By John Tabita

When Something Goes Wrong in the Sales Process, It’s Your Fault

By John Tabita

I recall one particularly bad sales appointment with the manager of a furniture store. Instead of meeting in his office, he sat me down at a desk in the middle of the noisy sales floor, where we were constantly interrupted. Before I could ask any questions about his business, he insisted I tell him what I could do for him. Then he refused to allow me to meet with the actual decision-makers, the store owners. All this happened in less time than the car ride over.

It would have easy to tell myself that the appointment went south because the prospect was a jerk … and the second part of that statement would have been true. But the whole truth was I did a lot of things wrong that day.

I Didn’t Disqualify Him as a Prospect Beforehand

The appointment was a bad lead to begin with. A friend who was trying to help me out, referred me to his uncle, the furniture store manager whom (I realized later) probably only agreed to meet with me as a favor to his nephew. Had I questioned him more in-depth over the phone, I would have discovered he wasn’t such a good prospect. Instead, I chickened out and asked a few superficial questions before setting the appointment.

I Didn’t Manage Expectations

I expected the courtesy of an undistributed meeting in a private office. Yet I failed to set that expectation. So whose fault was that?

You could even say that I was inconsiderate of the other person’s time by not specifying how long I’d need to meet with him. I could have addressed both of those points with a simple statement like, “To get an clear understanding of what you’d like to accomplish, I’ll need about an hour of your uninterrupted time to discuss the project in detail. What would be the best day and time for you?”

I Didn’t Confirm Who the Decision-Makers Were

One of the most important questions you should ask is, “Once we meet, if you decide to move forward, who else would have to agree?”

Phrasing this as open-ended rather than a “yes or no” question causes your prospect to think about who else they’ll need to consult, especially when they’re not the only decision-maker. It also doesn’t put the other person on the spot when he’s not the true decision-maker.

When it comes to partnerships, the person you’re speaking with at the time honestly believes he’ll be able to make this decision without his partner. But once you meet, and things turn out to be more complicated (or expensive) than expected, suddenly the partner or spouse need to be consulted. Asking a simple question beforehand can prevent that scenario.

I Lost Control of the Meeting

I’ve since learned how to turn such a situation around, but at the time, it was a ball of confusion.

As I sat in the middle of the crowded showroom floor with the prospect insisting I tell him what I could do for his business, I could have solved both those problems by responding with a simple statement and a follow-up question:

“I can’t possibly know what I can do for your business without knowing more about your business and what your marketing goals and objectives are. Is there a private office we could talk undisturbed where I could ask you a some questions and learn about what you’d like to accomplish?”

He who asks the questions controls the conversation. That’s why clients who want control will start hammering you with their agenda of questions, rather than letting you ask them questions. But keep in mind that most people like to talk about themselves, so if you can turn the situation around, you may find that even the most overly-controlling client will start answering any question you ask.

I’ve noticed that when something goes wrong, introspective people tend to blame themselves and those who are extrospective tend to blame others. I recommend you avoid both extremes. Had I chose to blame the prospect instead of taking an objective look at the situation, I wouldn’t have been able to learn from my mistakes and become better prepared for my next client meeting. And my next. So when something goes wrong in the sales call, don’t blame the prospect!

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  • I had a very similar situation, whereby a client did not let me speak or question him. Instead they were constantly on the phone or with another person in their shop. I went 5 times and after waiting for an hour each time I only got to speak for a total of 12 minutes. In the end I felt sorry for my petrol and decided to call it quits.

    Looking back at this I would have possibly solved the issue by saying what you did. Normally this only happens when clients has little or no appreciation for your time, they are disrespecting your time and efforts. We’re always going to get clients like these, so in those terms it’s best to avoid them.

    I am proud to say (touch wood) I have no such clients now :)

  • Brett Rogerson

    These business segments are great! As a web dev that works for a corporation but does freelance work on the side, I find these articles invaluable because I don’t necessarily handle the business side of projects (ex. discussions with clients, setting project timelines, etc.) as my 9 to 5. So I don’t have the opportunity to gain as much business experience as say a fully self-employed developer. You keep writing, I’ll keep reading. Thanks!

    • Brett,

      The business side of things can be a challenge, but I had some great teachers. I’ll gladly keep writing. Thanks for reading.

  • Great insight as usual. Somehow it reminded me of some psychology classes we had in college when trying to resolve issues… Going through a cycle of questions “why it’s entirely my fault”, “why it’s entirely your fault”, “why it’s not our fault at all” trying to gather more insight about the actual causes of an issue between two people.


  • Rob

    Absolute GOLD, as always. Thank you and please keep this series going

  • Thomas Hall

    Thank you for the enlightenment!

  • keep this series going.

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