Training June 2017

When not to sell

How to know when the time is right

You meet a youngish Japanese president at a function and determine they are a prospect. How do you know this? Because their firm’s profile fits your prerequisites for what you are seeking in a client. You worked out where the best opportunities are to spend your time with potential buyers and know that wasting time is the biggest crime in sales. The brief conversation with the president indicated they are the right size and complexion to be worth talking to. You end the encounter by mentioning you will be in touch. And you do get in touch, following up on the lead.

When you are preparing for the meeting, you pack three sets of materials, expecting the president’s subordinates will join the meeting. However, when you are ushered into the presidential suite, it is just the two of you. Warning signs go off in your head. Why? Because you know that a busy executive in this size of firm won’t be attuned to the details of your solution. This is a just a “courtesy visit”, not a business meeting, from the president’s point of view.

This fear is confirmed when you get into asking questions about the gap between the president’s vision and the firm’s current reality. The answers quickly reveal the president is a day-by-day type of guy and hasn’t yet thought about these issues in any detail. We are now stretching his ability to come up with a considered, intelligent answer on the spot. Danger signal right there. Unless we are lively, this conversation is about to go off the rails and take us both nowhere.

A nimble switching of gears and we go into some key ideas that won’t be familiar to the president. We link this back to what makes our firm unique and we start to provide some concrete details to help him get his head around why this meeting is not a complete waste of time. We have to give him something concrete that he can evaluate. We tease out a weakness in his current operating methods and start to pique some interest. The courtesy call is now ending and we are gracefully moving into a business discussion. How do we know this? He picks up the phone and suddenly orders his subordinates to join the meeting.

Now we are going to get somewhere perhaps. A quick replay of the key points gets the subordinates up to speed and the opportunity is now presented to ask some questions for which there will be more concrete details available. We are getting a bit nervous though because the clock is ticking. We could plough right in and do the buyer needs analysis, but the meeting time of 8.30am is a hint that the president is a busy person and there is another attraction of some variety awaiting his attention.

There is some interest there though, as you hear him tell his team to test what you do, to see if it suits their needs. Hearing this, we now know it is the time to stop selling and get out of there. Why? Because we do not have enough time remaining to go much further. There is the possibility the conversation will be truncated and left hanging. Better to use the remaining moments to arrange a second and separate meeting with the subordinates directly, where we can get down to details and we will have more time available to go deeper.

Pushing for the sale, driving for the needs, maximising the face time are all noble pursuits in sales, but we had better be more aware and be able to kuki wo yomu—read the atmosphere. Japan is always a market where things take time and building trust requires effort, so let’s not be in a mad rush to seal the deal. Sometimes it is better to not sell.