Serendipity – it’s when you find something that you weren’t expecting to find. We’ve all heard stories of how people meet by chance and develop a lifelong friendship. Sometimes serendipity comes from being the first to see something, as when Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays. And sometimes it’s not about seeing something first, but rather being the first to see a common thing in a new way. For example, Percy Spencer noticed that the microwaves he was working on at Raytheon had melted the candy bar in his pocket. Percy wasn’t the first person to notice that microwaves generate heat, but he was the first to think of using microwaves to heat food.
Serendipity can make history. Consider the movie Casablanca: Ingrid Bergman wasn’t Warner Bros.’s first choice for a leading lady. The famous last line, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” was written after the film’s shooting was completed, and the producers had to call back Humphrey Bogart to dub the line. The song “As Time Goes By” was almost cut, since the artist who wrote the score didn’t like it. The director wanted to reshoot the scene with another tune, but Bergman had already cut her hair for her next film role, and so the scene – and the song – remained.
Salespeople can harness the power of serendipity by preparing the right message, which can lead to an unexpected surprise for the buyer. For example, Marc Benioff, cofounder of salesforce.com, wasn’t the first to create and sell online software. Pat Sullivan, the founder of ACT!, launched Interact, an Internet-based CRM system, long before salesforce .com got started. Tom Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems (later bought by Oracle), created Sales.com, another online CRM system. Both Sullivan’s and Siebel’s services vanished.
What set Benioff apart, however, was his ability to create a more compelling message designed to surprise more buyers. His first message, “Point, Click, Close,” didn’t get a lot of traction. By seeing things in a different way, he came up with “The End of Software,” which he later changed to “Software as a Service,” which then became “Cloud Computing.” Since then, every large software company has jumped on the “cloud” bandwagon. Benioff recently stated that “the cloud” was old hat, and the next great thing will be the “social enterprise.” Since more and more customers rely on social networking to learn about new products and services from people they barely know but whose opinions they trust, the term “social enterprise” seems the perfect bait on an old hook used to catch more fish.
Salespeople can use serendipity as a great sales tool to surprise customers with an unexpected message. Lawrence Block defined serendipity in this way: “You look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.” Customers are always looking for great surprises. They have seen it all, and they buy from salespeople who give them something they don’t expect. Serendipity is like getting a first-class upgrade on a long flight. Think about ways to give your next customer an upgrade to a first-class sales experience. That’s harnessing the selling power of serendipity.