Lost Your Way to the Sales Goal?


The Situation

Sean is an account executive for a company that distributes smoked meats to supermarkets. One of his past clients, Carlos, was purchasing manager for a supermarket chain. Sean wrote sizeable orders with Carlos, and the two enjoyed a good rapport. They even played golf on occasion.

But Carlos changed jobs and is now working for a food store chain that doesn’t buy from Sean’s company. Sean has been trying to change that for months. One day, Sean’s boss, Andrea, is reviewing Sean’s accounts and questions him about Carlos:

Andrea: Sean, you’ve been turning in receipts for lunches, a dinner, a ball game . . . you’ve been trying to land this account for four months. I’ve asked this before — are you getting anywhere?
Sean: Andrea, Carlos says he wants to do business with us, but he’s still working on his boss.
Andrea: He was your customer when he bought for the Grangerford chain, right?
Sean: Yes, and we did a boatload of business. Just give me time. You can’t rush Carlos.
Andrea: That’s all well and good, but you still haven’t told me: Are you getting anywhere?

Being Appropriately Social, or Being Strung Along?

Sean feels that Andrea is badgering him. He believes the expenses he has accumulated are an investment, and will be well worth it when Carlos becomes a customer. Besides, Carlos has a Q3, gregarious demeanor and needs to like the people he does business with.

Is Sean right? In terms of a Q4 collaborative selling strategy, is Sean showing appropriate sociability in trying to influence Carlos?

How Much Socializing?

It’s a common dilemma: How much socializing should you invest in a prospect? Is taking prospects to lunch simply part of building trust? Is it the price of doing business? There’s no definitive answer. But we feel that in the long run, you’re better off building a strong business case to prospects, rather than hoping that social benefits will help you close the sale.


In this case, because Carlos exhibits a lot of Q3 behavior; he wants to be friends with people in his business relationships. In terms of applying Q4 collaborative selling skills to influence behavior, you know that Q3 customer behavior requires more sociability than, say, working with Q1, no-nonsense behavior.


But Sean’s boss, Andrea, asks a good question. Are Sean’s Q4 results-oriented efforts being eroded when Sean’s behavior mirrors his prospect’s Q3, overly friendly behavior?


Whose Needs Are Served?

Here’s one test to ask yourself: Am I meeting my customer’s needs, or am I meeting my own personal needs? Sean might be enjoying himself a little too much.


Probe Objections to Doing Business

How, then, should Sean proceed to Q4 productivity? He should plan a meeting with Carlos soon to probe for any hidden objections that may be keeping Carlos (or his company) from becoming a customer. To set the tone for a business discussion, he should choose a business setting, perhaps Carlos’s office.


To elicit Carlos’s possible objections in a way that’s comfortable for his Q3 behavior, Sean should remind Carlos that he (Sean) has to account for his time and show progress. He might recall their past sales and service successes.


Then, he can use a probe that is not accusatory: “Carlos, is there any reason why your company can’t buy from me?” This attempt to uncover objections is designed to keep both Carlos and Sean on track. If probing indicates that Carlos isn’t going to confront the business basis for their relationship, Sean may have to get off the Q3 merry-go-round. It’s time to turn in results — instead of just turning in receipts.