A View From 35,000 Feet – The Secret of Doing Business with MR BIG

I’m a fan of MR BIG.  He’s my best business prospect. MR BIG is a “no bull” personality.  He is the kind of prospect that can make business decisions happen. Doing business with MR BIG is C-Suite sales strategy at its finest. (See my Meet MR BIG post). 

Here’s the story of my first meeting with a business prospect that revealed himself as a MR BIG. He not only identified himself, he shared the secrets of successful business relationships with other MR BIGs.

I’d had several meetings over a year or more with MR BIG before the Big Meeting. Sometimes we met in his office. Other times we met in a coffee shop or the company cafeteria. The meetings were always productive. They were short and sweet. A bit formal and rather cold. I nearly always came away with an order.  However, it was as if the buying decision had been made before I arrived. It felt like my sales presentation was a mere formality that must be endured for the transaction to take place.

I knew MR BIG to be a C-Suite Vice President with global responsibility and authority. His business card said so.  His office, the location for several meetings, was as individual as he was.  No desk, a coffee table instead.  In front of a sofa with a couple easy chairs facing.  Soft mood lighting accompanied by soothing background music.  Artwork graced the walls. His office seemed like some cozy corner in a hotel lobby rather than a seat of corporate authority.  MR BIG was tech savvy.  His laptop, clearly vital to his success, was the only bit of “business” in the office.   

A new whiz-bang thingy, from one of the firms we represented, found a home in my briefcase.  It was perfect for MR BIG.  Time for another meeting.  MR BIG and I were more than a thousand miles apart.  In a world of hub and spoke air travel, we were both at the end of a long spoke.  Each of us needed at least an hour and a half to get to the airport.  From there a commuter plane to a hub airport.  My hub was Atlanta.  MR BIG’s was Minneapolis.  That meant a full day of travel from my Florida base to visit MR BIG in northern Minnesota.  A big investment of time and money for a relatively short face to face. 

I began assembling a sales presentation that rivaled a Spielberg production.  More than 50 slides in my PowerPoint deck.  Features and benefits.  Charts, animated graphics.  Answers to anticipated questions.  Award winning stuff.  The order form??  It was already filled with necessary details.  All that was lacking was MR BIG’s signature.  Was I prepared??  You bet.  Cocked, locked and ready to rock.  MR BIG, sitting in his cozy hotel lobby corner style office, was going to be blown away with this stuff.

Next, it was time to arrange the meeting. Emails, text messages, voice mails and phone calls went back and forth between me and MR BIG.  Tuesday morning? No, how about Wednesday afternoon?? No, next week? No, how about the week after? Making the connection was proving difficult. MR BIG took a different tack. He asked me about my travel schedule. I told him. We quickly discovered that we were both going to be passing through the same hub airport on the same day and nearly the same time. Problem solved. MR BIG suggested we meet at the airport. He promised to provide details.

A few days before our scheduled airport rendezvous, MR BIG phoned. He arranged for us to meet in a conference room on the second level of the main concourse of the Minneapolis airport. I agreed and didn’t reveal that I had no clue about conference rooms at the airport. The day arrived. I flew from Florida to Atlanta to Minneapolis. Navigated the concourses to the center of the airport. Looked up and saw office suites. This was gonna be a hell of a lot better that meeting in the coffee shop, I thought.  A receptionist met me upon arrival and escorted me to a conference suite. Mr. Big greeted me at the door.  I entered the room and found a big conference table with all the technology connections built in. A large screen at the end of the room for my award-winning PowerPoint. A fruit basket, coffee service, bottles of water and a plate of pastries. This was gonna be great. We engaged in small talk while I plugged wires and cables into the laptop.  MR BIG lowered the room lights.  I clicked the laptop on and proceeded with slide number one of fifty. He sat there quietly. Nodding in agreement from time to time.

It was slide seven or eight when MR BIG stood up and brightened the lights.  He looked at me and said “Hang on a minute, Steve. Let me share something with you.” MR BIG walks up to the whiteboard, grabs a marker pen and draws a couple stick figures.  He says, “This is you and me.”

MR BIG then asks me, “Where are we, Steve?”  I answer, “Minneapolis.”  MR BIG says, “Be more specific, Steve.”  “At the airport!” I respond.  I’m getting the hang of how this game is played.  MR BIG then adds an airplane to his drawing. 

MR BIG continues the conversation by asking me, “And what are we going to do here at the airport, Steve?”  I have this game figured out.  “We’re going to fly, MR BIG,” I say excitedly.  MR BIG looks me in the eye and says, “That’s right, Steve, you and I are going to fly.  Come on up to 35,000 feet in altitude with me.” 

I wasn’t sure where this was headed. MR BIG is grinning when he asks the next question. “Come over here and look out the window of the airplane from 35,000 feet, Steve. Tell me what you see,” says MR BIG. I’m starting to fumble now. Maybe the game isn’t so easy after all. “I see little buildings and trees and cars,” I offer up timidly. “Anything else?” MR BIG challenges. “Nope,” I reply. Things are getting uncomfortable. I’m fresh out of easy answers.

MR BIG grabs the marker pen and draws again.  “Don’t look down.  Look in front of the plane, Steve.  See what I see.  In front of the plane, you can see the curve of the earth.  You can see the horizon.  You can see where we are headed,” says MR BIG.  His grin has turned into a gotcha smile.

You can see the big picture from 35,000 feet in altitude

Clearly the game is over as MR BIG continues, “The horizon in front of the plane, that’s where we will be in an hour.  We can see the future, Steve.  It’s the horizon.”  He finishes the whiteboard drawing with a flourish. 

“This is where I live and work, Steve, at 35,000 feet.  My job is to look out the window, see the future and figure out how my company is going to play a part.  It’s not about features and benefits.  Those things are for living in today.  I’ve got a staff of people back at the office assessing features and benefits.  Counting the beans to make sure that features and benefits make financial sense.  Making sure the features and benefits are the right color and the right size.  That’s not my job. 

At 35,000 feet you can see the horizon.  The horizon is the future.

Up here at 35,000 feet looking toward the horizon into the future, my world is made of IDEAS.  IDEAS are the currency of the future.  IDEAS take the company to the horizon.  IDEAS deliver new destinations, new products, new services, new profits, new success.  If you want to sell me, Steve, talk to me about IDEAS,” said MR BIG as he returned to his seat at the conference table.  He was grinning again, as he offered me a bottle of water.

“Well?” said MR BIG. 

A bell rang, angels sang.  I experienced an epiphany – a professional sales rep epiphany.  I took a long sip from the bottle of water, grinned widely back at MR BIG and said, “This slide presentation is over.  Let’s talk about an IDEA that will help move you past the horizon………….”

MR BIG bought a bunch of those fancy whiz-bang thingies that were in my briefcase. We never even turned it on.  Never listened to it go ca-chunk or selected a color. We didn’t open the box whiz-bang thingy came in.

We had many more meetings.  MR BIG owns plenty of new whiz-bang thingies. 

You see, it wasn’t about the whiz-bang thingy.  It was about the IDEA.  It was about conversation, not presentation.  It was about the future, not the present.   It was emotional, not logical. 

It was all about the view we shared while looking out the window from 35,000 feet.


Key Take Aways:

Ideas – not features and benefits

Dialogue – not monologue

The Future – not the present

Emotions – not logic

Connection – not slide projection

Long Term Business Relationships – not one-off orders

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1 Comment

  1. Ralf Stegmann on January 17, 2023 at 2:28 am

    Like your stories.

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