By Joel E. Crockett September 15, 2003 -- Grizzled, old veteran — that's how I was introduced recently to a group of printing sales representatives. I may be grizzled on the outside, I smiled to myself, but on the inside I'm young. Of course a lot of us “veterans” say that about ourselves. What we may not admit as readily is something else that happens on the inside; at least it happens to me. Once in a rare while, the fears and insecurities that haunted my younger days as a sales rep come back to visit. It's not pretty! A few weeks ago I got an RFP (request for proposal) from a company I really like and have, for some time, wanted to work with. I labored diligently. I was confident the proposal addressed some very important issues and opportunities for our prospective client. And in my gut, I knew they wanted to work with us. I also knew that the price tag was more than they expected. The business development program I proposed represented a significant investment on their part. I expected a response within a couple of days. It didn't come. Ah, but those old insecurities did. “They didn't call you, something's not right. You've got to call them,” I told myself. But I was afraid to. Afraid! I'm sixty-two years old, I've been selling for over forty of those years, I teach others how to sell more effectively, and I was afraid to make a phone call. There. I said it! And I made the call. My fears were confirmed. “Break out the costs so I can pick and choose and make this a cheaper package, that is if I choose to buy from you at all,” is what I heard . Of course, those weren't the exact word s. They were probably more like, “This is a pretty complex program. Please help me understand it better.” But I'd allowed myself to get defensive. Make no mistake; I wanted this project. So I told my prospect I'd send him more details, all the while asking myself how I could cut the price. I slept on it. And the next day I called him again. “Let's get together and talk about this,” I suggested. He agreed. “Look, Joel,” he began over lunch, “I don't understand why you need to spend time with our employees. And why is it necessary to interview clients? How is this going to help us make sales happen?” The questions kept coming. It was decision time for me. Should I pull some components out and appease my client? Or should I fight for the program the way I proposed it? What was my final answer? There are those who might say you and I are in different businesses. Are we? Sure, you sell graphic arts products and services and I sell business development services. But when I do my job correctly I bring value, and so do you. That's our job — not to sell product, but to bring value. To create outcomes. To improve results. Until we understand that; until we believe it; until we sell it with confidence, we'll be defensive. And when we're defensive, we devalue what we're selling, not to mention our ability to sell it. The early days were ha rd for me, as they are for many young salespeople in a competitive environment. I tried to please all the people, all the time. With the gift of growing older comes the confidence borne of time and grade — good ol' gritty, in-your-face experience. But even those of us who've been around awhile sometimes forget. My short-term fear reminded me of some important habits: • If it's worth taking the time to write a proposal, it's worth writing well. Work ha rd to make it good. • Follow up, face-to-face if possible. • When you learn a lesson, write it down. Remember it! • Understand the value you offer. Be prepared to talk about it with confidence. • Ask for the order. • Be afraid if you must, but do the right thing anyway. What was my final answer? I took a deep breath and stifled my earlier temptation to cut the price, or to piecemeal the project. I shared my reasons for talking with employees. I helped my prospect understand the value of soliciting customer input. I responded to his questions. I knew the program was right for his company and that shortcuts would undermine the results. I told him so with confidence and enthusiasm. “Is that your final answer?” he figuratively asked. “You bet,” was my answer. We got the project.