I am a treasure hunter for a living. I pay my mortgage by finding obscure used machines from all over the world and then finding people who want to buy sexy-ugly/high-tech equipment. The best way to do that is by interacting with customers in ways that create serendipity.
Today, I’m going to tell you how calling people on the phone, even when it seems like a long shot, can result in serendipity. If you approach talking to people with the right strategies you have the potential to create tons of meaningful, significant, productive conversations.
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We get tons of emails from people inquiring about machines they see online from Graff-Pinkert, our used machine tool company. Sometimes it seems difficult to call everyone back, so rather than do nothing, I go to our nice automatic quoting system and send them a price, photos, and info. Then I hope they get back to me. They often never reply.
I know many people who inquire are just researching the market and don’t really NEED that machine they’re asking about. Or, maybe they see a price on the quote that’s out of their budget and dismiss the machine out of hand, which is a pity because we might have been willing to negotiate.
And that’s the end of the story. I didn’t sell a machine, I didn’t learn anything, I didn’t make a new contact, and of course, no serendipity happened.
It’s quite common for us to get contacted by customers looking for machines we don’t even have. Often, people see a used machinery ad sent to them from one of the machine tool advertising websites like Machinio, which does not always take old listings down right away after machines have been sold.
It can sometimes be frustrating for customers when they contact us about machines we no longer have. I’d be frustrated too. But on the other hand, it’s great. Those machines floating around online, both available and unavailable, for thousands of eyeballs to ogle, creates a treasure trove of serendipity.
The funny thing is, very often, people inquire about a specific machine they see online, and they aren’t even interested in that machine in the first place. One time, I had a guy contact us about a Star, but he was just as interested in a Tornos Deco we had in stock. Often people don’t even know what machine they want. They just click on something that they want to learn about.
Wednesday, I got an inquiry from a customer who saw an old listing for an Escomatic EC08 that we sold two years ago. It’s a powerful CNC coil-fed screw machine that’s very rare. I wouldn’t be shocked if there were less than five of that model in the United States. (I wrote a good story about that machine in a previous blog, by the way).
I looked at the inquiring customer’s website, and I saw they had a lot of small Swiss machines in their shop. So I called them, even though I didn’t have the EC08. A man answered, and I asked for the name that was signed on the email inquiry. But the guy on the phone told me that person was no longer at the company. We both thought that was weird. I guess the person who sent the inquiry still uses his old company’s email address and still likes to click on machines he wants to learn about.
So, just to summarize again—I called a company because they asked for a machine we didn’t have. Then the person I asked for didn’t even work there anymore. But sure enough, me and the guy who answered the phone ended up having a good conversation anyway. We talked about what machines his company uses and how business is going. Because I knew they ran a lot of small diameter work, I suggested they could be interested in Graff-Pinkert’s newest piece of inventory, a beautiful Tsugami B0125 III Swiss CNC machine with a 12mm capacity. He told me to send a quote over. Will he buy this machine? There’s a chance. Stranger things have happened.
The big thing was I CALLED. We talked. Information came out, and I met someone interesting. If I had sent an email saying that we didn’t have the machine but asking if they wanted something else, they might have written back, but that’s unlikely.
Another guy on Wednesday wrote us about that same Tsugami Swiss machine I just mentioned. He asked for the price of the machine. Generally, when people say they “just want a price,” it sounds like they’re doing research or window shopping. As a seller that can be frustrating, but hey, I do it sometimes to other people. So I called him and left a message, figuring if he didn’t call back I would then email him a quote.
Thursday morning he called back, and I gave him the price over the phone. I like telling the price to customers over the phone or in person rather than in an email or text because then I can try to gage their interest from their initial reaction. The guy told me he wasn’t just doing research and he had work for the machine. When I told him the price he said it was much too high. He also said he saw us buy the machine at a recent online auction, so he knew around what price we had paid.
Then the conversation got more interesting. He told me he had bought some LISTA cabinets at the same auction, and he had purchased three other Tsugamis just like ours from the same shop a while back.
