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The Hero Must Suffer: How to Earn $1MM in 10 Minutes

Spring 2011.

The economy was anything but strong. New homes starts were near all-time lows.

My title was Midwest Purchasing Manager for a national home builder. We were actively searching for a new millwork supplier in Chicago. What follows is the unbelievable true story of how one salesperson—someone I’d never met before—closed a million-dollar deal in less than ten minutes.

But at what margin, you ask? One that made the sales rep smile—and made me wince.

Now, you may be thinking, “A million-dollar, high-margin order from a national builder in 10 minutes? C’mon. That’s impossible.”

Embrace your skepticism, my friend. It happened. And more than that, the sales pro made me a hero in my office.

How’d he do it? He did it with just three things:

  1. A few intelligent questions
  2. Some 4th grade math
  3. More than a bit of courage

______________

“Bradley, you’ve got yourself a $1.4MM problem.”

“Do I? That sounds high,” I said dismissively.

“Just look at the board,” the sales rep said. “You gave me all these figures. This is what YOU said. I simply wrote them down.”

This salesman wasn’t wrong. When I told him I was in the process of replacing a supplier, he didn’t start rambling on about things I didn’t care about like most salespeople do. He simply asked if he could use the whiteboard on my wall and proceeded to ask me a couple dozen questions.

  • How many units did we close?
  • How many deliveries were made per unit?
  • Estimated OTIF percentage?
  • When deliveries are late or wrong, who does it affect?
  • Concrete guys? Masons? Carpenters?
  • What about the painter?
  • How much of your time does this waste?
  • What’s the opportunity cost?

This guy had an endless reservoir of curiosity about how this supplier (his competitor) was making my life—and the lives of my teammates managing the project—hell on earth.

I rolled my eyes and said, “C’mon man. Can you quit with the game of ‘One Million Questions,’ and simply pitch me like every other salesperson?”

“No. Answer that last question—how much?”

He was barely concealing his joy in making me suffer. All the scribbles on the whiteboard were in neat little organized lines. He was like a know-it-all 10-year-old preening before his multiplication and addition skills. In a circle at the bottom was $1.4MM.

“Fine then. Let’s say your detailed answers—the ones you just gave me about your current circumstances—” he cut himself off for dramatic effect. “Let’s just say these numbers are off by half.”

“Yeah. Let’s do that,” I replied, as I gave the medieval executioner more rope to wrap around my neck.

“Fine then. You’ve got yourself a $700K problem.”

______________

The Hero Must Suffer

I first learned of this foundational storytelling principle from Steven Pressfield. He wrote the book, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” (don’t blame him for the crappy movie adaptation) and the book that inspired the film, “300,” about the Battle of Thermopylae.

Pressfield has a gift for teaching the fundamentals of storytelling.

One of these fundamentals is this: The hero must suffer.

Now, think of your favorite movie. Consider how the hero suffers. For example, take “Stars Wars.” The hero is Luke Skywalker. This poor chap tries to date his sister, loses his hand, and learns his mortal enemy is his father.

In “Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne’s wife is murdered, he spends 28 years in prison, is assaulted by Bogs and The Sisters, sees his friend Brooks hang himself, and ultimately army crawls through a thousand yards of human waste.

In “The Big Lebowski,” burnout Jeffrey Lebowski—The Dude—is attacked in his own home, nearly drowns in his own toilet, has his rug peed on (the one that really ties the room together), and has the ceramic tile in his bathroom broken by a bowling ball—and that’s all in the first five minutes of the movie!

The hero must suffer. But why?

Pressfield writes: Why can’t the hero just be happy? Wouldn’t that work just as well in a story?

Answer: No. The hero has to suffer because suffering produces insight. Suffering leads to wisdom. Suffering forces the hero to change.

______________

The salesperson sits down. He gestures at the whiteboard.

“While $700K is a really big number, the good news is that we can help you solve it for a fraction of that.”

One week later, I was ready to award him the work. I tried to negotiate. That was part of my job as a professional buyer. To retain maximum value while unilaterally lowering the investment.

“Dude. What are you doing?” the sales rep said, offended.

“What?” I asked innocently. “I’m just sharing with you that you’re 2% high on these products in your bid. Can you sharpen your pencil?”

“No, I can’t. Here’s why: On our very first meeting you and I agreed you had—conservatively!—a $700K problem on your hands. This proposal is our best and final offer to solve that problem together. So now you have a decision to make: Do you want to do this? Yes or no?”

______________

Right now you are surely in the act of selling something. Because everyone is selling something. Maybe it’s a product. Or an idea. Or a behavior you want to see more of. Or maybe you’re selling yourself?

Maybe you’re selling to your boss. Or a client. Or a prospect. Or a subcontractor. Or a spouse.

Make them the hero. Understand their pain. Deeply.

Ask questions. Then ask more questions. Make the hero suffer.

 

Quantify the hero’s pain. Agree on the value of that pain.

Then sell your solution. It takes restraint and patience and persistence to withhold your knowledge of how to fix the problem—how to eliminate their pain.

But you must. You’re not the hero. They are.

And the hero must suffer. The suffering brings insight, wisdom, and change.

_____________

This methodology is just one of many topics we cover in the OSR Academy, our 12-month, blended-learning, LBM-specific sales development program. It was designed per the specifications of some of the country’s best LBM firms, and students learn from LBM industry experts and home builder CEOs.

If you are interested in learning more about how OSR Academy can help develop your next generation of sales leaders, visit osracademy.com.

 

Registration is now open for the LBM Strategies 2024 Conference