As a business development and sales professional, you’ve prepared yourself to connect with a potential customer for the first time. Your qualification process shows promise: they’re in your ideal customer group, they have a need, and you have a great solution. You’ve been referred to them by one of your best clients and you’ve even connected via LinkedIn. It all seems perfect – until the first conversation. Then you’re back on your heels and off your game. What happened?
No matter how much you prepare for a customer meeting, there are some things you can’t account for – such as the mood of the customer. You may know a lot about their personal history, professional interests, and even seen them winning an ugly sweater contest on Facebook. But when people meet people there are a lot of other things going on. Such as moods.
I spent a lot of years helping engineers with sales. They tended to discount my insistence that they needed to consider customer moods until I explained it in their terms. In this model, there are two variables: active-passive and positive-negative, resulting in four moods: sad, angry, calm, and happy. (We sidestep other moods like surprised, confused, and scared, which should never be in a sales scenario.)
1. Sad (negative and passive)
I’m starting with sad, because that’s the customer mood that positive-thinking, hard-charging salespeople tend to overlook in their zeal to get their pitch started. If your customer is looking and sounding blue, pull back and think about what you want to do that day. The important thing is to get your message across and you can’t do that if they’re not … in the mood. You might ask, “Is this a good time to talk about all this?” and offer to come back later. They may take you up on that offer; at the very least your courtesy will be welcome. If you’ve already had some good, previous interaction with them you might ask, “Is everything okay?” and pause. If they start talking, don’t interrupt and don’t try to fix them. Let the conversation play out. You’re now more than a salesperson. You have the makings of becoming a friend.
2. Angry (negative and active)
Nobody wants to have an encounter with an angry customer. But if it happens you might be able to reframe the situation and lower the temperature. Who/what are they angry at? If it’s directed at your company, find out what the problem is, own it, and get a plan to fix it. If it’s somebody or something else, let them talk it out and be sympathetic (hopefully it’s about your contemptible competition). After they settle down, offer them the options to continue or reschedule. If they want to proceed, lighten things up and give them something positive to focus on. Let the positivity transfer to you and depart with a promise to help.
3. Calm (positive and passive)
Okay, considering sad and angry, calm isn’t so bad, is it? The customer’s calm, you’re calm, everything’s calm. Good, right? Not necessarily. A calm customer could mean a lot of things. Maybe it was the first night of good sleep for a new parent. Or maybe the customer just that morning found the TPS Report they’d been searching for. But calm can be the enemy of progress. Great salespeople and great customers are always looking for how to move things forward. If the situation is too calm, maybe it’s best to insert some urgency. Not the creepy-car-sales-guy type of urgency, but the type that centers on both you and the customer recognizing that actions need to be taken for everyone’s best interest.
4. Happy (positive and active)
A happy customer is every salesperson’s dream. Not suspicious. Not indecisive. Very much in the moment and giving off positive energy. But there could be a trap here. Say it’s Friday afternoon. In the spirit of the moment you might make an offer that either can’t be done or will destroy profit margin. And the customer might agree to things that won’t live past the fog of Monday morning. In happy meetings, great salespeople keep a wary detachment to make sure the happiness continues in the future. Build on the positivity. Don’t undermine it with spontaneous offers you can’t or shouldn’t deliver.
That’s not so difficult, is it? Four moods from two variables for one great way to reduce potential hazards for first meeting panic.