Do you ever wonder what a customer says about you when you’re not in the room?
Are you the difference in landing business when all else is equal? Read on!
Jeff was ready and confident. Go-time. He knew his products well, especially the ones he would present to this customer, plus they were open to a margin-rich service contract; not an easy sell. The first two meetings went well. The customer was open about their needs, is eager to move forward, and mentioned the chance for future projects. Perfect! Today, his punctual discipline put him in the parking lot with 15 extra minutes to mentally cement his approach. This company wants a strong technical solution now, and his presentation will be just as strong!
Inside, Yvonne, the Project Manager, had just heard the first of the presentations from the two finalists for her project. The first finalist was William, and he did a solid job! It felt good to have a strong candidate especially because she was uneasy about this 2nd finalist. The initial visits with the salesperson, Jeff, were awkward even though the company's capabilities seemed strong. In fact, Jeff's solution may end up being better than William's. She resolved to look past her concerns about Jeff and focus on the project."I'll keep an open mind. It’s not about me." she thought. In any case, her assistant, Ian, has been in the room for each meeting of the process. While Yvonne will be the one to recommend the solution to her boss, Ian is a great sounding board for her.
A few minutes later, Ian walked Jeff into Yvonne's office and the meeting quickly begins. Jeff shakes hands with Yvonne. "It's good to see you Yvonne, and thanks for making the time. You should know I've prepared a full packet of information on our capabilities, and I'm ready to share them." "That's great" Yvonne says. "By the way, how was that ugly traffic today? Any challenges getting through the construction?" Jeff sits quickly and declares "Smooth sailing, thanks! Shall we dive in?" Still standing, Yvonne asks Ian to bring them both some coffee, saying "Jeff, you take cream right?" Jeff smiles, "I do!", and spreads his packets on the table.
When Ian returns with the coffee, the meeting is fully underway, packets open, and Jeff is describing his solution. Ian sets the coffee down to no comment. As he sits he notes the flat expression on Yvonne's typically energetic face. In 30 minutes the meeting was over, dominated by Jeff's presentation, and only then did Yvonne's happy face return. Jeff genuinely thanked Yvonne for the 'chance to earn her business'. She thanked him back and let him know a decision would come quickly.
After a break, Yvonne and Ian sat to debrief the two solutions presented. Jeff's and William's, were nearly identical technically, in warranty and service capabilities, and price. How to decide? Yvonne trusted Ian's judgement, and without sharing how she felt, asked him who he would go with. Without hesitation, Ian's recommendation was "not Jeff". "We should go with William!"
"Why William?" asked Yvonne. "You seemed to connect with him.", said Ian. "Both options have good solutions, so we should go with the people we're most comfortable with, the ones that'll likely be enjoyable to work with during this project." Yvonne agreed but was still concerned. "This shouldn't be about personalities. You know management cares most about the right solution for us." "OK", Ian said, "but when both solutions will work, this decision should be about fit. This is what I saw in each meeting with Jeff."
Long-term fit: Jeff was only about technical details, and you prefer out-of-the-box thinkers. This project has an easy solution, but few of our projects are. If we need more from our choice, and we may, William seems like a guy who can be creative with us when needed.
Cultural fit: Jeff is hyper-focused. When I brought his coffee, he barely acknowledged it. I don't think he's arrogant, just intense. Our culture is about results and working well together. Since our choice might find their way into different parts of our company, and you’ll be the one to bring them in, you'll want people thanking you, not wondering about your decision.
The 'get real' fit: "I’m not sure Jeff really listened to you. Yvonne, no one 'sails-through' that construction traffic we fight every day. It's aggravating, and everyone coming here feels it. William asked us 'how can you stand it?', and we laughed, right? Plus, Jeff's eye contact was limited, and he didn't review what we told him. William clarified everything important from our meetings, both in our office and with follow up notes. He showed us he listened. Meetings with Jeff ended with him telling us he could help and then confirming the next meeting. No review, just 'next'. Good listening will be even more important for future projects!"
"OK, I get it", said Yvonne. "But are the differences really that stark? We could ask Jeff to send us recaps. Plus, William had quirks too, like a couple typos and being late for one of the meetings. Jeff is buttoned up." Ian leaned in. "Yes, but some quirks are fixable. We fix them here every day. If we go with Jeff and his company, we risk moving from awkward to annoying experiences over time, and not just for you and me. Plus, if it gets too weird we do not want to repeat this selection process any time soon."
Thanks Ian! That settles it! I can definitely explain our decision to management!
What did Jeff miss? The artist Andy Warhol said it well. "You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you." In sales, if it matters to your customer it should matter to you. In life and business, we share a communication style with only 25% of the population. The rest have styles moderately to completely different from us, and Jeff's style was very different from Yvonne's! If you don't adjust, small differences end up being the difference.
What could Jeff have done differently? Ensure his customer's comfort by overcoming two typical sales challenges.
Jeff's 1st challenge? Identify the communication style that makes Yvonne comfortable. Jeff was 'in his own head' during their meetings. His self-talk was about his energy/his approach/his solution. Yvonne would later tell others that each meeting with Jeff was 'all-business, with little get-to-know-you rapport.' 'I work with the person not just their company.' 'Jeff wasn’t curious about what mattered to me, even when I suggested there might be further opportunities'. 'Quirky is ok, but if you can't recognize what matters, or even ask, I would rather partner with someone who does!'
Jeff’s 2nd challenge? Adjust his style to help Yvonne feel comfortable. If Jeff had recognized that Yvonne was a people-first person, minor adjustments could have made a huge difference:
- Embrace small-talk: It's not 'small' to people-first customers – half the population. When they ask you about your day, they really want to know. Dismissing small-talk by jumping to business leaves them wondering if you care about them as a person.
- Be curious about them: Beyond small-talk, ask what is important to them, not just their company. Ask about the experience they prefer in working with you. Ask how they like to run meetings, and receive information. Show them their experience matters to you.
- Show them they're heard: Summarize your conversations verbally and in writing. Not just next steps. Affirm your commitment to delivering on their preferred experience.
People buy from people they are comfortable with, and it's the salesperson's job to ensure this comfort.