You Don’t Need Super-Salesmanship
For years, ever since I played football, people have come to me to say, “I’ve got this great idea, if only you would be willing to sell it for me.”
But the honest truth is, I’m not a great salesman. That doesn’t stop people from coming to me and telling me we could make millions if only I’d sell their great idea, and that they’d be willing to give me as much as 1% of it! Or they’ll say, “Fran, if you’d put just a few hundred thousand dollars into this idea, it could really make us both millions of dollars.” I ask them what they want to do with the money, and it’s always either to hire more salespeople or to expand to new outlets. They come to me all the time. But I’ve learned to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just Say No.” Look, if your big idea needs super-salesmanship, if your idea needs super funding, it’s not so big after all. Steven Jobs didn’t sell the iPad; he announced it. If you’ve got a truly great idea, you’ll only have to announce it and inform people about it.
Four years after I stopped playing football, I opened a software business. Most people thought I’d just played too long without a helmet. We worked our way up to two or three million dollars of revenues and probably two million dollars of net losses. It was a bad business, but a great idea.
I was young, brash, and thought I could do anything, but I just couldn’t make it work. I thought I could do it myself, but I couldn’t make this technology company work. At the time, IBM dominated the technology industry, and one of my software guys was convinced that our products could be compatible with IBM. I wasn’t sure, but he kept insisting. Finally, I called up John Akers, the head of IBM at the time, and introduced myself: “I’m Fran Tarkenton,” I said, “and my engineer has this crazy notion that this technology will be compatible with IBM. Is it possible to meet with your engineers?”
He said it would absolutely be possible, and we went to IBM to talk about our technology. There were 30 IBMers in the room, and I was afraid that we’d be wasting their time. I pulled out a stopwatch I had and told the room, “You’ve been so nice to meet with us and hear what we have to say, and I don’t want to waste any of your time. So I’m going to put 30 minutes on this stopwatch and then we’ll leave.” They laughed, and we went on with the meeting. The 30 minutes passed, and they still wanted me to stay. We kept going for 3 hours!
The result? IBM invested $10 million dollars in our company, and we rapidly turned the company into a success. I never thought that they would be interested in what we were doing, and hadn’t realized just how important a good partner would be. We came up with our idea, they happened to love it, and it created a powerful partnership.
Adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book, One More Customer