My Beautiful Disaster

In 1998 I was thrust into a role that tested my resolve.

Marriott purchased a corporate housing company named ExecuStay and I was selected to run it.

Corporate housing is a business that focuses on executives on temporary assignment or individuals being relocated by companies. At Marriott, our goal was to find out where these folks wanted to live (temporarily) and then rent, furnish and sublease them the apartment.

You can imagine the pitfalls we faced in New York City.

When I came on board I had many things to worry about. My day was filled with things like: finding apartments in the middle of a huge housing crunch, negotiating leases, setting up utilities, providing furniture, electronics and housewares and having the apartments cleaned.

The one thing I didn’t think about when I took the job was sales.

You see, there was already a sales team in place and they were doing about $800,000 per year in annual revenue.

Well, I soon realized my greatest challenge was going to be something I never anticipated.

As it turns out, the sales team had never been trained on “relationship based selling.” Instead, they were answering the phone and using a “closing script.” A typical sales call would go something like this:

“Yes, Mr. Jones. I have an apartment on East 57th Street between 3rd and Lexington. The rent is $10,500 per month. Do you want it? I understand you need to check with your wife but if you don’t give me an answer now, I’m sure someone else will take the apartment by the time you call back. “

This was a disaster.

I was shocked that anyone ever gave these folks their money. In fact, our three competitors in New York were at least 10 times the size of us. This lead me to believe we needed to make some changes.

Having been a “restructuring and repositioning” expert for Marriott Hotels for years, I though I was going to need to fire the entire staff and start over.

My first task was to evaluate each member of the sales team on an actual, proactive, outside sales call.

One by one, I went out with them to meet executives at some of the biggest companies in the world. Each time, I found the members of my team to be warm, genuine and charismatic.

It turns out; they were all good people who wanted to be successful. They had just been given bad training.

So we started over and I stressed one thing and one thing only: LISTENING.

Our mantra became: “First seek to understand then seek to be understood.”

Instead of puking benefits and features on the clients when they called us, we visited business leaders and asked about their goals. Then we asked why these goals were important to the company. Finally we asked how achieving these goals would impact the business leader personally. Understanding our clients’ company’s business, help give us some perspective and it also helped us empathize with the people they were placing in our apartments. This made all the difference.

After we had a relationship with the decision maker in company, we then had the same discussion with the client (the person staying in the apartment).

“Where would you like to live? Why is that location important to you? How will living there impact you, personally? Oh I see. You want to live in that neighborhood because it is close to the office. Oh, and you have a small child so you want to be near the park. Oh and your wife works downtown so being close to the subway is also important. Now that I understand your needs, I think I have the perfect place for you. Can I meet you there so you can take a look at it?”

In three short years, using those same people, that business grew from $800,000 in revenue to over $50 million in annual revenue.

Same people. Better process. One based upon understanding.

What I initially thought was a disaster was actually an unpolished diamond.

Since that time, I’ve looked at things differently. I now go into each consulting engagement (and each coaching relationship) expecting success from the people with whom I work. Just because they are not successful now, doesn’t mean they will not be successful with the right technique and system.

The next time you see something that’s a mess, think of my “beautiful disaster.”

You simply need to clean things up and apply the right process and what seems crazy today will be a huge triumph down the road.

Here are three additional articles to think about while you are thinking about sales:

Where do you plug in to improve sales?

This may sound like an odd question but creating your own process of continuous improvement is important.

How to Sell Yourself

The first sale is always to yourself. But do you know how to sell yourself to others?

How to Close the Deal Faster

If you like speed, you’ll love this podcast episode. Listen today.