Because we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and seemingly never-ending war between two narratives designed to divide us from each other, today, I am compelled to offer some lighter fare. Naturally, there are lessons, but I intend to provide a brief respite from the constant drumbeat of negativity you find elsewhere.
I was a better salesperson before my manager forced me into an outside sales role, a position he needed to fill, and one in which I had no interest. Because I had created and sold more deals than the three salespeople he had inherited while working in operations, he believed I could help him turn around his failing branch office. When he threatened to fire me, I took the job rather than losing my job.
Once given the title and responsibility of the account executive, I was no longer a good salesperson. Until that point, I was trying to help people solve the problems that were harming their businesses. After I received my new business cards, I started to try to sell our services.
The Lunch Meeting
I had never taken a prospective client to lunch, but I was given a budget to entertain clients, and I was expected to use it. The salespeople who worked in my branch were always taking prospects to lunch, and that was how they obtained meetings with clients who were resistant to meet.
Not knowing beans from Brussel sprouts, I modeled what I had seen the three salespeople do, even though they had all been fired over the previous month (apparently, I was incapable of recognizing not to model people who are failing).
My territory was the greater Los Angeles area, including Century City. There was a huge prospect in Century City that no one had been able to acquire a meeting with, even though all had tried. I called the contact and asked to take her to lunch, recommending an excellent Chinese restaurant close to her office. She agreed to the meeting, and I was thrilled to have a lunch meeting.
The contact was very quiet, and I was working hard to engage her when the waiter showed up to take our order. She ordered first, starting with two appetizers, and a request to put the second appetizer in a box. Then she ordered two entrees, again requesting the second meal be prepared to go, finishing off her order with two desserts, one for now, and one for later.
I did not know what to say or do under the circumstances, but I was also at a loss as to how to engage her in a business conversation as she sat silently throughout lunch, surrounded by her to-go boxes.
I paid the bill and made some lame remark about following up, even though I knew that there was not going to be another conversation. She picked up her second appetizer, her second meal, and her second dessert, and we left. As painful as the experience was, the contact taught me more about selling than I may have learned up to that point. Here is how I interpreted this experience.
First, since I placed so much emphasis on buying her lunch as a way to meet with her, she accepted the lunch without taking a business meeting. After some time trying to figure out what I did wrong, I concluded that because I acted as if she could be bought for the price of a nice lunch, she decided to take advantage of the offer without any commitment to discuss or do business with me.
One of Robert Cialdini’s rules of reciprocity from his bestselling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is that when one offers you a gift only to compel reciprocity, you are entitled to keep the gift without being in their debt.
Second, since there was no existing relationship, and because I hadn’t asked for a business meeting, she wasn’t obligated to discuss her business with me. While her behavior was rude, I decided that she believed mine was equally offensive.
After this experience, I decided not to use my expense account to take strangers to lunch, something that was probably an overreaction, choosing instead to use the money allotted for entertainment to my existing clients, always asking if we could have a working lunch after we were already doing business together. A restaurant isn’t the very best place for a first meeting, especially a discovery meeting.
An Offer to Buy the Business
Not too long after I decided you shouldn’t try to buy a client, I had another prospective client explain to me how I could overcharge them for my services and provide them with a kickback in the form of a cash payment I would deliver to them at the end of each month.
He continued to explain how he would spend the most money with the vendor who was willing to overcharge by the most substantial amount, allowing me to provide him with the most massive bribe. As you might have guessed, our conversation was terse, and I left wondering what it must be like to work for someone stealing from their own company and how it would end when their company eventually discovered the crime.
The offer was easy to refuse. There is never a reason to compromise your integrity and your reputation by working with dishonest people.
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Filed under: Sales