Twelve to one. It may have been more. As the men and women in white jumpsuits continued to appear and take their places at six cafeteria-style tables arranged into a wide U, I lost count.

But I was sure there was only one of me, sitting at the far end of one table in a cavernous room, buried somewhere inside that enormous manufacturing plant marked by Death Star-length corridors, cleanliness, and red Honda logos.

A projector cast my amateur Google Slides onto a screen that stood naked and afraid in the center of the room.

I had done sales calls before, in those days the kind that involved cell phones and the occasional video. This was my first time in-person.

To prepare, I had boarded my flight with a journal and a copy of a single book on sales that I devoured while waiting to board. Fortunately for me, I was entirely ignorant of what anyone's perception of me may have been, and I didn't try to find out.

Instead, I reminded myself that although I didn't know anything about auto manufacturing, they had invited me because I knew a little about the thing that was troubling them: weather, particularly communicating around weather conditions that threatened their operations.

And I knew that there was a way that I could solve that for them; but the book had told me not to start with that. It would be too much, too soon.

Instead, I did what any liberal arts grad would want to do when thrust into a hall full of chairs facing each other, outmanned, outgunned, and outsmarted:

I led a Socratic discussion.

What I Thought I Was Doing

I got pretty lucky that day; months later, Honda North America became a reference customer.

I say lucky because although I was the co-founder responsible for sales, I wasn't experienced enough with the art to really know what I was doing (in case that wasn't obvious).

Yes, I followed the book's advice and leaned on my strengths. But I still thought my goal was to slowly bring them to temperature around the idea that My Solution Was The Answer, by first helping them confess to all their pain.

This isn't a bad script (it appears on many a landing page), but it didn't explain why Mike S., my champion and contact, had invited me to the 4,000,000 square foot manufacturing plant to meet all these uniformed, name-tagged people, some of whom also didn't seem sure why they were there.

What I Was Really Doing

In truth, Mike had hired me to rally his gaggle of thinkers, career-rockets, and distracted operators around the idea that they had a problem and they needed a solution. Some of them were halfway there, others were negative 100% of the way there. Others were at zero, would stay at zero, and just needed to feel heard.

Since I was "doing sales", the cost to him for this corporate transformation was zero. I was a free consultant, hired to create alignment that he, as a member of the team, couldn't create on his own from the inside.

It was only as a byproduct of that transformation that I was creating a customer.

$49, $99, (Please Don't?) Contact Us

It would take me another 10 years of travel and practice before internalizing this lesson: when someone approaches your product, regardless of the price, they're not doing so with the hope that you'll persuade them to buy it. They're doing so with the hope that you'll help them buy it — whatever that takes. Or politely explain why they shouldn't buy it.

To the relief of the ick-sales crowd, this distinction flips any antagonism on its head. To channel Moesta, they want to make progress. Your copy, your presence, your dialogue are methods to honestly and directly address those nagging, haunting voices of anxiety, concern, and fear in their own minds — and in the case of enterprise sales, in the minds of their teammates.

All of this prepares them for the buying moment. At that point, your job is just to give them a way to make a change whose risk/reward has been fully addressed. You're just taking their order.

And just taking orders is a pretty good description of product/market-fit.

Are you helping them buy?