Which Way Do We Go? (Issue 443)

In which we learn to ask a fairly personal question answers to which will help us develop our account strategies. "So, what is your Plan B," I asked?

We were sitting in a restaurant dining room, our table some distance from other diners. We had been talking in general terms about how things have been going for my dinner companion, one of our clients. His company, like others, has faced significant challenges as the economy has evolved through the last 18 months.

He talked for a bit about his original plan, before the value of his company’s stock and other assets declined in the “Great Real Estate and Stock Market Decline of 2008,” and outlined his approach now, facing the new realities.

A very personal question? Yes, and one worth asking any client after some rapport and trust have been established. We need to know about their attitudes and plans so we can set our account development strategies.

Our clients, like ourselves, are thinking about how to respond to and recover from the declines in asset values and income levels and the increased uncertainty that we have experienced; any business person, whether employee or business owner, needs to be thinking about “what to do if this gig doesn’t work out the way I’ve been hoping.”

The answer we hear may be different depending on our clients’ assessments of our experience and the level of trust we’ve developed with them… and it is still a question worth asking, phrasing the question something like:

“I have been speaking to some of my other clients about their plans and options, given what’s happened. Options are important for all of us. I’m just curious. How do you think about your ‘Plan B?”

It’s a question that demonstrates interest in the “human being” on the other side of the table. It’s a question that invites a candid response.

While our clients may not give us extensive details, their answers will be instructive. For example, an answer that sounds something like, “I don’t know, I just need to wait and see” gives us an entirely different feeling than an answer like “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I can’t afford to” which is again entirely different from “I’ve taken some losses, and I may need to work a few extra years, but I’m not going anywhere, this is my ride, I love what I am doing and expect to stay where I am.”

Their answers are critically important to us as salespeople. If we have the sense that the clients with whom we’re dealing are “short-timers” with no particular commitment to the company or position in which they are working, our strategies for developing relationships inside their companies will be different than if our clients say they are “in for the duration, it would take dynamite to blow me out of here.”

Asking the question about “plan B” is less direct and can be said more humorously than a question like, “so, are you planning to stay around here or should I be looking for someone else to talk to?”

And, P.S, regardless of their answers, find other people to talk to in your client organizations. Ain’t nobody knows when their number will be up, whether they are the chairman of the board or an accounts payable clerk.

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