Susan Killen is an account manager at ZoomInfo, and to this day, she still thinks back to a deal she closed over 20 years ago. It takes an enormous amount of energy and output to earn trust. To break it would be so destructive because you’ll never get it back. On this week’s episode, Susan tells us what it’s like to say no to the customer and how it ultimately changed the course of the deal.
Stephanie Tonneson: Susan Killen is an account manager at ZoomInfo, and to this day, she still thinks back to a deal she closed over 20 years ago.
Susan Killen: It takes an enormous amount of energy and output to earn trust. To break it would be so destructive, because you’ll never get it back.
Stephanie Tonneson: On this week’s episode, Susan tells us what it’s like to say no to the customer.
Susan Killen: And they were pretty shocked. I don’t think they’ve ever had a salesperson tell them no.
Stephanie Tonneson: And how it ultimately changed the course of the deal.
Susan Killen: When they came back and said,”What’ll it take?” I said,” It’ll take all of this,” which, again, I’m thinking,” There’s no way.”
Stephanie Tonneson: That and more on this week’s episode of Pretty Big Deal. Yeah, I want to know about a particular deal that taught you a lesson or that you learned a lot from, or changed the way that you think about sales.
Susan Killen: The account that taught me about no was Nortel, actually. No, there’s the first two letters of Nortel. They were an account that I was working with years and years ago, over 10 years ago. I was a new account manager, so actually over 20 years ago. That was very different for me as the only female on my team in 1996, maybe. I don’t even know how many years ago. But yeah, so I didn’t come in with a ton of credibility. I worked for a military guy. All his guys were saluters. I am not necessarily a saluter type. I was trying to sell them an embedded database for their phone switching and routing system. I met with the team, and no one on the team was dedicated to the project. Everyone had other full- time jobs and were kind of sidelined on the project. But they were looking to invest some money, and the infrastructure just wasn’t going to support what they wanted to do. So I had to make a decision pretty early on in the conversation that, without a whole- scale change to your environment and your approach, we need some dedicated resources on this project, this is not going to be successful.
Stephanie Tonneson: In the moment where you realized,” Okay, I have to tell them no, even though…” What’s going through your head in that moment? Was there any hesitation?
Susan Killen: Closed lost. No. Everybody has got their own approach. My approach is anchored on integrity. I absolutely will not and cannot sell you stuff that you can’t use, and that’s just always been my nature. I’ve got to work with these people for a long time. I’ve been doing this 30 years, and I see the same people over and over again, so you can’t break trust. It takes an enormous amount of energy and output to earn trust. To break it would be so destructive, because you’ll never get it back. As soon as I realized that we didn’t have a fit, I closed lost it in the system. I told my boss this wasn’t coming in. I’m like, okay, the only alternative to losing a deal is backfill. You’ve got to backfill and find more opportunities. That was what was going through my head at the time, was,” Okay, not an opportunity. We’ve qualified it out.”
Stephanie Tonneson: Where were you in terms of hitting your number at that point? Did you really need that sell?
Susan Killen: Yes. I was brand new. I had very little in the door. This was going to be my first big deal. Yeah, desperate for that money, absolutely desperate for it, but what are you going to do? Take it once and then never do business with them again, or anyone they’ve ever met.
Stephanie Tonneson: Okay, so you tell them no, and then what happened?
Susan Killen: I told them I didn’t think the infrastructure was going to support it, that a part- time team wasn’t going to be able to get this done, and that I didn’t think we should put the level of effort, and I couldn’t invest my company’s time and resources into something I know wasn’t going to be successful. They were pretty shocked. I don’t think they’ve ever had a salesperson tell them no. The room kind of went quiet and they were like,” Well, what do we do?” I’m like,” I don’t know.” The next day, they came back and said,” Well, what would it need to look like?” I thought,” Wow. Okay, let’s get some engineers.” We got some engineers together and crafted out what it would need to look like, sent it in an email. I didn’t even set up a phone call for this because I didn’t think that it would be reasonable to expect them to change their infrastructure and approach to this project based on a 27- year- old gal’s assessment of their environment. When they came back and said,” What will it take?” I said,” It’ll take all of this,” which, again, I’m thinking,” There’s no way.” Then two days later they came back and said,” Okay, we’re ready to talk. Help us with our infrastructure. Get an engineer on. We want to do this,” and we closed the deal within a week. For me, it was like$ 85,000 or something. 20 years ago, that was a big, big deal, and Nortel was a big company for us. The company I was working for was tiny, so that was really material for us. But for me, it was really eye- opening. Yeah, it was huge. It gave me an enormous amount of credibility and confidence, and it gave me a lot of credibility with our technical staff, actually, which meant I could get resources more easily because they believed I wasn’t a jackass or a jerk.
Stephanie Tonneson: What is your advice to other salespeople?
Susan Killen: Advice to other salespeople. Trust your gut. Be honest. Be a mensch. Be a person. You’re dealing with other people. Integrity, that’s your stock- in- trade. If you’re going to have a career that lasts beyond 10 years, you’re going to be working with these same people over and over and over again, and if you do great by them, they maybe tell four or five people how great you are. You do wrong by them, they tell everybody they know, dozens of people, how bad you are. There’s a lot to lose, and it does come back. So I would say, when in doubt, if you’re trying to choose between your own well- being or the customer’s well- being, the customer’s well- being is your well- being. You always need to choose their well- being.
Stephanie Tonneson: This episode of Pretty Big Deal: Stories from the Sales Floor features Susan Killen from ZoomInfo and was produced by me, Stephanie Tonneson. If you have a pretty big deal you want to tell us about, let us know by writing in to prettybigdeal @ zoominfo. com. Otherwise, we’ll see you on the next episode.