Right now, our little Tsugami is still sitting at the auction site. Getting the machine rigged, and cleaned, and drained, and out of this factory has been a nightmare for Graff-Pinkert’s office manager Kelly. The parties involved have been unresponsive, and the price estimates are crazy. Thousands of dollars to clean a machine!
However, this guy I was talking to was experienced getting machines out of that shop. He knew which people were trying to rip us off and which people were being unnecessarily difficult. He told us who to call to get the machine drained. He also told us we should make sure to ask about getting the machine’s transformer that was hanging from the ceiling because the company had tried to leave it out when he took his machines.
No phone call—no new knowledge—no serendipity. Phone call—important things were happening.
Ok. So I have advised people to make calls. Many people reading or listening to this are probably saying, of course you make calls, you’re in sales. Tell me something I don’t know.
Ok. Let’s talk about making the calls. After you make the call, how do you go about it to get as much serendipity as possible?
First, I like to prepare for the call ahead of time. I look up the company’s website and find out what machines they have, because maybe they have some other machine they want to buy or sell, other than the one I’m calling about. If I want to prepare even more, I will look up the contact’s name online and check out their LinkedIn profile. This way I know if I’m talking to management or someone on the shop floor. Sometimes the guy on the shop floor is just as important or more than the management guy, because they know what machines the company is using and not using. They also often know more about equipment the company actually needs.
So after I have this info, I’m prepared to use one of my favorite serendipity tools to bring out some magic in the interaction—serendipity hooks! I learned about serendipity hooks from my serendipity guru, Christian Busch, author of The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Finding Good Luck. He is the guy who inspired my whole serendipity obsession in the first place. If you want a great breakdown of many of the book’s principles listen to the podcast interview I did with him, Episode 123.
Back to serendipity hooks. Serendipity hooks are extra things you can insert into a conversation that bring out new game changing information. Busch likes to bring up the example of meeting someone who asks you what you do for a living. Rather than say one thing like “I’m a machinery dealer,” you say a bunch of things. For instance, “I’m a machinery dealer, and a journalist, and I have a podcast, and in my spare time l love to salsa dance, but I don’t dance much any more because I want to spend time with my wife and my amazing 1-year-old boy Abe.” All of sudden, in addition to talking about machinery dealing, we can talk about journalism, and podcasts, and dancing, and kids, which I’ve been surprised to find that other people actually find interesting.
Before I call a potential customer, I first look at what machines the company has on their website, and I also look back at our own records to see what we have sold them in the past. Last year, we did a nice deal in which we sold some Tornos SAS16.6 multi-spindles to a longtime customer. We knew the customer also had Wickman multi-spindles that we had sold to them in the past. One of the ways we were able to make the transaction more attractive for both parties was to take back one of their 1-3/4” Wickmans in trade.
Another serendipity hook we have been using often lately is bringing up Graff-Pinkert’s new business of consulting machining companies who are looking to buy or sell their businesses.
After I discuss machines that people have contacted us about buying or selling, I say something like, “One more thing. Just so you know, Graff-Pinkert also helps machining companies buy and sell their businesses. Are you looking to expand your company through acquisition?” After they say yes or no, I say, “do you know of some other company looking to buy or sell?” Stuff often comes out—usually it’s people saying they would like to expand, but sometimes I do find out about companies for sale. Not long ago, I was talking to a customer about purchasing one of their CNC lathes. Turned out they decided to keep it, but the call wasn’t a total disappointment. I asked if he knew of any companies for sale, and he did. Treasure. Or at least potential treasure.
So, to sum it all up, emails are a consolation prize, not the first option. Call people. Visit people in person! Ask questions that can provoke information. Tell people interesting stuff about yourself that makes them bring up unexpected things. All of sudden, your conversations become significant, educational, productive, and serendipitous.
This was seeking serendipity.
Question: What was an interesting or productive conversation you had recently?