I remember the day clearly. It was a huge demo, the biggest I had ever participated in. This one was bigger though since I was the one leading the charge. The deal rested solely on this one demo, this one moment, going exceedingly well. My only thought the minute before it was our turn to present was, “Don’t screw this up!”
Three weeks back, I got word that the account manager for this prospect had gotten terribly sick and was going to be out indefinitely. We had precise specifications to follow as outlined by the consultant firm helping this global bank with a massive customer experience transformation. Basically they were going to put their entire global organization across 67 countries on a single CRM system.
The account was handed off to me. This meant I had to lead the demo and complete the necessary configurations necessary to show we had the capabilities to support them. I was well-versed in corporate banking, so when I reviewed the scenarios, I knew this would require more, much more, than simple configuration.
The task before me was overwhelming. I had to assemble a team. The tasks before us were to storyboard the demo, determine what was configuration versus customization, create an entirely new data set to make the scenarios work, write a script, and bring together multiple different teams to ensure we could support the functionality being asked for by the bank. Then there was the matter of integrating an analytics tool that we just acquired and was a critical component for a successful demo.
I did not know if we could pull it all together in time. I sat through numerous delays in responses, fights among team members, stonewalling from product managers, and general large enterprise tech company chaos and inertia. I was the quarterback for this effort, but felt my job was mostly an ongoing cycle of escalations, arguments, nudging, and pleading. I lived in the office for days on end pulling all-nighters so we could stay on track and do all the things needed to bulletproof the demo.
It was really more than a demo. It was a proof-of-concept. We had to convince a room full of 85 managing directors, department heads, and the president of the bank that we understood their needs and the business. We were up against two other CRM vendors that were throwing everything they had into winning the business. And it was not just about outdoing the competition. If no vendor was able to convince the executive team that they could adequately support their needs, they could simply walk away and not choose anyone.
The Eminem song from 8 Mile comes to mind when I think back to that moment in front of an auditorium full of people deciding out fate…
“You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow,
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime”
I do not remember much from the demo iteself. It seemed to go according to plan as was rehearsed. Not a single hiccup or snag or foible. Mostly I just felt distant and numb from lack of sleep and residual adrenaline running through my veins. What jolted me back to reality was the applause I heard, first from a few people in front, then the entire audience. They were standing and applauding us, the team, for the demo we just completed.
I bowed, a reflex from my theater and musician days. I felt everything inside my skin melt and turn to liquid, as the stress that was holding my being together loosened at the atomic level. I was pretty sure I would soon turn into a gaseous form, float out of the auditorium, and evaporate into nothingness.
We made sure to leave the building and get well beyond their offices before we visibly high-fived each other. Though worn out and frazzled, our team of eight tired souls had enough energy left to acknowledge our resounding success. It was at that moment that our boss said we were going to celebrate. She called around a few places, booked a table for us at one of the hottest restaurants in town, and then we hopped in cabs to head over there.
I came in late to the office the next morning. I should say late morning because it was past 11 AM. My head was in a fog. Messages were piling up in my inbox. I walked into my boss’s office to apologize, when she stopped me mid-sentence and said:
“You earned the time to celebrate.”
She had also stumbled into the office late. She was in no mood to apologize though. Her team, with me leading the charge, turned a desperate situation into real chance. It would be six months later before the deal was officially closed. It ended up being one of the biggest deals of the quarter and one of our best customers. Without that demo though, there would have never been an opportunity to begin with.
There is a saying that goes “celebrate the small victories.” The sentiment is right, but the word “small” never felt right. I always thought of it as the “steps” to victory. The path to anything meaningful and impactful is going to require lots of work, time, and a bit of serendipity whether it is a launching a new territory or bringing a new product to market. This is why sports teams celebrate getting into the playoffs or winning a hard-fought match. Sure, it is not the championship, but they got a step closer.
Here in my role at AWS, I have had my own steps toward reaching a bigger vision. The AWS Startups Show on Clubhouse is now 5,700 members since launching the club a few months ago. We have hosted a 100 shows, reached nearly 40,000 people listening for over 190,000 minutes, and have directly helped over 400 founders, sales and marketing folks, and other startup operators with their questions.
There is much more room to grow the show and build a genuine community. It takes great content such as the shows we have hosted, big events to build anticipation, and a means for everyone to engage with each other. And this is a way bigger idea than just AWS, it is about helping startups to build, grow, and scale successfully. In that journey, sales is a critical component and one of the great joys I have had with the Enterprise Sales Forum is the opportunity to connect the builders with the sellers. Both are needed to take an idea and launch it into the world as an actual business. If this idea excites you as well, let’s chat more!
And thanks again for all of your support over the past several years. I look forward to sharing more about the community I am building to connect the builders and sellers together and will welcome you there in the next few months when it launches.
And in the meantime, make sure to celebrate those wins, you earned it!
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.