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Why Does Our Sales Engagement Look More Like Eating At A Cafeteria, Than Fine Dining

by David Brock on September 20th, 2022

I read a fascinating study from GTM Partners. One of the observations was, “There is an average of 8 handoffs in the average customer acquisition and delivery process.” As I read that, the image of eating in a cafeteria struck me.

Think of the last cafeteria you ate in. A mind numbing experience. You grab a tray, start walking down the line. You may have a choice of a couple of salads, the server behind the counter hands you what you ask for, then you hit side dishes. Someone spoons out the vegetables you ask for, then turns their attention to the person behind you. You go on, choosing mash potatoes or rice, someone puts a scoop on your plate. Then you get to the entrees. In a fancy cafeteria, someone may be carving meats. They ask you what you want, carve it, put it on your plate. Or in most cafeterias, they scoop an entree out of a large serving dish, plopping it on your plate. Finally you reach the desserts, select one, then move to the cashier where they ask for your money.

No one seems to care, each person is focused on doing their job, than moving to the next victim, I mean person. No one is responsible for the experience. If you have questions, it slows the line down. The servers want you to get moving. The quality of the food, the quality of the experience is bad. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see many cafeterias other than in school or work (and most work cafeterias are changing the way they work.).

Contrast that with a fine dining experience. As you enter the restaurant, a host or maitre d’ will ask your preferences and try to seat you where you want. Then a server comes over, a person who is responsible for your complete dining experience. They provide the menus. They may discuss specials. They answer questions you might have about the dishes. Sometimes, they ask about your preferences, “Do you like spicy foods? Do you have an allergy?” They may make suggestions. Everything is focused on creating a fine dining experience. And they are with you through the entire dinner.

They may have people helping them. Perhaps assistants serving water, clearing dishes. Perhaps they ask the sommelier to discuss wine pairings–they are the specialists in wines.

In the kitchen, chefs are creating a great product!

But the server’s whole interest is on you and your dining experience. They recognize it is not just about the product, but the complete experience the customer has. They do discovery, they make recommendations, they may help you reconsider some of your choices. They bring in resources to support your experience. Based on their understanding of us, they bring the product and service together, creating something that is memorable.

And it’s not just the high end, premium restaurants that create these experiences. We see this in many of the neighborhood restaurants we go to. A Thai restaurant I frequent, I’m greeted by name. The waiter comes to the table with the wine I always order. As I consider what to order, he suggests, “Dave, you’ve been having a lot of duck dishes lately. We’ve something different with fresh fish, I think you might enjoy it. They know me, I’m a repeat customer (I guess that’s what sellers call retention), they know my tastes, trying to create a better experience, each time.

And at the end of each of these meals, they ask us about our experience, thank us, and ask us to return or share the experience with others.

Why do we build buying experiences that resemble our experiences in cafeterias? Why do we put “servers” in place who don’t really care about the customer, other than moving them on to the next server? Why is there no one who cares about our experience, instead just focusing on their part of the job?

Of course, cafeterias are very efficient in processing customers, but do they create experiences that customer want to return to–unless there is no other alternative? (Even if I’m at a client cafeteria, I always opt for the sandwich bar, where I can ask the server for exactly what I want…)

It turns out the dining experience is not just about the food that’s on our plates (the product), it’s a lot more. And it’s often, the surrounding services and attention, not just the food that cause us to return for more, and to tell others about this.

How many customers complement your on their buying experience? How many customers highlight how helpful it was, how it made them feel? Would they go through it again?

Afterword: I wonder if vending machines are the food analogy to PLG selling???

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