I was riding along on a sales call earlier this year, watching as things unfolded in what seemed like torturous slow motion. Usually I don’t get involved in these calls unless there is a terrible disaster about to happen, and this qualified. The meeting was going nowhere, the air in the room was being depleted at a tremendous pace, had I not jumped in, we all would have been unconscious in a matter of seconds.
I finally had to ask the buyer “why are we here?” He looked puzzled, and said “what do you mean?” I explained that young Steve had tried to uncover things, did quite well I thought, yet the buyer was almost fighting to stop the meeting from going anywhere, “so why are we here?” After a pause, he explained that he was hoping to find a new process to help him reduce waste of material, that at the same time would not increase his maintenance cost or down time. All things that Steve had probed for, and was promptly shunted every time.
Rather than asking why he rebuffed young Steve, I asked, “what would you be doing about this had we not come in today?” After even a longer silence, the buyer confessed that he was at a loss for ideas, and since none of the other providers had been able to help him, he met with Steve, but was sure that Steve would also be of no help. Not entirely accurate, Steve actually had a solution, and after the deal was done, I called the now customer and asked him about the buying experience.
When I asked what the turning point was, he brought up the fact that I asked why we were there, and what he would have done had we not called. He said that he realised that by asking those questions, he felt that he had to put up or shut up, and since he did have a real issue, he put up, but said had the direct question not been put to him he would still be in the same mess he was in before our meeting.
While some may find these questions and others asked by some sales people a little direct, it is a lot better for everyone involved than wasting time and getting nowhere.
Many sales professional will tell you that their role is to be a catalyst, to ignite a reaction, to make things happen. Well that is not always straightforward or easy. Sometimes (more often than it actually happens), sales people have to say something unusual or radical in order to change the flow and direction of things. After all, it is the sales person’s job to set and maintain the flow. At times you can do this with knowledge and experience, you can do it with wit, but other times you have to be more than direct to create a new flow that serves everyone involved; if you have to radically change direction, you may have to be radical in how you do it.
I remember sitting with a great sales person, we’ll call him Harry, we were with a big but difficult client, renewal, budget cuts, you’ve been there. The buyer was new to the role, looking to make her mark, but doing it in a most unprofessional way. Rather than dialogue, we encountered attitude, a lack of respect, and stonewalling on every issue, almost every attempt to have a discussion was met with “much of that depends on who we go with, what are you prepared to offer?” Every time, she rebuffed Harry’s attempt to have an interactive discussion, he politely acknowledged but would hold off a touch longer in asking his next question. Despite knowing that it was renewal time, the buyer flippantly asked, “so why exactly are you here today?” Harry calmly looked up, and said, “I am here to see if I can afford you as a customer.” Needless to say, that changed the flow. Of course, it helped that before the meeting we had inspected the possible outcomes to the meeting, one of which was no renewal due to the clients inability to meet the required number, so as a result Harry was in fact speaking the truth. In the end they renewed, new terms, new pricing, still profitable.
Changing the flow, and at time in a dramatic or direct way is often the best and only way to get a meeting back on track or bring it to a logical quick ending. This is not to say that one should be confrontational or dramatic for no reason, but it also shows that one does not have to be soft, safe, and solely worried about appearances or relationships. One does not have to be rude to be dramatic, and the only time you will be called rude, is when there is really nothing there anyways, and walking away, early, is the best for all involved, even if it may seem different at the time.
You can also achieve this through humour. I remember being the suit at a large meeting, about 13 people from various parts of the buying company, the lonely rep and I from our company, it was a bit of a technical sale. The crowd was tough, unengaged, some looked like they were having root canal. Just before all the oxygen was sucked out of the room, the rep looked around, “any questions?”, no response, some re-crossed their arms, the rep looked around again and asked “so no one wants to play stump the sales person?” After the wave of laughter died down, the meeting took on a new life, and rep had a new client.
So go ahead, mix it it up, challenge them, not for the sport but for the result, you know when you need to do it.
What’s in Your Pipeline?