Last issue we wrote about the importance of protecting one of our scarcest and most important resources – time. Today we’re going to talk about another precious resource – other people’s attention.
Before you plow the field, you’ve got to first remove the boulders. Before you till the soil of any sales opportunity you first have to deal with the big obstacles that get in the way of open, two-way communication. Plowing ahead on a prospecting or sales call without first having people’s attention is like listening to the radio while the signal keeps fading in and out. It’s hard for anyone to understand what’s going on and it’s annoying as hell.
Sometimes producers (especially newer ones) feel they have to make the most of an opportunity because they’ve gotten someone to take their call or sit down with them. Even half of the prospect’s attention, they may think, is better than no attention at all. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. To use another apt metaphor, if you’re trying to drive a car but the wheels aren’t squarely on the road, you just won’t have the necessary traction to go anywhere.
When people are distracted by phone calls, deadlines, interruptions and their own moods, attention wanders and dissipates. It’s easy to tell from obvious clues when you don’t have someone’s full attention: you hear him shuffling papers, typing or talking with others in the room; she sounds distracted or disengaged; he seems annoyed or impatient. In these situations first get the boulders out of the field before going any further:
“It sounds like you’ve got people there in your office now. Maybe this isn’t a good time to talk…”
“Can we schedule this call for another time when you’re not so busy? It seems like you’ve got a lot going on.”
“It looks like it’s not really a good time for you to meet with me now. Can we reschedule for another time that would be better?”
Most of the time the prospect will appreciate your consideration and happily reschedule. If they don’t, they may be telling you they’re not a genuine prospect and it’s better to let the situation go for now. If someone insists that you go ahead when they’re not really paying attention, it’s usually best to let them know, in a friendly but firm way, that you don’t want to continue under the circumstances. You have something of value to share – a solution, a service, a product – and you don’t want to go further unless you’re both able to give it the attention it deserves. The important point, when you’re communicating with prospects, is that attention is a necessary element and if you don’t have it it’s better not to proceed.
Of course you won’t always be able to get people’s undivided attention. If your sales pipeline consists of only calm people with plenty of time to give you, you’re probably leaving out 95% of the business universe. Situations vary and people’s tolerances for distraction are different. Certain “high-value” business targets might warrant a more accommodating approach. With some people five minutes is all you’re going to get and to make the most of it you’ve got to be engaging, clear and succinct. And make sure they know you value their attention.