September, 2014

Not long ago, I was conducting a leadership conference with a number of managers and sales executives. At the meeting, one of the managers shared with the group the following story about one of his tenured salespeople. During a typical field day, they were doing “rounds” to catch up with some of their existing customers, as well as trying to connect with some potential customers that they were unable to get time with to discuss their products.

In one particular scenario, an existing customer with limited interest happened to turn the corner and approach them. In some cases, when the customer, existing or prospective, see’s a salesperson, they tend to alter their path and possibly walk the other way. But in this case, the customer approached and simply asked, “What’s up?”  For some unknown reason, the salesperson froze and the manager took the call over.

Eventually the salesperson re-engaged and they completed the conversation. After this happened, the manager said he took the salesperson to a private area and asked, “What happened?” The salesperson simply replied, “The customer surprised me!”
Most of the managers and sales executives at the meeting related to the story. There is a good chance that this scenario plays out more often than expected. This situation is one of the key findings in our research about what gets in the way of mid-level performers rising to the next level. Most new and mid-level performers do not anticipate what will happen next.

Anticipation is a concept that is prevalent in sports. Teams, coaches and players will watch the films of their opponent. They study their tendencies and put together a game plan. However, most mid-level performers don’t anticipate what the customer (existing/prospective) is going to say, do, react or respond.

No more surprises
Fortunately, this can be easily resolved. Most customers are highly predictable. There is a good chance that 80 percent of customers open conversations the same way. Given some consideration and study, salespeople should no longer be surprised!

Top performers are not surprised, they tend to be prepared. Top performers can anticipate how the conversation will unfold.
Customers more often than not simply say the same highly predictable greetings, comments and responses day in and day out. For this reason, the element of surprise should vanish. With a little forethought and anticipation, you can almost map out what a customer will say to you. At times there will be some variation, but for the most part, they will say and do the same things. It is incumbent upon a good manager to help the mid-level performer realize this pattern is occurring.

Moving forward, attention to the customer’s patterns and responses are essential for growth. When salespeople recognize that customers are very conventional in their thinking, productivity and results will increase. A little anticipation will go a long way.

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