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Recovering from a fine mess

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

In 1992, Andrew Pace sold patching materials to contractors. On a business trip to Baltimore, he introduced an influential contractor to his epoxy-based product.

"I was flying there for the day and leaving that night and I wanted to make a great first impression," recalls Pace, founder of Degree of Green, a national program based in Waukesha, Wis., that helps retailers educate consumers about "green" home improvement.

Pace arrived at the job site—the top level of a parking structure—in a new business suit. He greeted the client and began demonstrating the product.

As Pace mixed the material, a violent wind gust sprayed it onto his pants. Pace joked that he could rinse out epoxy with ease. But after 15 minutes of scrubbing in the restroom, the embarrassed sales rep resumed his pitch wearing wet, filthy pants.

"I'd done mixing 100 times before with no problem," Pace says. "What's funny is the client—an owner of the parking structure—was underdressed and I was overdressed."

Convinced he lost the sale, Pace managed to keep his composure and complete his demonstration. He explained other features of the product as if nothing was amiss, even though he knew his pants looked terrible.

The client concluded the meeting by saying, "If that stuff works as well on this concrete as it does on your pants, I'm buying it!" Pace flew home with a large order.

"I turned a $200 pair of ruined pants into a sale of $50,000," he says with a laugh.

Lessons Learned

Pace attributes his ability to close the sale to his perseverance and willingness to withstand embarrassment. He cites these keys to success:

Stay calm. "I didn't flip out on him," Pace recalls. "I think he was impressed that I was more concerned with showing him how the product worked than my pants."

Finish what you start. When Pace returned from the restroom with soaking pants, he could have called it quits. Instead, he resumed his demonstration with poise and enthusiasm.

Turn adversity to your advantage. Rather than express dismay at his predicament, Pace smiled and explained to the client that the epoxy created "a tenacious bond, and you can see its adhesive qualities on my pants."


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