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Given A Choice, Customers Generally Prefer Not To Have Their Time Wasted

by David Brock on November 13th, 2012

I was struck by a sentence in the CEB’s Sales Challenger Blog, “Given a choice, customers will generally engage a supplier as late as they possibly can.”   They go on to say the reason is the sales person has nothing unique or valuable to contribute to the conversation. They are absolutely right.

But more broadly, the issue really is, customers–most people, in fact–generally don’t like to have their time wasted!  Yes, insight is an important part of creating value based conversations and engaging the customer, but it doesn’t stop there.  In every interaction with the customer, we have to create value.  If we don’t, we are wasting both their time and ours.

Sales people tend to be sharp, we are fast, we are (if we are doing our jobs) generally knowledgeable, we have (at least theoretically) some ability to communicate.  These skills, properly executed, serve us and our abilities to engage customers well.  However, too often, sales professionals become over-confident or sloppy.  We shoot from the lip, we are unprepared.

While the data is a little old, several years ago, we researched sales call effectiveness.  We found sales people tended to make 30-50% more calls than necessary to close.  The underlying reasons were primarily poor planning and poor execution.

I talk frequently about the importance of sales call planning and execution.  Generally, sales people are polite, but I read the expressions on their faces, “Dave, we know this, we make dozens of calls a week, give us the magic formula for success.”  So here it is, the magic formula for success is:  If you can’t define the value of the sales call (phone, face to face, email), then don’t make the call.  You will be wasting the customer’s time.  We should cancel the call, rescheduling it for a time when we can define the value, in the customer’s term, they will get from the call.

The anecdotal and quantitative evidence smacks us in the face every day, yet sales people ignore it:  Customer prefer self educating to learning from the sales person.  Customers are harder and harder to reach, they don’t return calls, when they do, they don’t want to talk to us.  Customers tell us, “sales  people talk about what they want to talk about, not what I want to talk about,” or more bluntly, “they waste our time.”

Value creation in our sales calls is not solving world hunger.  It’s about being relevant and impactful to the customer.  Providing great insight is a start.  Helping the customer through their buying process is another step.  Listening to them, giving each customer the opportunity to tell their own stories–enabling use to better create value in subsequent interactions.  Having an agenda for each meeting, making sure both we and the customer are prepared to use that time well.

All of these create value for the time customers invest with us.  They are fundamentals of effective sales call planning and execution.

Doing this improves our own time utilization.  We start wasting less of our time.  We accomplish more in each call, moving deals through the sales/buying cycle much more effectively.

Sales call planning is simple, it doesn’t take much time, but magnifies our impact on customers and our own effectiveness.

Given a choice, how do you want to spend your time?

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3 Comments
  1. David,

    In this age of not-enough-time-too-much-to-do, the lack of value placed on time shocks me. A friend and I had this conversation at lunch yesterday. Were we wasting time? (tongue-in-cheek)

    The first thing I learned was the value of time; my customer’s time and my own. An older gent I was trying to do business with explained a simple premise to me. If you do not treat your own time with value, no one will respect you, and, they will expect that you do not value their time either. Brevity in itself is not the solution, but a focus on core mutual values, and if there are any, pursue!

    In this time is the of essence culture, why is this fundamental so problematic?

    Thanks for another well-timed post.

    Regards,

    Gary

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