My Humbling, Disappointing, Embarrassing Sales Lesson. With Barbecue.

in Cooking and Barbeque, Questioning

I experienced a disappointing, expensive, and humbling sales lesson a couple of months ago. (Yeah, it’s taken me this long to really go public with it.)

Many of you know I have competed in barbecue cooking competitions over the past 20 years or so.

Without getting into too much detail for the brief story, I’ve got a track record of being pretty good at it.

I’ve won awards at a high level.

I also get invited to bring my food to a lot of parties.

So I hadn’t done a competition for about four years, although I still cook regularly (I own four high-end smokers. Some guys collect cars. Cookers for me).

I had been missing the competition part, big time, for some time.

I noticed there was a contest right here in the Phoenix area. Perfect. It was during the holidays. I was in town. So I got in it.

Since I don’t do contests regularly like I did a few years ago in Omaha where I had an entire team, with trailers, tables, equipment etc. all packed and ready to go each week, I had to make arrangements to rent a camper, buy equipment I didn’t have on hand… it’s more than a minor production.

I was jazzed.

And of course, I felt confident.

I’m experienced. I’ve done a lot of these.

And even though I hadn’t competed in a few years, I’m constantly practicing and tweaking my techniques and recipes.

So I cooked at the competition like I had in the past.

In fact, I felt I turned in as good–or better–brisket, ribs and pork than I had won with in the past (beating some of the guys you see on TV on the barbecue contest cooking shows).

Fast forward to the results.

I didn’t come in DFL (dead f—ing last), but I was close.

My first reaction was, “What? How could this be? How could they not just love my stuff?”

“What’s wrong with those judges?”

(Sound familiar, fellow sales pro, after losing a deal?)

But, reality kicked in.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that turning in meat at a competition for judges is WAY different than the product I serve to raving friends at parties, who say I should open a restaurant.

My sales lesson: It doesn’t matter what I think is good.

At a contest, it doesn’t matter what friends and guests at parties say is awesome.

It only matters what judges think is good, at that very moment.

(Substitute “judges” with “prospects and customers.”)

I am a Kansas City Barbecue Society Certified Judge. I took the class 15 years ago specifically so I could learn what judges are looking for.

Then I judged a few contests, including the American Royal, the World Series of Barbecue, so I could experience firsthand what judges felt was the best of the best.

I interviewed other judges back then.

I had it dialed in.

And I began giving judges what they wanted, based on my research, questioning, and observing.

Fast forward.

Things changed in competition barbecue.

I didn’t.

Good food is good food, sure.

But today, my understanding (from later speaking with other cooks and some judges) is that many of today’s judges take themselves way too seriously, and are nitpicking and looking for things (exotic flavors, perfect surgical trimming of meat, shininess, placement in the box, etc.) that weren’t a major part of it years ago.

It’s exactly the same as sales.

What YOU think is great does not mean squat unless they do too.

The only way to find out, is to find out.

In our case in sales, it’s to ask.

In my case with barbecue competitions, it’s to go through the judging class again, do more actual judging in competitions, and interviewing other cooks and judges again.

Which I plan to do.

What can you do to avoid similar mistakes with prospects and customers?

(I actually shared this first with the subscribers of my monthly Smart Calling Reporttraining letter. It’s eight pages of my newest material, and the best material that I collect each month. You can get the new issue coming out next week, and the past 10 YEARS of issues, over 120 of them, for just 50 cents today–instant access– with a limited-time special offer. See all the details, and an actual sample issue here.)

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