3 min read

                                      Tales from the Frontline: Knowing and Responding to the Pivotal Moment

                                      I’ve been in sales my entire career. Almost 25 years of cold calling, appointment setting, airplanes, hotels, corporate lobbies, presentations, lunches, contracting and procurement discussions and on and on. I’ve experienced great victories and stinging defeat. One immutable truth about selling (and life) is that there’s always another lesson to learn. No matter how prepared, experienced or confident we may be, there are always unexpected curves thrown our way that we must contend with. How we respond to those challenges often determines whether we hit or miss our mark.

                                      At Fairplay, we recognize these as “Pivotal Moments” and they occur almost every day. There are two ways to understand Pivotal Moments. First, as a challenge in the moment when those curves are happening and we must pivot in response to them, and second as critical moments that forever shape our beliefs or experience. Being adaptable in the moment greatly increases our ability to pivot to meet the curves while developing a resilient mindset allows us to persevere in the face of adversity. Adaptability and resiliency are the hallmark of any good sales professional.

                                      A family member of mine who’s new to sales told me a story recently that demonstrates the importance of being adaptable.

                                      He called on a former client with whom he had a strong relationship and had done a good deal of work. During the brief call, he uncovered that the client was embarking on a new initiative that was squarely in his company’s wheelhouse. His timing was perfect as they were just getting underway and hadn’t made any decisions on partners. The client was even willing to pull her entire team in for a 30-minute call. Stars seemed to be aligning. He scheduled a call about three weeks out and began to prepare an overview. He believed this call would be more fact-finding but he was prepared to present if needed.

                                      There were four people on the call; two had previously worked with his firm and two hadn’t. After waiting for people to join and introductions, he had about 20 minutes to get to business. His contact asked him to give an overview of his company for the two folks unfamiliar with them. Perfect, he had prepared for that and proceeded to explain his company’s origins, their philosophy and areas of expertise. As he finished, one of the ladies new to him asked, “so, what do you do?” WHAT?!? Cue the horrible record scratch followed by dead silence. “Isn’t that what I just did?”, he thought. He pivoted quickly into question mode to better understand what she meant. What she wanted to know was what do they physically do in their practice. He asked a few clarifying questions to get a sense of what mattered to her and was then able to give her a better picture of what work with his company looks like and how they could support their initiatives.

                                      So, what went wrong? What could this young salesman have done differently? I reflected on his story and shared the following ideas with him so he would be better prepared for future opportunities.


                                      1.      Multiple buyers mean multiple agendas – selling any product or service is difficult. Couple that with multiple buyers and the sales process becomes exponentially more confusing to navigate. Even if you have a friend on the inside, don’t assume you have the inside track. Do your due diligence on the folks in the room so you can better sell to each individual’s needs.

                                      2.      Anticipate your clients’ needs but seek first to understand – the seller in the story did a good job of preparing talking points in case he was asked to present, but the presentation was too generic. At times, we may not know the participants in the room prior to a meeting. That’s a common occurrence but doesn’t mean you can’t ask a few strategic questions of each person during the introduction process.

                                      • What is your role in this initiative?
                                      • What are you hoping to learn from this meeting?
                                      • What would a successful partnership look like?

                                      3.      Check in with your client – salespeople tend to be talkers. We love to jump in with the solution when we hear a need, specifically one our product or service is designed to solve. Periodically checking in with your client during a meeting can save everyone time and energy. Remember, communication is two-way, sender and receiver. We may think we’re being clear or responding to the need when we’re really just wrapped up in our own brilliance. Simple questions will go a long way to clarity.

                                      • Why is that point important to you and this project?
                                      • Does what I just said align with your thinking?
                                      • Can you give me an example of how that would impact this initiative?

                                      4.      Put the presentation away – sometimes we need to put down our script, close our laptop and just listen. In our work at Fairplay, we discuss the difference between listening to understand versus listening to respond. As humans, we often tune out of a conversation when we think we know the speaker’s point. We begin to contemplate our response before the other person has even finished talking. This is why we cut people off while they’re still speaking because we believe we know where they’re going. Not only is it rude, but we may miss out on a vital piece of information that would inform our response. Be present and show the person talking that you're engaged in the discussion and interested in their perspective.

                                      You never know when a Pivotal Moment will present itself, but you can be prepared for it. Fairplay Communications works with sales teams to develop their adaptability muscle and to embrace a resiliency mindset. Whether you’re new to sales or a seasoned vet, being able to roll with the punches is vital, because no one likes a “needle scratch” moment.

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