Remembering Chocolate

Adriane was terrible at sales. She would never admit it. Mostly, she worked in the privacy of a prospect’s or customer’s office, or on a Zoom call that nobody else saw. That was a blessing as far as her supervisor was concerned. She was dreadful.

She was selling what some people would believe was the easiest product in the world: chocolate. But, they would be wrong.

Her prospects and customers were large retail outlets. The big chains would buy hundreds or thousands of pounds of delicious chocolate. But, it was a complex business because chocolate has 5 tastes, 10 mouthfeels, and 72 aromas. And, Adriane often got them confused. If a commercial buyer specified a sweet taste, a creamy mouthfeel, and a chili aroma, Adriane’s presentation quickly spiraled out of control. Chili was not a standard aroma in chocolate, and Adriane soon made her uncertainty obvious as she struggled to offer a product that was similar … maybe a combination of a bitter taste and earthy aroma. In a few moments, she would lose the thread of her argument and the buyer would shake their head, exasperated.

It was strange that Adriane was allowed to practice her feeble skills in the bruising world of chocolate sales.

Adriane’s most important asset was her memory. It was photographic but, better than that, it was also auditory. She remembered everything everyone said.

Those who agreed to hear her 20-minute presentation were usually forced to endure a deluge of technical details. They glazed out listening to her talk about cacao trees in central and southern America. They dozed as she listed the national cocoa bean importers’ latest figures. They snored through her projections for sales in the northeastern states, for which she was responsible.

Clearly, even with her skills, she was not up to the job.

But, almost always, at the last moment, everything changed. The buyers often decided that they would take her chocolate. Suddenly, they had no doubts about her proposal.

Adriane’s commission checks were swelling as was her confidence. Even so, her sales skills, for most of her presentations, remained steadfastly abysmal.

How did she do it? When pressed, she whispered that she had an invisible friend.

When you consider how bad Adriane was at selling, it is incomprehensible that she closed many more deals than anyone else in her office.

Once, her PowerPoint presentation got so complex she didn’t know what slide she was showing and what to say about it. At another time, halfway through her talk, the images suddenly changed to her firm’s Christmas party. That was embarrassing. Adriane struggled on, trying to ignore the stupefied expressions of her customers.

When someone asked for her pricing schedule, she always deflected their request until near the end of her presentation. Experienced retail-chain buyers were unimpressed.

So, how did she do it? How did she close so many deals?

Simply put, she had a friend. You could say it was her “invisible friend” who helped her to convert so many hopeless presentations into pure gold. It was always a last-minute switch. Something that customers barely noticed happening. In the end, so many of them seemed happy to say “yes.”

Picture the scene. It was the headquarters of a major retail chain. There was a small conference room adjacent to the principal buyer’s office. Adriane was standing. Her portable electronic projector was pointed at a pull-down screen.

Three people were watching her. It is the fourth presentation they have sat through that morning. The woman in the middle, the chief purchasing officer, was immaculately dressed in a tight-fitting, daffodil yellow dress. She was fidgeting with her gold pen. She had had enough. Adriane seemed to be trying to sell them something they don’t want.

“Okay. Okay. Stop there. We are seeking a 50-50 split order between salty and sweet. Most of our customers buy fine or melting. They want citrus and tropical aromas. Can you supply that? When can you deliver? What is your price?”

Adriane recognized the message and its significance. She memorized every word.

What Adriane did next was awkward, to say the least. Just when answers were required, she asked for a break. “Please excuse me. I need to contact my office. The prices are fluctuating crazily right now.”

At this point, the woman in yellow, who was known for her volcanic temper, appeared to have steam coming out of her ears. The young man seated to her right rolled his eyes. He knew he would have to deal with her rage for the rest of the day. The balding man on her left already had a thumping headache.  

Adriane stepped quickly into the corridor. She opened her iPhone, but she did not call anyone. She spoke into her phone using the exact words she had just heard. Then she memorized what she read on her iPhone’s screen. MercurySays was her invisible friend.

A minute later, she was back in the conference room. “I understand your requirements perfectly. And, yes, we can offer immediate delivery.”

She saw the three buyers eying her intently. Adriane opened the PowerPoint slide with the prices: “Chocolate supplies are in danger of disruption due to shipping problems. I am pleased to say that this morning’s prices have not changed … yet. If you can confirm an order now, we can ensure you will have sufficient stock for all your stores. That should see you through any difficulties over the next three months.”

The chief purchasing officer subtly leaned back in her chair. Her expression softened.

Now, three words were shining brightly in Adriane’s mind: distant, attentive, and serious. MercurySays had summed up the woman’s attitude perfectly.

Adriane took a breath. “Now that we all know how dire the supply situation is, we have the best chance to make a good decision. On the other hand, any delay could mean that your shelves are empty when your competitors’ shelves are full. So, it’s vital to attend to this issue before it becomes critical.”  

The woman in yellow stroked her chin, meditatively.

Adriane was ready: “Of course, right now, the approach to this order should be serious but not inflexible. If any sudden opportunities arise, I will tell you. You won’t want to miss out, particularly if your competitors are dithering.”

The two men glanced at their boss. The one on the right whispered something to her.

There was a moment’s pause. Adriene waited, then waited some more. She knew the power of silence. Then, she said: “So, may I take your order?”

The young man leaned toward his boss again, but barely had a chance to speak.

With a flash of her gold pen, the woman said: “Okay. We agree.” Then, she specified the quantities she required.

The deal was done.

Another astonishing win for Adriane.

Back at her office, Adriane’s supervisor asked how the presentation had gone.

“Oh, fine. I closed the deal. They signed. Everyone’s happy.”

The supervisor smiled quizzically, frowning slightly. “So, how did you do it this time?”

Adriane involuntarily touched her iPhone and said: “It was easy. I love chocolate and I have an invisible friend.”