Defusing A Difficult Sales Opportunity – Part 1

By Guest Blogger Michael Harrison

A while back I was contacted by a mid-sized accountancy to manage a marketing campaign to announce an expanded roster of services.

When I arrived at the office the receptionist told me to take a seat, and that Mr Smith was running a little late. No problem. I always carry a briefcase full of work so a full work day is always a full work day.

However, after working away in the waiting room for 30 minutes, I asked the receptionist if I should, perhaps, reschedule – something I really didn’t want to do but I was already sizing up what appeared to be a disaster in the making. The nice receptionist smiled apologized and “paged” Mr Smith. My appointment wasn’t even in his office.

After a few minutes, a harried man in shirt sleeves ran into the waiting room, grabbed my hand, introduced himself and apologized for the wait. Problem with the office service or some such.

So, I finally get into Mr Smith’s office. It looked like a filing cabinet exploded in there. Papers littered the floor, memos were taped to the wall (about 26 by my rough count) and the desk in front of which I sat was piled high with loose leaf binders, six empty coffee cups and, somewhere in that pile, the RFP sent to me by the accountancy.

Mr Smith offered me tea or coffee but I was already pretty jagged just watching this ball of raw nerves pace back and forth behind his desk. I knew he was in no mood to deal with me at that moment, yet I’d worked hard on the proposal and getting to the accountancy required a round trip ticket on two planes, so I wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip away.

We’ve all been in these difficult situations, and most of the time, we deliver a half-hearted presentation knowing that our prospects are distracted, frazzled or have simply lost interest.

Here’s how to diffuse these situations and turn a negative in to a positive.

1. Notice everything. You never know when it’ll come in handy.

Pulling in to the visitor parking spot, I noticed that my contact drove the same model car I drove. I didn’t think much about it but I’m glad I noticed.

“So, I see you drive the Vivisection 2.8s, too. Yeah, I’ve had mine about a year now. I just love it. How do you like yours?”

I know a man who’d buy such an automobile would like talking about cars – especially his, and immediately, the pacing stopped, he gazed out the window to the parking lot where his “baby” was parked and began to wax eloquently about his car.

Instead focusing on the headaches with which he’d just dealt, we were suddenly talking about a favourite subject. And frankly, I love talking cars so this was a natural connection.

I also noticed a plaque on the wall – an award of some kind, sorry can’t remember exactly. But I mentioned it; he smiled and briefly explained the plaque’s significance. Again, I turned the prospect’s attention away from the disaster taking place somewhere in the building to happy things - his cool car and a professional award.

Notice everything – even the small details.

2. Don’t jump in.

After a few minutes the pacing stopped and he took a seat and smiled. He heaved a loud sigh of relief and apologized in earnest this time. But I knew he was still distracted and that I needed to focus the stressed-out prospect on my presentation.

I turned the discussion to my trip. Told a funny story about going through airport security and actually got the prospect to laugh.

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