Why You Should Cut Your Client a Little Slack

You never know what happened right before the meeting started. What seems like rudeness might have another explanation.

sales tip: you don't know what your client is going through

photo by BillionPhotos.com/dpc

A few weeks ago I was presenting to a law firm. Five people from the firm had been at the first meeting, and four were to be at the follow-up meeting. Three of them arrived on time, but we had to wait for the fourth – the managing partner of the firm.

He finally arrived 20 minutes late, with only the most perfunctory apology. He sat down and we got underway.

As I was going through my part of the presentation, the managing partner kept checking his smartphone, reading and sending texts. He wasn’t bothering to hide it, either. Midway through the meeting his phone rang. He answered it, and without even a glance at me he got up and left the room. His assistant signaled me to keep going, so I continued.

A few minutes later the managing partner came back in, sat down, and resumed paying attention to me and his phone simultaneously. I did my best to conceal my growing irritation at the guy’s clear lack of respect.

Eventually we got to the end of the presentation, and asked for a commitment. The managing partner said he needed to go through the financials with his accountant before he could make a decision.

I asked if he could give us an answer later in the week, and that’s when he dropped the bomb:

“I’m not sure,” he said. “My wife is out of town, and she was in a car wreck this morning. She’s in the hospital; we’re hoping she’ll be released tomorrow. As soon as this meeting’s over, I’ve got a six-hour drive to go see her.” He showed us some pictures of his wife’s car she had emailed to him – the entire front end smashed in, and the air bags deployed.

At that moment, all my irritation went away,  replaced by a strong sense of guilt. He hadn’t been disrespecting us – the fact that he showed up for the meeting at all was a powerful sign of how strongly he believed in keeping his commitment to me and the station. Under the circumstances, his lateness and divided attention were more than understandable.

A few weeks later, his wife is home and expected to make a full recovery. And I’ve re-learned a sales lesson.

The Sales Lesson Is…

When we sit down with a client, we often don’t know what else is going on in their world. They may have just been chewed out by their boss; a family member may be ill or injured. The solution we’re offering may be the most important thing on our mind… but there might be a much bigger problem on their mind.

Until you know the full story, give them the benefit of the doubt.

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