Leave Out The Ball Bearings

This is a common story they tell at Sandler sales training, but I’m repeating it here from memory – I might have some of the details wrong.

The Story

A nice young couple walk into a furniture store. They’re looking for a desk. They’re approached by a salesman on the floor. He’s helpful, he’s informed, he asks all the right questions to understand their needs, why they want a desk, where it’s going to go, their budget, their style preference, what they wanted, what they didn’t want, all of it. He knows his products backwards and forwards, and he guides them to the perfect desk. They love it. The wife says “That’s the one. We’ll take it.” SALE! Terrific!

And then, tragedy strikes. “You’re really going to love this desk.” says the sales guy. “See how these drawers pull in and out so smoothly? That’s because they’ve got these high-end ball bearings in the guides, so it’s totally frictionless!” 

“Stop.” says the husband. “We can’t buy this desk. When I was a kid, my little brother choked on some ball bearings and almost died. I could never have a desk with ball bearings in it in my house.” The couple thanks the salesman for this time and leaves. DEAL LOST.

What Went Wrong?

The salesman in this story was doing everything right, until he actually had the sale. Then he made a mistake that a lot of us make – he kept selling. If you’ve got an agreement in hand, it’s time to shut up and do the paperwork. The more you talk, the more chance you have of putting something out there – completely innocently – that derails the whole thing. In this case, it was ball bearings. But you never know what kind of beliefs (rational or irrational) someone might have that could interfere with an opportunity, or cause them to back out. So once you’ve got buy-in and everybody agrees on terms, STOP SELLING.

Not Just For Sales

This same pattern happens a lot in technical decisions. There’s something inside us that wants everyone to know we’re the expert, that we know this topic inside and out. In the story, the salesman got some internal satisfaction by showing the buyers that he knew every last technical detail about the desk they were buying, right down to those deal-killing ball bearings. We do this all the time:

  • Us: “Based on everything we’ve heard from you about performance and responsiveness requirements for this projects, we recommend using react.js on the front end.” 
  • Client: “OK, do it.” 
  • Us: “Yeah, it’s going to be great. React’s selective VirtualDOM rendering makes it a lot more responsive, and – “
  • Client: “Hold it, selective VirtualDOM rendering? My guys tried building that last year for us in-house. They spent 12 months and had nothing to show for it. I got burned with my boss and I’m still climbing out of the hole. You can’t use react.js. Find something else.”
  • Us: “Ummm……..”

vs. how that should have gone:

  • Us: “Based on everything we’ve heard from you about performance and responsiveness requirements for this projects, we recommend using react.js on the front end.” 
  • Client: “OK, do it.” 
  • Us: “Terrific. We’ll have the first feature set ready for you at the demo next week.”

In Conclusion:

Once you have buy-in – whether it’s on a project plan, a feature set, a budget, a contract, whatever – when everybody’s in agreement on what we’re going to do – STOP SELLING. MOVE ON. And please, leave the poor ball bearings out of it!