When The Order Looks Too Small

8:30 pm Saturday night. With brief clatter, wine glass met table as our server, John, who only moments before had greeted us warmly at our table, expressed his irritation with our small dinner order, about half the ticket he might have expected from three adults.  We'd come in from a very full, long day, hungry, and wanting to finish the day with a light meal  in a restaurant we like and patronize 8 - 10 times a year.  Only now, we were the ones being patronized.

How could John have known that, once we grazed through our small initial order, that two of the three of us at the table would probably lay it on REALLY THICK for dessert… and coffee… and probably one after-dinner drink….  and maybe another dessert just for good measure?

He lost that chance. By reducing his voice warmth, setting plates down with just a little attitude, and not checking back with us during our first grazing round, he lost the chance.  I understand his dilemma – how much time to invest in an apparently small order when there were larger, louder parties to either side of us?  Never the less, he lost the chance to expand our meal and diminished, just slightly, our fondness for this restaurant.

All of us make these time management choices. All of us, from time to time, say to a prospect or a client, “I need to focus my attention elsewhere.”  We might be in that position because  they called us looking for help and we can’t help or we choose not to help. Or, we might be in that position because we’re choosing to  move up market and out-place some of our smaller customers or clients. The trick is, what taste do we leave in their mouths when we make that choice?

In John’s case, he started well. “Good evening, welcome to the ABC Restaurant.  Glad to have you here. Have you eaten here before?”   Once hearing our “yes” to that question, taking our order, thinking about the time of night, and looking at our clothing and sun-burned noses, he might have said, “Ah, a light finish to the day. How did your day go?”

Upon hearing our answers, he might have said, “Wonderful!  And I have a couple of ideas for later that might finish your evening perfectly.”    Or something similarly encouraging yet tantalizing.  In other words, he could have acknowledged us, connected with us, played along with us, and made us feel valuable, even though our order was small. By so doing, to encourage us to come back again.

Same deal when we have to focus elsewhere with clients and prospects.  First, we never know when an apparently small prospect or customer might be willing to spend more money than we ever thought possible.   Second, we want to create fans who might refer us or speak well about us to others even if we’re not working with them.  As in, “she and her company weren’t able to help me, they referred me to the folks we’re working with now, yet, she was so engaging and helpful in our conversations, I think you should talk to her.”

The exact words to use will vary, depending on the setting, the opportunity, whether they’re a prospect or customer, how we were introduced, and so on.

The main point is: Engage, acknowledge, and transition…. EAT.   Engage – connect with the prospect or customer. Acknowledge –  communicate respect or admiration for what they’re up to, however great or small. Transition – make a suggestion about others they could speak with or other ways they could think about their challenge. In other words, bring some value to the table so that they are willing to share some value with us or others later.

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