the Carribean, to Vegas, to Arizona.....
My other 2 firms eventually started working with me as well, and soon I hired 2 full time assistants to help me cover my SMALL territory, that my colleagues told me when I started, would amount to a hill of beans.
One of my assistants, I forced to follow his dream of being a sportscaster while we were hauling boxes for Karen one rainy day.....he is HERE, and I'm damn proud of him. (I listen to him every day on the radio here in NYC)...I told him to follow his dream -- and he did.
Karen and I became friendly, never friends. If she is reading this, on behalf of me, my family, and my future, I want to thank you for the trust and confidence, you placed in my 13 years ago.
It was a life changer.
The experience taught me so much, but looking back - here is what I realized, as we pass our 10th employee at MY COMPANY.
Focus on Changing the Game.
Risk being laughed at.
Risk FAILURE every day.
Write handwritten notes.
And, most of all positive karma -- or leave what you are doing.
As soon as the job with the copy company got boring I walked away..... walked away from money, and stability, to go to a startup. Leaving the production workers who I came to love, hurt me more than anything in my professional career. They helped make me who I am, as much, if not more than, Karen did.
I went to help 2 brothers build a internet company.
You know why I left the copy business to go to a startup? --- The brothers had EVERY ATTRIBUTE I listed above, and ONE MORE that I'm trying to achieve, as we speak.
It is priceless, a rare commodity -- and requires all of the ingredients above.
I've been extremely lucky to surround myself professionally with people like Karen, and production workers, co-workers, and leaders, that have made me a better person.
The mistakes I've made along the way have helped me grow.
But, look for your GAME CHANGING deal in your life, identify it when it comes along -- and then seize it.
It makes for a game changing, LIFE.