man looking at watch on his wrist

The Me in Mean

Most of the current and prospective clients we meet are lovely people with whom we are delighted to work. They, like us, are looking for a good partner that can deliver a product or service that saves them time, money or headaches. We are most often greeted with a smile and, even if we are not a fit, leave with an appreciative handshake – bridges left intact.

That’s why I was puzzled recently when a prospective client asked one of our sales reps to travel several hours for a face-to-face meeting, which the sales rep was assured would be the best way to keep things moving. I am a fan of meeting people face-to-face, but am also a fan of being efficient and respectful of peoples’ time. In most cases we can answer all questions and demonstrate our capabilities in an hour or so – and using today’s technology, we can do so without filling time unnecessarily and thereby keep our costs (and those of our clients) down.

The appointment was scheduled for 10am and the rep (we’ll call him Richard) arrived 15 minutes early. Richard let the prospective client know he was there and was glad to wait until he could see him. An hour passed – and then another – during which time other contacts at the organization apologetically let Richard know they were interested in working with us and were not sure why our contact, the decision-maker, was a no-show. The early afternoon came and went and soon it was close to 5 pm. Richard called our contact who then came out into the waiting area and told him that he was “just too busy today” (which was Monday) but that he would gladly meet with him on Wednesday.

I am not sure how Richard kept his composure, but he did. He asked if he had confused the phone conversation during which our prospect had said he would “absolutely like to meet” with him. Richard told our contact that he’d driven many hours for the meeting and would gladly meet after hours but that he could not wait another day and a half. The prospective client was unaffected and simply said, “Well, that’s your call. If you want to meet with me it will have to wait until Wednesday.”

Richard is a seasoned sales person who knows the drill: he understands budgetary concerns, how to determine who the decision-maker is and how to confirm the meeting is worth everyone’s time. He knows when a meeting is an exploratory one and has a great read on, and rapport with, his prospective clients.

He called me, depressed and angry with himself. He could not believe he’d just spent a day and a half for what he felt was a sure deal. As we talked through what had happened, we both wanted an honest assessment of the situation. Neither one of us wanted to blame the prospect for bad instinct or assumptions on our part – that’s the classic mistake of a novice sales person who either lacks the experience or patience to ask the right questions to determine if you have a real lead or just the desire to have a real lead. I’m over emphasizing this point because, this was not a situation in which Richard got excited and did not fact-check. We both wanted to get to the bottom of it.

As Richard opened up and shared more about what had happened, it became clear to me that we were dealing with a sociopath. Ok, maybe I’m overreacting, but when you Wikipedia the word you get: a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. I don’t know about the man’s childhood or early adolescence, but I do know I was raised that being on the receiving end of good manners is a right. Our prospective client was in the throes of an adolescent case of meanness and of me-ness.

As Richard and I discussed the situation further our mood changed from somber to light-hearted.  We made some wisecracks to each other about the man’s age in years vs. maturity. After all, the time had already been wasted – Why not adopt a positive frame of mind and decide to learn and grow from this situation instead of wallowing in negativity and blame?  We made a pact to get this man’s business. We strategized on what we needed to do so as not to engage his meanness or me-ness. We felt motivated as we lightened up and as we lightened up, we got creative.

A future blog will be the epilogue of this story and I’m betting it tells of how we turned me-ness into we-ness. We’ll see.


– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO

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