Just Roll With It

I remember the first time I was ever asked to give a sales training.  I prepared for 2 weeks, assembling everything I knew about isolating and tackling objections, NLP, and the order in which I thought we should best approach a customer when they came in to see us and plan all the phone, TV, data, security and entertainment for their homes.

I finished the 90 minute session with my sales team and at the end, my boss, the President of the company, spoke up saying “Mark, that’s NOT what I wanted you to teach them!”  I was a little confused and at the time a little annoyed that she had not intervened some time during the training to let me know I was on the wrong track.  I gathered myself and asked, “What did I miss?  What would you have liked me to cover?”

She said, “Everytime a customer comes in, I can hear you in the appointment because my office is right upstairs.  They come in and sit down, and within a couple minutes, you are all laughing and talking and you know the names of their kids and their family history.”  She pauses for a second and then looks at me and says, “Teach them how to do that!”  I replied that I wasn’t sure I could teach that really.  Since then I have tried to isolate and identify the points of a meeting in which I develop that rapport.  Sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it takes a little longer, but rarely do I miss the chance to develop it on some level.  So how do you teach that?

I’m actually not quite sure still.  I credit Ken Miller, one of my managers when I was 19 and working at The Olive Garden of all places, with some of it.  He didn’t teach me the “how” but he made sure I knew the importance of it.  He said, “When you approach someone’s table, the question they ask themselves within 15 seconds of your arrival is ‘Do I like this person?’  If they say ‘Yes’ you will be fine, if they say ‘No’ everything that may go wrong will be amplified and it will be your fault in their eyes.”

That sat with me, because although I had always heard “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, I had always discounted that with the fact that I would have time to overcome that eventually.  But in that environment, the first impression was all that stuck.  I only had an hour max with most people you met, and my financial situation depended on them liking me.  I couldn’t control cold food, slow kitchen times, etc but I could control my interaction with the customer.  I averaged 30% tips most nights, with some leaving me tips equal to the totals of their bills at times.  While most of my peers were haunted by low tips and bad attitudes, I always topped the earnings list, and rarely came or left in a bad mood.

Why? I just rolled with whatever came my way.  Another waiter wanted to go home, I took his section.  Kitchen was slow, I stayed out on the floor and talked to the table to let them know I was waiting just like them.  I wasn’t on a break, I wasn’t hiding in the side station, etc.  They knew I was present, and that I was aware of their concerns, and was doing what I could in the meantime to make them comfortable.

CS Lewis makes a point in some of his writings to say that intent is more important than results for most people.  The example he gives is that you are much more angry at the person who tries to trip you and fails to do so, than the one who actually trips you up accidentally and makes you fall.

If you make your intentions transparent, and they are good, then you can roll with almost any situation involving people and come out on top.

Malcolm Gladwell shared an anecdote about successful improv troops in “Blink” I believe.  (You know like “Whose Line is It Anyway”)  Their first rule of engagement is to accept all suggestions.  If one says “I heard your mother was in the hospital”, the other does not say “you heard wrong”.  Instead they might say, “Well , she is a surgeon you know!”  The other again would not say no, I thought she was sick, he would roll with the surgeon comment.  Taking all suggestions is the unspoken rule that keeps them on the same page and develops the rapport and chemistry necessary.

I think the same is true in sales.  Many in sales try to exercise complete control.  Car guys even try to see if they can turn a customer’s hand under theirs while shaking hands to gain some psychological advantage from the start.  However, I have found the opposite to be more effective.  There is a way to always lead the conversation in the right direction, while still being open to customer cues and to what they are interested in.  Taking all of their suggestions in that manner develops quick rapport and leads you closer to the relationship required for someone to trust in your recommendations.

In the new world of Social Business, being able to roll with anything, and let the customer lead you into the type of relationship they desire in order to become a customer, is a huge advantage.  If I just knew how to teach people to do it, I may actually retire someday. . . 🙂


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