Fable Friday:  RIP Jerry Weintraub and how stories help you sell

This week saw the passing of Jerry Weintraub, the great Hollywood writer, producer and agent. I wrote one of my first posts about him in 2011, and I’m repeating it here because it contains a useful sales lesson.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOne of my clients is CEO of a software company selling to a niche industry.  But his software wasn’t so robust, and glitches, crashes and lots of service requests left his customer base disgruntled.  Many abandoned him and went with other providers.  He told me, “Now the software works fine.  I’ve corrected the weaknesses, created patches for some defects and provided better central support.  But when my salespeople go to former customers and tell them how we’ve fixed the software and ask them to come back, they won’t budge.  What should I do?”

So I told him a story about Jerry Weintraub, who handled a number of top entertainment clients, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra and John Denver.  In his book Weintraub told of the time John Denver wanted to fire him:

“He was in Europe on tour. And everything was wrong. He hated everything. He hated the venues. The airplanes were no good. The sound systems were no good. Everything was no good. And he said, ‘Jerry I’m going to fire you; everything is wrong here.’ I said, ‘yeah, I know, I know.’

I said, ‘John, everything is going to be fine because today I fired Ferguson.’ He said, ‘Why did you fire Ferguson? What is firing him going to do?’ I said, ‘He’s been responsible for all the things that you’re troubled by: the hotels, the sound system, the venues, all of it.’ And he said, ‘It’s going to be okay now?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m putting other people in.  Everything will be great.’

And that evening at dinner I said to him, ‘John, you know, I feel really terrible about firing Ferguson.’ He asked why. I said, ‘Because it’s not like you and it’s not like me.’ And John Denver said to me, ‘I agree with you; it’s not like us. What can we do to help the guy? We’ve got to help him.’ I said, ‘I’ll put him in another area in the company. He’ll be fine. We’ll take good care of him.’ He said, ‘That’s great, I feel so much better.’

Of course, there never was anybody named Ferguson.”

So I asked my client, “Do you see what you should do?”  And of course he did.  He had his salespeople tell the old customers, “That software we sold you had too many problems.  We got rid of it and went with a new supplier. The new software works perfectly now.  We want you to come back with us and we’ll give you a free trial,” and then he started getting his old customers back.

There’s a lesson here, or maybe several of them.  First, powerful stories are a great way to teach. In the training room when I say, “Let me share a story with you,” there is an immediate and positive change in the learners’ body language.  Second, while it’s not right to lie to customers, the ability to position what you say will help influence the way people think.  By packaging all the customers’ problems in one box called “Ferguson” and saying, “That problem is now gone,” both Weintraub and my client were successful in helping people see things in a different and positive way.

The customer simply wants to hear the solution, not about the patches and fixes.  So just tell him, “I fired Ferguson.”  That’s how to…

Think Like Your Customer

Advertisements

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: